The Science of Green

Aug. 1, 2009
An integrated approach can incorporate sustainability into complex science and laboratory facilities.

If you could envision a university campus as a fleet of buildings in an ocean, the science laboratory building would be the aircraft carrier: big, powerful and bristling with technology. For a campus facilities leader overseeing the growth of a collegiate setting and the efficient function of its buildings, when the opportunity arises to build a new laboratory facility, you might say his or her ship has just come in.

When one considers the enormous cost of science laboratory buildings, it's no surprise that the stream of environmental consciousness that has swept through campuses has had a profound effect on the design and engineering of these complex buildings. Advancing technologies, government regulations and rising energy costs all are driving the push to design greener building systems.

And although science and laboratory buildings are by far the most complex and energy-intensive buildings on campus, they also can be models of effective energy management, carbon-footprint control and sustainability.

Sustainable sites

Master plans, synergies with existing facilities and donor preferences often affect where a new building is situated.

Administrators have many options regarding sustainable design, such as protecting existing habitats, using previously developed sites and staying away from “virgin” land. The goal of protecting important habitats starts in the design phase with a clear understanding of the site's opportunities and constraints. Proper siting, condensed building footprints, and minimizing heat-island effects through the use of high-albedo materials, pervious paving and reduced parking areas, all play a role. A habitat with abundant trees provides benefits by shading building and exterior spaces, and reducing the cooling load.

Consider a storm-management approach that uses bioswales instead of piped sewers. They can be made into attractive, green site elements that remove water efficiently while cleaning it along the way. With smart and careful planning, new campus projects can coexist with nearby wetlands and bodies of water.

Designing a living place

The nature of scientific exploration requires facilities that meet current demands and are flexible enough to effectively respond to evolving scientific challenges and protocols. Module-based space planning is a strategy to give discipline and clarity to architectural and engineering systems. Flexible, mobile casework and furniture systems with plug-in utility connections are replacing traditional fixed benches with hard-piped services. The well-designed lab building will not only save operational and retrofit costs, but also will be a “living” place that can be changed and molded as required.

The building envelope also plays an important role in the sustainability of a facility. A design that responds to solar inputs through smart orientation, roof overhangs, brise-soleil and other devices is more environmentally responsible than a concept based solely on architectural considerations. A science and laboratory building should respond to site-specific and regional influences. Light-colored, heat-reflecting roofs; high R-value insulation; high-performance, low-e, thermally broken glazing systems; and the use of regional materials all help in making a building more sustainable.

By maximizing the use of natural lighting, schools can save on energy costs and increase comfort, which enhances productivity. Generally, daylighting can adequately light 15 feet into a building when measured from the perimeter. Adding devices such as light shelves and clerestory windows can double that distance. Architects should utilize the best lamp and lighting-control technologies. Incandescent lamps use only 10 percent of their energy to make light — the rest is lost as heat. The good news is that even the most advanced T3 fluorescent lamps are being supplanted rapidly by advanced LED products.

Interior environments are important to consider. Additional air contamination that is breathed in lab buildings can occur from relatively benign sources found in paints and finishes. Use ASHRAE 62 as the standard for ventilation and indoor air quality. Requiring zero- and low-VOC carpets, paints, adhesives and sealants will reduce harmful effects from volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Prior to occupancy, air-quality testing, carbon dioxide monitoring and a two-week flushing-out phase will help remove unhealthful VOCs generated from new materials and construction debris.

Aggressive energy control

Science and laboratory buildings are alpha consumers of electrical power. The key for aggressive energy conservation without compromising functionality is sophisticated engineering coupled with high-quality systems. Laboratory mechanical systems often require 35 to 50 percent of the construction budget.

Benchmarking similar laboratories is a good way to anticipate operating and maintenance costs for energy. This should be done before engineering design is complete. To verify that a building is performing most efficiently, hire a commissioning agent. Some other keys:

  • Reuse applied heat energy through a recovery system. Capture heat energy from lab exhaust, and use it to preheat fresh outside air. Capture waste heat from the condenser water system and apply it to domestic hot-water heating. The use of recovery coils and dessicant wheels can recover enormous amounts of energy. In some parts of the country, the payback for these systems can be just a year.

  • If an institution has boilers, install economizers. Instead of a central hot-water system for domestic use, consider using smaller-scaled hot-water tanks distributed at locations of need with temperatures at 105°F vs. 120°F.

  • Partial-load system efficiency is important because most lab systems do not operate at identical levels of intensity consistently over time. Use equipment designed to operate at efficiently under partial and varying loads — a very common condition with higher-education laboratories.

  • Officials should review requirements for fume hoods carefully so they can reduce their quantity and size. Use low-flow hoods that respond to changing levels of experimental activity, as well as snorkels and ventilated storage cabinets that pinpoint exhaust loads. Follow the American National Standards Institute Z9.5 ventilation standard for fume hood and room-pressure control.

At a macro building level, use variable-volume supply and exhaust systems to reduce ventilation during unoccupied times. If the system design is based on minimum air-change rates vs. demand-generated cooling or makeup-air loads, then constant-volume systems should be considered.

What's next?

The elements of sustainability are evolving constantly, and the seriousness of climate change is pushing education institutions to deliver higher-performance buildings. Government, owners, designers and builders are taking action to arrive at carbon-neutral designs for new buildings and major renovations by the year 2030.

California is leading the way with introducing initiatives, passing the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) in 2006. It requires a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This requires a reduction of 15 percent from 2008 levels. Recognizing that even this measure does not adequately address the severity of the climate-change problem, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California Executive Order S-3-05, which requires an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2050.

  • Read the "Redefining research" sidebar for information on how the University of Cincinnati, which built one of the largest research facilities in the nation, designed it to attain LEED gold certification.
  • Read the "Integrating students, city and county" sidebar for information on how California State University Los Angeles received LEED silver certification for one of the nation's largest crime laboratories.

Cekauskas, AIA, LEED AP, EDAC, is a design principal at Harley Ellis Devereaux, Southfield, Mich. He can be reached at (248)233-0079 or [email protected]. Hartmann, AIA, LEED AP, is an associate with the firm. He can be reached at (312)324-7471 or [email protected].

Related Stories

Redefining research

The University of Cincinnati's Center for Academic and Research Excellence (CARE)/Crawley Building provides 236,652 square feet of new space on the university's medical campus. Designed to attain LEED gold certification, the building is one of the largest research facilities in the nation. The CARE/Crawley Building is connected to the Medical Sciences Building (MSB), an existing lab and classroom facility built in the 1970s.

Six floors of laboratory space add about 240 new lab benches, state-of-the-art equipment and large spaces for work. Daylighting is a major component of the laboratory space, and on the west-facing windows of the north wing, unique 15-foot perforated aluminum panels enable individuals in the labs to adjust the amount of outside light allowed into the space.

The nine-story, naturally ventilated glass atrium connects the CARE/Crawley Building to the existing Medical Sciences Building, creating an open, urban-like setting that encourages interactivity and a sense of community.

The Metropolitan Sewer District of Cincinnati identified a need to detain storm water on site and release it slowly into the sewer system. In order not to overwhelm the city's sewer system, the project team created a 90,000-gallon storm-water-detention system and used stormwater for landscape irrigation.

Nearly 98 percent of the construction-related waste was recycled, and 77 percent of all materials used on the project were assembled within a 500-mile radius.

Integrating students, city and county

As one of the nation's largest crime laboratories, the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center at California State University Los Angeles (CSULA) combines academic teaching and research programs with the operating crime laboratories of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the city of Los Angeles Police.

This 209,000-square-foot facility creates a signature gateway to CSULA's campus, and accommodates about 400 staff members, as well as the university's School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics.

Sustainability is a key component of this facility, which received LEED silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Energy performance of the building is enhanced through the use of high-efficiency variable-speed chillers; premium-efficiency variable-speed pumps on the secondary cooling and heating hot-water pumps; and super-efficient built-up variable-volume air-handling units. Continuous dimming daylighting controls and occupancy sensors are used for light fixtures in lab and administration areas, and the building's narrow floor plate maximizes natural light to interior spaces.

Situated near public transportation, the facility also features a 300,000-gallon rain-storage system in the north parking area, which reduces the need to use potable water for irrigation. A cool roof reflects solar energy to reduce the heat-island effect and lower summer HVAC cooling loads.

On the inside, laboratory fume hoods are continuously exhausted and supplied 100 percent outside-air makeup, while maintaining negative pressure in relation to adjacent spaces to protect occupants.

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