How Smart Is Your Lab? Using the Smart Labs Toolkit to Achieve High Performance Labs

Rachel Shepherd, Department of Energy, Federal Energy Management Program
Amanda Kirkeby, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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Cutting-edge research often hosts hazards that must be contained effectively to maintain a safe work environment for researchers. As a result, laboratories are complex buildings that can be challenging and costly to operate correctly, typically consuming up to 10 times more energy than similar-sized commercial buildings. As much as 50 percent of that energy use is wasted through inefficient ventilation systems that are ineffective in mitigating risk in lab spaces. Resources that exist to inform sustainable lab design and management practices are often difficult to find. The Smart Labs Toolkit provides a cohesive collection of resources to guide research facility stakeholders through a straight-forward, holistic approach for achieving dynamic, high-performance laboratories.

The Toolkit is hosted on the I2SL website; it outlines key strategies for developing a successful Smart Labs program and leads users step-by-step through each phase of the Smart Labs process: Plan, Assess, Optimize, and Manage. Each phase hosts resources, including case studies, training, templates, and videos, highlighting lessons learned from 17 partners in the Better Buildings Smart Labs Accelerator. Best practices include performing in-depth ventilation and energy assessments, financing improvements, and implementing ongoing benchmarking to maintain dynamic facilities. Attendees will walk away from the presentation with a framework for building a successful Smart Labs program and a Toolkit of resources for improving lab facilities to operate cost-effectively, increase flexibility and dependability, enhance energy efficiency, and improve safety.

Learning Objectives

  • Use the Smart Labs Toolkit effectively as a resource to improve efficiency, safety, and sustainability in critical research facilities;
  • Understand key strategies in forming a successful Smart Labs program;
  • Understand the importance of engaging researchers and stakeholders for a successful Smart Labs program; and
  • Implement best practices for laboratory ventilation systems to both reduce energy bills and put the safety of occupants first.


Rachel Shepherd leads the Distributed Energy and Critical Buildings programs for the U.S. Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP). She led the Better Buildings Smart Labs Accelerator and manages a team helping organizations achieve high performance labs. Prior to FEMP, Shepherd conducted energy and commissioning audits for commercial facilities, working with owners to identify energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Amanda Kirkeby is with the Applied Engineering Group in the Integrated Application Center at NREL. She is a major contributor of the Smart Labs Toolkit, drafting content to present straight-forward, user-friendly guidelines and best practices for Smart Labs programs and high-performance lab design. Kirkeby has a B.A. in Physics from Middlebury College and was a member of the 2018 winning Elementary School team in the Race to Zero Student Building Design Competition.


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