Optimizing Airflows for Laboratories

Shruti Kasarekar, Atelier Ten
Brian Meinrath, Atelier Ten

The energy consumption in research labs is often driven largely by the volume of outdoor air being supplied and exhausted. Factors such as fume hoods, heat-generating research equipment, and safety standards combine with exhaust air requirements to result in large volumes of outdoor air supply, often several times higher than comparably sized office buildings.

Every lab project is unique. The complex factors that drive air flows vary greatly from project to project. As a result, applying best practice design guidelines may no longer suffice when designing a high-performance laboratory of the highest caliber. Further owner's needs and limits with regards to safety and maintenance can significantly influence high-performance lab design. Working with owners' groups to refine and update safety requirements can present substantial energy savings, while introducing additional variables for the design team to work around

A systematic method consisting of detailed analysis, measured data from similar laboratories, and collaboration with owners and the design team can be helpful in optimizing air flows within laboratories for maximum energy savings.

In this paper, we present comparative analysis which evaluates various background ventilation rates, fume hood exhaust rates and sensible cooling requirements, as determined by whole-building energy analysis. These variables together impact the choice of mechanical systems options, controls, and energy efficiency measures that are viable for the project. The paper discusses typical criteria used for defining air flows in laboratory spaces and their impact on whole building energy use. Further, the paper presents opportunities identified for a project currently under construction, and the approach developed for analysis, deriving conclusions and communicating findings.

The end result is a holistic approach to inform owners and design teams about air flows within their laboratory buildings and the impact on HVAC system selection and sizing, controls, energy performance, and energy cost.

Finally, using the lab project presented as an example, we discuss lessons learned that can be applied to the development of similar methods for other project types that have complex requirements impacting energy and environmental performance.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand factors affecting air flows within a lab and their interaction.
  • Identify major design issues affecting reduction of air flows in labs.
  • Identify top strategies and approaches for optimizing air flow in labs.


Shruti is a senior environmental designer at Atelier Ten. Shruti holds an under graduate degree in Architecture from India, an M.S. in Building Science from Arizona State University. As a building energy specialist in Atelier Ten Shruti consults on a wide variety of large scale residential, commercial and institutional buildings in the United States.Some of his current clients include the University of Idaho, SF MoMA and Stanford University.

Brian Meinrath, a member of Atelier Ten's environmental design practice group, has expertise in analyzing comprehensive water management systems and optimizing complex facades. He has managed a wide range of project types, including universities, lab buildings, commercial towers, and cultural institutions. Some of his current clients include the University of Texas, Stanford University, and the University of Utah. Brian holds a B.Architecture and a BA in Architecture from Rice University.


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