Low-Flow Laboratory: Water Efficiency In A Research Setting

Shara Castillo, ZGF Architects LLP
Ryan Velasco, ZGF Architects LLP

Labs are voracious consumers of both energy and water. This session focuses on reducing consumption of potable water and sewage discharge in newly constructed laboratories.

Designers of high-performance labs have an environmental obligation to consider their project's water use and look for ways to reduce it to the extent possible. A well-designed lab can save millions of gallons by thinking outside the box and coordinating knowledge between disciplines. This presentation covers lessons learned on several recent projects.

A successful design team will start in the conceptual design phase by identifying potential sources of nonpotable water and potential reuses. We outline the process for performing water balance calculations to identify areas of focus. There are code limitations and public health requirements to consider, and approvals from permitting authorities are often required. We define water quality terminology and identify factors that limit nonpotable water reuse for different applications. We explain the process of having water quality analyzed for salts, dissolved solids, and other factors that can cause degradation.

The environmental concerns around water vary significantly by location. This presentation shares knowledge on regional utility costs, ways to make a reuse scheme more feasible by pursuing rebates, and completing life cycle cost analysis to justify the investment.

Our presentation contains a case study of a new lab project in Texas that saves over 2 million gallons of water annually, and required coordination between the architect, plumbing engineer, mechanical engineer, owner, energy analyst, environmental consultant, and landscape designer.

Presentation details composed in collaboration with Atelier Ten USA LLC, Environmental Consultants.

Learning Objectives

  • Participants will acquire the regional relevance of water conservation. Many areas throughout the country are facing water shortages, particularly dry climates with high growth rates. Resilience is an increasingly important issue throughout the country and is particularly important in laboratories.
  • Participants will be capable of defining how regional water costs, financial incentives, and lifecycle costs all play a role in how institutions operate their laboratories. Factors such as water scarcity, intermittent availability, or high cost for water purchase or discharge fees also can drive the desire to be more responsible.
  • Participants will discover factors that affect water conservation in lab design relevant to their field of work. Through visual material containing analysis result charts, flow diagrams, and product images, the participants will gain knowledge on what aspects of laboratory functions can directly affect the water usage of a facility.
  • The presentation will explore the necessity of multidisciplinary coordination to maximize water conservation results. The philosophy of integrated design relies on systems that work with each other to fulfill the ultimate goal of sustainability.


Shara Castillo has 10 years of professional experience focused in the areas of technical design and project management. Her responsibilities include design and engineering coordination, and construction administration. As a project manager, she has collaborated with a broad range of building types, with particular emphasis on technical laboratories and sustainable architecture. Ms. Castillo interfaces with clients, consultants, and contractors to ensure continuity throughout a project.

Ryan Velasco first joined ZGF as a college intern and later returned for full-time employment after completing his Bachelor of Architecture degree, with a minor in business administration, from the University of Arizona. For the past five years, he has made his mark as a passionate designer architect. He collaborates with teams to reach specified project goals, and strives to create an end product that goes beyond client expectations. Mr. Velasco is a licensed architect in the state of California.


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