Cutting Lab Energy Use Through Operational and Behavioral Measures

Mark Mullins, Bright Trail Energy

Heating and cooling energy at laboratory facilities is typically substantially higher than comparably sized typical buildings such as offices, often by as much as 3X to 5X. High heating use in labs is driven by a combination of high ventilation rates, lab air change requirements, and inefficient control of HVAC systems.

We will focus on strategies for reducing energy use through more efficient control of HVAC systems, such as air handling unit discharge air reset, night setback, and occupancy sensors. We will also present common cultural roadblocks that undermine these energy saving improvements along with unique holistic, behavioral strategies for removing these roadblocks. The presentation will include results from actual projects to highlight the pros and cons of these strategies.


Many lab energy efficiency projects fail for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • The design does not address how the facility actually operates. For example, efficient HVAC control strategies may not account for rooms with high equipment loads.
  • The design team does not solicit feedback from the maintenance staff, who may have tried but abandoned the proposed strategies.
  • The labs are conditioned 24x7 year round due to the perception that researchers occupy the labs all hours.
  • The project team does not review the strategies after installation to see if they need to be adjusted.

Consequently, the strategies are slowly undone over time.

The presentation will include examples from actual projects regarding how to overcome the roadblocks described above. For example, with the proposed discharge air reset strategy, the design team collaborated with the facility maintenance staff to adjust the controls by trial-and-error, thus ensuring buy-in from facility staff and delivering a control strategy that actually delivered on its promise. Case studies discussing solutions to other roadblocks will also be presented.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify common roadblocks associated with lab energy efficiency projects.
  • Understand typical stakeholders involved in lab retrofit projects.
  • Understand processes for overcoming technical and engineering roadblocks for lab efficiency projects.
  • Identify solutions to overcoming cultural and behavior roadblocks related to lab efficiency projects.


Mark Mullins, PE has over 20 years of experience in energy efficiency and has developed comprehensive energy efficiency projects for a wide range of institutional customers, including laboratory facilities. Mr. Mullins has recently focused his attention on incorporating both operational and behavioral measures to help improve long term success of energy savings projects.


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