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10 Pounds of Labs in a 5 Pound, (50-Year-Old) Bag

Woman walks past glass doorway that leads to lab space.
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When designing new lab facilities, a floor-to-floor height of 16 feet is a good minimum to start with; however, clients are not always able to construct a new building, and many choose to renovate existing laboratories. Renovation is becoming more frequent within the higher education market as well. These existing buildings are often 50 - 60 years old and have floor-to-floor heights less than 12 feet. In fact, a current Higher Education Research Lab building we are to renovate has a floor-to-floor height of only 11 feet 4 inches. Height in laboratories, , is an invaluable asset now and for future adaptability of the building. It’s the very first item I look for when I receive a set of old blueprints to review.

Encapsys | Denver, CO

A few issues to keep in mind during lab renovations:

Issue 1: Ductwork space
Traditional ducted fume hoods required in Chemistry laboratories need large ducts for huge quantities of exhaust air. Common room air change (AC) rates often range from 6-12 AC per hour. These ducts run horizontally, creating a need for head space for horizontal distribution, and vertically, requiring mechanical chase space. Besides the fume hood exhaust ducts, space needs to be allocated for room supply air ducts, room exhaust air ducts as well as floor structure and many times these items need to cross one another.

Issue 2: Lighting
The current lighting trend in modern labs are pendant mount direct / indirect light fixtures, minimizing shadows at the benchtop. By bouncing up and off the ceiling, the light is diffracted in a way that diffuses the shadows. Typically, these pendant fixtures are suspended about 18” below the ceiling tiles. However, buildings with low floor-to-floor heights may find the ceilings to be too low and therefore, are unable to hang pendant mounted fixtures at a reasonable height.

Issue 3: Daylight
Modern labs utilize natural lighting as much as possible. Large windows on the exterior, combined with high, sometimes even sloped, ceilings are commonplace in new laboratories. By bringing natural light in high in the room, we often can diffuse the light across a large space. With older buildings, we are often working with smaller windows and limited opportunity to direct light into the lab space.

Issue 4: Piping
Renovating an old building often includes adding fire protection systems. The main water lines for a sprinkler system are installed horizontally for long runs with minimal elbows which means they will cross ductwork and structure. Space also needs to be designated for other piping that may be necessary such as hot water, cold water, DI water, vacuum, compressed air, natural gas, nitrogen or some other specialty gases.

Arrowhead Pharma | Madison, WI

The key to a successful renovation of a facility with floor height constraints is to recognize the limitations early and manage the expectations of your customer before offering viable options and planning solutions within the parameters given.

A recent example: We conducted a Feasibility Study on a 1965 Chemistry Building. During our presentation to the Chemistry Department, we shared the option of using non-ducted, filtered fume hoods to eliminate the need for many new exhaust fans and large ductwork. While this solution may work better for some teaching or research operations, it is certainly worth considering as it has been proven successful in many institutions. The determination whether a filtered fume hood will work for an application is based on the chemicals used within the fume hood and whether the filters can properly contain them from the exhaust.

Understanding the limitations and working within those parameters is vital to the success of a renovation in an older building. Since every project is different, there is not one be-all end-all solution, but rather varying degrees of creative, yet effective options.

Michael Jelinek, RA, NCARB
Senior Project Architect : Associate

Michael Jelinek, RA, NCARB, is a Senior Project Architect and Associate with EUA working in the Madison office. Michael is a part of the Learning + Science + Technology studios.