Five No Cost Lab Strategies

Laboratory owners are constantly challenged to create new research environments with limited budgets and few resources. Additionally, consideration has to be given to the “triple bottom line” (people, planet and profit) within these constraints. Cost-conscious owners want facilities to meet their vision and business objectives, while also including flexibility, efficiency, safety and robust utility and engineering systems. Lab Design

Early on, strategies can be used that have no financial impact on the project. These come from the lab planner’s previous design experience and include options specific to the current project. Along with these strategies, incorporating initial and ongoing dashboards facilitates making informed decisions from the planning phase all the way through occupancy.

5. Leverage Space
Once a new project has been identified, owners may question where it should be located. A master plan of the building is a good starting place for understanding the layout. Owning space gives an owner full control of the project, but it also has its downsides. Occupants may temporarily have to be relocated to complete a renovation. Moreover, research schedules may make it difficult to relocate occupants all at once, and phasing requirements can be complicated and costly.

Another option to consider is leasing. It may be less costly to renovate an old lab building and use it for office space. The cost to upgrade existing infrastructure and work with low floor-to-floor heights for a lab project may be better suited for a less infrastructure-intensive office space in which the program and function fit more easily into the current space. If the space is available, leasing can help reduce the overall design and construction schedule.

Keep in mind, however, that design flexibility might not be available with the leased space. Another option to consider is whether the occupants can be located remotely from the main facility. When working at different sites remotely, you may need to duplicate certain services or facilities. For instance, a glass wash area may have the capacity to serve the entire program, but if part of that program is remotely located, a second glass wash facility will need to be added.

4. Standards Versus Requirements
It is important to understand the difference between “company standards” and “building code requirements.” A requirement is law, while standards are generally accepted guidelines or company recommendations. Over time, standards can be seen as actual requirements. A problem can occur when a standard becomes interpreted as a requirement and extra money is needlessly spent.

A common example is ventilation rates. Ventilation rates and system design must comply with mandatory provisions of related codes and standards. These rates are driven by lab safety, which is paramount when using hazardous materials because there are two primary safety issues: health hazards (e.g., contaminant inhalation) and physical hazards (e.g., fire and explosion).

To quantify the risks associated with these hazards and support lab ventilation system design choices, an owner should carry out a hazard analysis, including estimates of airborne contaminant concentrations and occupant exposure based on contaminant generation and removal rates, reactivity and toxicity.

It might seem as though there are many regulations governing ventilation rates in U.S. labs, but there are no mandatory requirements for these rates-other than those listed in ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2010 for educational laboratories 4, which has been adopted by many codes, including Cal-OSHA Title 8 Section 5154.1 for laboratory-type hood operations, as well as some particular instances in the International Mechanical Code 2012 and International Fire Code 2012. Several other documents (e.g., ANSI/AIHA/ASSE Z9.5-2012 American National Standard for Laboratory Ventilation, OSHA 29 Laboratory Standard CFR Part 1910.1450, NFPA Standard 45-2015 Standard on Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals) have made recommendations about lab ventilation rates, but compliance is voluntary.

It is important to recognize that the industry is moving toward a more performance-based approach that relies upon lab-specific engineering data and analysis to determine the specific control techniques needed to ensure safety.

3. Keep It Simple
Laboratories can have complex, intricate systems and facilities that are being run by small staffing groups. The design of laboratories should integrate these systems in such a way that the cost to run the facility isn’t more than the budget can handle. Also, it should not require complex training for the staff to operate and control the systems. Typically, complex systems are not well-maintained, and over time, the operational costs increase. The goal should be to reduce utility usage and consumption to create a sustainable building with simple systems.

SEE ALSO: Lab as a Revenue Center

A great strategy when keeping things simple is to integrate safety within the project. When applying concepts or strategies to a project, these should be incorporated in a way to enhance the overall project. Gas bottles and cylinders can be strapped to casework and equipment, but unless they’re properly positioned, they can cause safety issues. Look for ways to integrate safety cabinets and manifolds into casework systems to effectively manage the gases while keeping them in a safe place. The same can be said for fire extinguisher locations. Use good signage with these concepts to have an effective safety system that enhances the overall project, usually without any added cost.

2. Use What Works
Thomas Edison’s lab in Fort Myers, Florida was built in 1928. The lab contained a chemical processing area, machine shop, grinding room, office area and dark room. It was used by Edison, along with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, to discover an alternative source for rubber to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign sources. A few short years and 17,000 plant samples later, an alternative was discovered in the Goldenrod plant at Edison’s lab.

Not unlike the laboratory designs of today, this used the following concepts: collaboration, interdisciplinary research, lean lab, open lab and green chemistry. When designing laboratories, lab planners should look at the successes of the past to build upon ideas for the future.

Many of us have had that “aha!” moment or have said, “Why didn’t I think of that?” In a lab, even the smallest details can have a big impact on efficiency. A good lab planner will listen to clients and researchers to design a workspace specific to their needs. If a researcher is struggling to perform a particular task, for example, making a change to the architectural details of the lab space can help improve productivity.

Many innovative details can be used; here are a few:

– Maximize Storage
Common Setup: General lack of storage space.
Not enough of the right type of storage.
Better Detail:
Place storage in areas that take advantage of unused spaces. An example of this would be placing recessed cabinets next to thickened walls that hide services or low wall returns.

– Gas Fixtures or Electrical/Data Raceway Location
Common Setup: Horizontal location of raceway and deck-mounted fixtures.
Issue: The raceway and fixtures conflict with deep bench top equipment.
Better Detail: Place both the raceway and fixtures vertically to open up the bench space. Another option would be overhead service panels in the ceiling.

– Integration of Pure Water
Common Setup: Pure water devices are placed on top of the bench.
Issue: The location of the pure water system takes up useable bench space.
Better Detail: By placing most of the system below the counter, the bench area is freed up. Another good solution is to place it on a drawer that slides open for easy access.

– Establish Tour Routes
Typical Project: A project may lose momentum over time or not obtain sufficient funding.
Successful Project: When planning your lab, include tour routes for potential clients and donors early in the design phase. This also creates an added bonus by providing safety in the lab.

– Right-size Flexible Casework
Typical Project: Not all projects need 100% flexible casework.
Successful Project: Yes, flexibility is an important aspect in lab design. Added flexibility can cost more, so keep it simple and be sure it is necessary for the researchers.

1. Visioning in a Day
As designers, how do we use our knowledge of past projects to work with the client and create their vision? In many cases, a high level visioning process can be used in combination with practical approaches to create that vision in a day.

It all starts with a well-defined and laid out plan. You can create a vision and concept design in a day, but it is the pre-work that will make the day more successful. With careful advanced planning and use of tools that are interactive and visual, the process itself can build consensus and be fun for the groups involved.

– Prior to running a kickoff visioning session, information is passed along to the various user groups as a survey to generate ideas about the project. A pre-read can be issued, and questions can be asked in an open format that forms the basis of the needs for the project.

– Interactive Polling is a great way to help with team building consensus and to give good at-a-glance awareness to all those involved. In some cases, a vocal team member can steer a visioning session, but polling can allow others to provide their input without feeling exposed to other questions.

Halfway through your day, it will become clear what the driving factors are for the project. At this point, the concept design can be discussed, sketched and formed-providing for a consensus based concept design and a clear path toward a successful project. These “no cost strategies” are only a few ideas that can be used to start a project. Just keep thinking creatively, stick to your vision and have fun in the process!

Mark Paskanik, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, is a CRB senior architect and lab planner.

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