Are sustainable labs in San Diego's future?
May 16, 2002

By Staff
Appeared in San Diego Daily Transcript

The Laboratories for the 21st Century (Labs 21) Program, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, has begun the process of developing ratings and guidelines for laboratory designers and owners based on the LEED Green Building Rating System. Now circulating for industry review and input, the Labs 21 guidelines offer a timely framework for broadening the San Diego design community's awareness of sustainability and its practical applications.

What follows are some of the elemental as well as lab-specific considerations that Labs 21 introduces.

Sustainable Sites. At a basic level, a sustainable site is one that takes advantage of solar access, prevailing breezes and programmatic adjacencies to produce more efficient lighting, ventilation and temperature control.

Water Efficiency. By their nature, laboratories use more water than office buildings. Yet efficiency methods are quite simple and prudent including gray water collection and reuse; rainwater recapture and reuse in irrigation; drought-tolerant landscape; and elimination of once-through water systems for equipment cooling.

Energy. As in water systems, the programming of energy and electrical systems benefits from close consideration of recapture and reuse potentials. The use of daylighting, for instance, is often overlooked. Shared lighting concepts and dimming controls for nonwork surface lighting may also be feasible. On average, laboratories use five times more energy than other buildings, much of it in process equipment. Selecting energy efficient and low-demand lab equipment is thus one of the most effective and immediate ways to reduce energy consumption.

Finally, enhancing the metering and monitoring of energy use will provide owners, design teams and the industry with valuable benchmarking data to measure progress in building performance.

Materials & Resources. The selection of "green" materials for building construction may seem a low priority to the laboratory owner, yet many people don't realize that much of the structural components already in use comprise recycled content: structural steel, concrete and gypsum, for example. Likewise, more attentive facility and operations management can improve waste recycling and significantly reduce chemical use.

By far the most critical objective to the laboratory owner is building reuse. Unlike other building types, which may have an inherent 50-year lifespan, laboratories tend toward obsolescence after a mere 10 to 12 years as programs and research needs change. Designing built-in flexibility or adaptability for future building reuse is critical.

Indoor Environmental Quality. This is perhaps the paramount priority in any laboratory design, and the sustainable approach only further assures that appropriate safety standards are met. The design team must accurately assess risks and provide proper air dilution rates. Hood alarms and room pressurization monitoring are very important. Where appropriate, containment areas should be provided to protect occupants and minimize risks of cross-contamination. Proper placement of air intakes and exhausts is critical; modeling and wind tunnel tests should be employed to predict results.

Submitted by Phil Trinh, P.E., a senior vice president and managing director of the San Diego office of Syska Hennessy Group.