By Director of Lab Programming Jane Kepros, LEED GA
There are many misconceptions about lab design. In this article, we will delve into some common myths and explain why these may not be applicable for a particular project.
Myth #1: Lab Design Is Highly Regulated
While there are multiple regulations that need to be adhered to in an operational laboratory, clients are often surprised to learn that outside of general building, plumbing, and fire code requirements, there are often minimal (and sometimes zero additional) design regulations that are required solely because a space is designated as a lab. Most lab regulations have to do with the operations taking place within the lab, and the safe storage or transport of materials and waste in and out of the lab.
Of course, every project is unique. During the programming and planning phases it is best for clients to work with their design team and consultants to identify any special functions, hazards, or limitations of their site that may trigger special codes or regulations based on where they are located or the type of work they do.
Myth #2: You Cannot Use Certain Finishes or Products in Labs
Lab design involves the selection of many finishes and products, including flooring, wall paint, cabinetry, worksurfaces or lab benches, ceiling tiles or paint, piping, and plumbing fixtures. Many people think that certain finishes or products are never allowed in laboratories. This is generally not the case. Typically, certain materials are selected based on multiple factors including their durability, cleanability, resistance to chemicals or mold, sustainability, and availability. There are certain rules of thumb for using different materials that are considered best practice in particular environments, but they are rarely mandatory.
When selecting finishes and products, clients should work with their project, operations, facilities, and design teams to consider all the above factors, in addition to the upfront cost, including cost for both material and installation, and long-term cost, including maintenance or replacement.
Myth #3: The Rules of Lab Design are Absolute
There are many myths within lab design that are conveyed using “always” or “never” language, such as “sinks should always be located near the entrance,” or “wood casework should never be used in a biology lab.” The reality is that it depends.
Often a client will make a request for their project design and use the “always” or “never” language themselves. This does not mean that all future clients think the same way. Their processes, safety program, material use, maintenance schedule, and even design aesthetic may dictate the exact opposite of the previous request. It is best to ask follow up questions to the client about why they have a specific preference and use that background information to inform your approach on future projects.
Just because you can do something does not mean that you should, and just because a material or product is available to use, does not mean that it is a good option. It is best to take multiple factors into account, weigh the options, and at the end of the day remember that except for code requirements, the client is the final decision maker. They are going to be the ones to work in and be responsible for cleaning and maintaining the space in the immediate future. The final layout and selection of products and materials must work with how they operate.