The Four Keys to a Good Lab Building

The Four Keys to a Good Lab Building

By Jane Kepros, LEED GA

Whether you are a developer looking to build a new building, a landlord interested in converting an existing building, or a company looking for a new home, there are specific and important considerations for the layout and construction of a laboratory building. These key considerations are construction type, building infrastructure, lab utilities, and amenities.

Construction Type

First, consider the type of construction. How the building is designed and constructed is an important factor to support laboratory needs. Sufficient fire resistance construction ratings are required for hazardous material use and storage, control area or lab suite segregation, and improved fireproofing.

Anti-vibration methods to isolate sensitive equipment is another common requirement. Many items in a lab require low or no vibration, including imaging instruments, nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, lasers, and animal care facilities. The construction of the building must be robust to prevent or reduce vibration transferring throughout the building from various sources such as equipment with moving parts, elevators, mechanical equipment, nearby trains, and even people walking.

It is also important that the floor-to-floor height is sufficient to accommodate HVAC, plumbing, utilities/access and taller equipment, and that the floor loads can support heavy equipment.

Building Infrastructure

Elements in the building’s infrastructure are important for supporting the needs of a lab. Dedicated passenger and freight elevators allow for separation of materials, waste, and personnel are critical. Doors should be wide enough to move equipment, casework, skids, and waste; 3’-6” width by 8’-0” height is typical. A loading dock is essential for incoming/outgoing materials along with an adequate driveway for delivery of equipment, supplies, and compressed gases and liquids. Waste management areas are required for temporary staging/storage and collection areas for biohazard, chemical, recycling, and general waste.

In addition, labs require an increased need for air handling due to increased ventilation requirements which may include dedicated rooftop units or redundancy for specific functions or spaces. Any confidential science performed may require additional security for legal or safety reasons. Finally, adequate storage is needed for busy labs and environmentally stable areas may be required.

Lab Utilities

You also must consider: What type of utilities are being provided for the lab? Will these utilities be provided by the landlord and metered for tenants, or tenant-owned? Lab utilities are an essential consideration for building tenants. Landlords will need to consider what is pre-wired or pre-plumbed, where the “house” systems live, where the “tenant” systems live and how to access these for maintenance or replacement. A well drafted landlord-tenant matrix is essential for a tenant and landlord to understand their utility responsibilities.

A house purified water system may be preferred, or a tenant may provide a local unit that requires pre-filtering. There may be an increased demand for hot water supply to maintain a tempered water loop for eyewashes and emergency showers, which may trigger a boiler upgrade. An air compressor and vacuum pump are frequently needed and plumbed to the open bench areas. Various compressed gases may be required and these could be supplied as smaller cylinders, larger dewars, micro or mini bulk systems, or from a gas generator.

Thoughtful consideration of potential needs should go into planning the building or site to accommodate these gases, including truck access for refills or transport of full or empty containers.

Any potential sinks where hazardous materials may be disposed down the drain should be plumbed to a pH neutralization system. If this is centralized, it should be monitored on a tenant-by-tenant basis. Additional tenant utilities may include generator back up power for critical equipment, uninterrupted power supply for equipment that requires constant power, and networking needs for equipment that require specialty services like dedicated servers.


Science and technology companies are often competing to attract and retain talent in hub markets, including the Greater Boston area. One way of doing this is by being thoughtful about amenities when moving to a new space. These offerings should be included in the building or available in the immediate surrounding neighborhood. Amenities may include: eateries and restaurants, vehicle and bike parking, a fitness center and showers, outdoor space, artwork, meeting and conference space, daycare, and public transit access.

Buildings must meet certain requirements to support laboratory space. The specifics will depend on the tenant, or desired tenant, and their science, processes and equipment. When starting a new project, make sure to evaluate the construction type, building infrastructure, lab utilities and potential or nearby amenities, as these are all important factors that should be taken into consideration in the design and layout of the building.

This article was featured in Banker & Tradesman.