How To Design a Sustainable Lab

As institutions dedicated to advancing our understanding of the world, scientific laboratories should be pillars of advancement. That’s why OnePointe Solutions is always eager to improve a laboratory’s sustainability.

When working on a sustainable lab design, lab designers must examine multiple points of view. As important as it may be to reduce energy consumption, scientific settings are often replete with heavy equipment.

Sustainable lab design must also take safety into account, as the workers within a laboratory will have to operate comfortably and without strain each day.

LEED Rating Certification

The most widely used benchmark for eco-friendly buildings is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). This system operates on a points system, wherein certain eco-friendly features award a building a certain number of points. The most coveted rating—platinum—requires 80 or more points.

Then the LEED system is further divided into different weighted segments:

  • Biodiversity
  • Environmental effects
  • Impacts on human health
  • Local Impact
  • Natural resources used
  • Sustainable economics
  • Water use

Achieving a high LEED certification means that a building is both efficient and green. Platinum LEED buildings tend to use a mix of eco-friendly layouts, renewable resources, and sustainable design.

As such, they have a negligent environmental impact; in some cases, these buildings may even improve the surrounding land.

For laboratories, many of these qualifications can be challenging to meet. However, creative design teams and custom-built furniture can optimize a laboratory’s functional and ecological outcomes without impacting its safety.

Many organizations exist to help designers craft eco-friendly laboratories, including Harvard University’s Green Labs Program. These initiatives utilize different types of technology and building strategies to achieve fantastic results. Some of the most common ways for buildings (including labs) to improve their LEED score are:

  • Complete Overhauls are the most expensive investment, but the outcome of these wholly refreshed laboratories is truly remarkable
  • Exterior Renovations reduce the harm a laboratory causes to the environment by providing a barrier between hazardous chemicals and the surrounding area
  • General Maintenance of equipment, machinery, HVAC systems, and supplies increases internal efficiency and reduces the amount of energy wasted on outdated or malfunctioning equipment
  • Internal Administrative Changes reduce the amount of waste generated each day and rethink how energy is used in certain areas
  • Recycling and Repurposing old furniture, materials, and building components
  • Redesigns of interior spaces to maximize natural light
  • Retrofitting old fixtures and appliances (lighting and HVAC are the most common targets)
  • Sensors for lights, fume hoods, and HVAC systems restrict power consumption by turning off unused machinery
  • Sustainable Construction strategies, including salvage and low-impact materials
  • Technological Upgrades to HVAC, lighting, and other essential electrical systems

The Challenges of Sustainable Lab Design

Securing a platinum LEED certification is a lofty goal for any building, but scientific labs present unique challenges. Most scientific equipment is designed for precision over energy efficiency, and their inclusion is non-negotiable.

Mass spectrometry machinery, microscopes, and advanced computing systems are examples of required energy-heavy equipment within a laboratory.

These factors are immutable facets of a design, and designers are forced to accommodate the related setbacks.

Storage and Hazardous Materials Concerns

Most scientific labs have dedicated areas for securing hazardous or sensitive materials. These range from personal medical samples to dangerous chemicals.

At OnePointe Solutions, designers understand the importance of these areas. Our manufacturing team can fabricate custom-built biosafety cabinets with ease, but these storage solutions require space, energy, and resources.

Existing ductwork may be repaired and renovated, but fume hoods are an energy-heavy necessity. Energy use will be increased further in clean rooms, which require extensive ventilation.

Nonetheless, there are still ways to improve a laboratory’s sustainability without compromising the safety of its workers.

How to Design a Sustainable Lab

Laboratories require a vast amount of ingenuity to acquire LEED certification.

Designers and fabricators walk a thin line between sustainability and safety. One common energy-saving feature may cause dramatic safety violations. Likewise, many safety requirements will negatively impact a laboratory’s energy efficiency.

Countertops and Working Surfaces

Scientists require countertops, but these surfaces aren’t always made sustainably. Many standard countertops (i.e., steel and traditional resin) use non-renewable resources. When damaged, these surfaces will frequently require costly repairs or total replacement.

To mitigate these problems, a sustainable laboratory will often use eco-friendly materials for counters. OnePointe Solutions is proud to offer one such option with its WilsonArt® Solid Surface Countertops, which are made with renewable and easily repaired acrylic resin.

Other sustainable countertop solutions include:

Storage Solutions

To accommodate the many different machines and requisite equipment within a laboratory, designers must also find ways to manufacture durable storage solutions.

In many large construction settings, laboratories are fitted with entirely new cabinets, desks, and islands. While this may produce beautiful results, it is unsustainable and wasteful. However, these companies do not manufacture their own fixtures,

At OnePointe Solutions, we have an in-house manufacturing team. These skilled experts will be able to improve a building’s LEED rating by reusing salvaged materials to create custom-made cabinetry for your laboratory.

When this is impossible, we can reduce the impact of a project by using our eco-friendly material options, including:

HVAC and Ventilation Solutions

Many older laboratories have HVAC setups that can be described as “sufficient.” They work well enough, but these old-fashioned setups use vast amounts of energy.

In some situations (i.e., clean rooms), this is unavoidable.

However, even the most energy-intensive system can be improved.

On the most basic level, old or irreplaceable ventilation systems can be repaired and refitted.

  • Deep Cleaning removes clogs and debris, which naturally accumulate over time. During this process, workers also clean the condensers and coils.
  • New Filters and filter replacement allow systems to work at full capacity.
  • Resealing allows systems to use energy effectively by reducing the amount of wasted air.

Technological advances have produced a multitude of improvements for HVAC systems. These advanced solutions are more expensive, but they reward laboratories with dramatic increases in energy efficiency.

Some of the most advanced HVAC technologies require complete redesigns of a laboratory’s ventilation system. These options are incredibly costly and are generally reserved for massive projects. However, even small updates and retrofits are capable of optimizing a building’s efficiency.

Some advanced solutions for a laboratory’s HVAC include:

  • Adaptive Flow Control systems are high-tech solutions with a variety of options. These HVAC systems rely on sensing the conditions in different areas and adapting the flow to optimize energy use.
  • Electronic Motor Control reduces the amount of wasted energy by changing the speed of the primary motor according to demand.
  • Micro-Environments are part of an eco-friendly shift in mindset and require building owners to relinquish total control of a building. However, giving each section of a laboratory its own controllable climate can reduce the load on central air systems.
  • Programmable Controls or updated control panels give a laboratory more control over its HVAC.

Lighting Considerations

Another source of high energy use is lighting.

Many older laboratories were built to use inefficient incandescent bulbs. These ubiquitous light sources provide ample light, but their high heat output betrays their inefficiency. Only 10% of an incandescent bulb’s energy is used to produce light; the rest is wasted on heating the components.

Renovations, rebuilds, and new construction give laboratories the ability to rethink their lighting.

The most obvious solution for laboratories is the installation of modern lighting fixtures. Both fluorescent and LED lights produce vast amounts of light and use a fraction of the energy of a comparable incandescent bulb.

When using LEDs and fluorescent lighting, many users have also reported improved visual acuity. However, the brightness of these bulbs should be tempered to reduce light pollution.

Awnings, interior blinds, and properly shielded fittings for light fixtures are inexpensive ways that many labs reduce their effect on the nighttime sky.

Electronically Optimizing Lighting Efficiency

Interior lighting can be improved further with the inclusion of timers.

Both conventional timers and advanced wireless lighting control systems are capable of reducing a laboratory’s overall energy consumption. When an area is not in use, lights will be automatically switched off (in more conventional setups) or wirelessly disabled (via the building’s controller).

However, sustainability can be refined even more with intensity controls. Adaptive lighting control allows building managers to set lighting intensity as needed. Lights can be dimmed in well-lit rooms and brightened for dark interior spaces.

Naturally Optimizing Lighting

Designers of sustainable laboratories will also utilize natural lighting.

In both commercial and residential settings, sunlight provides plenty of light to spaces within a 15-foot radius of a building’s exterior walls. However, this assumes that the spaces have large windows, and some labs cannot afford complete remodels.

In these situations, OnePointe Solutions can work with laboratory managers to create unique custom-built solutions.

One of the most popular ways to tackle this problem is the introduction of photosensitive lighting. These lighting systems adapt according to the amount of natural light exposure, making them perfect for older buildings and regions with unpredictable weather conditions.

Moreover, photosensitive lighting works well within busy laboratories, where workers are often present at all hours of the day.

Renewable Energy

Finally, by adopting renewable energy sources, laboratories can accrue substantial points on the LEED scale.

This is an inherently costly and incredibly involved process, but the rewards are substantial.

When designed correctly, renewable energy can compensate for most or all of a laboratory’s high energy costs. On an ecological scale, this reduces the laboratory’s carbon footprint.

However, there is a LEED-friendly communal benefit, too. These self-sufficient buildings are ultimately independent operations, and a fully renewable laboratory can operate without connecting to a locality’s electrical grid.

This is a huge benefit to everyone. The laboratory enjoys reduced upkeep costs and reliability, while the local community benefits from less strain on its electrical grid.

In regions prone to strong storms and volatile weather, these self-sufficient labs will be able to withstand hazardous conditions without ceasing operations.

Investing in the Future with OnePointe Solutions

At OnePointe Solutions, our team has worked with countless laboratories. We’ve handled projects for biosciences and chemical laboratories, and we can help you tackle your project.

Our contractors and designers are always eager to help. Get in touch with our team to see how we can help you create the laboratory of your dreams by calling (866) 612-7312 or contacting us today. We know how to design a sustainable lab, and our vast network of resources can help you realize your vision.

Questions? Concerns? Want to start today? Get in touch. 866.612.7312

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