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To mitigate hazardous fumes/noxious odors and control contact with infectious agents in diagnostic laboratories, single-pass air (100% exhaust), often at high ventilation rates, is needed.   

Pacific Diagnostic Laboratories (PDL), Santa Barbara, Calif., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cottage Health System (CHS), is "the most comprehensive reference laboratory between Los Angeles and the Bay Area." In 2009, PDL decided to relocate its core laboratory operations to a 25,900-ft2, single-story former telephone building, across the street from the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital. The design challenge was to create a state-of-the-art laboratory providing safe, healthy, and comfortable working conditions for staff, while controlling energy usage, enabling change, and supporting patient care, laboratory operations and staff satisfaction. The project was completed in 2010.

Diagnostic vs. research labs
Diagnostic laboratories are process-driven, more like a factory than a research laboratory. Clinical and anatomic pathology diagnostic laboratories use hazardous chemicals (xylene, formalin, corrosives) and involve preparation/testing of pathogenic specimens.

To mitigate hazardous fumes/noxious odors and control contact with infectious agents, single-pass air (100% exhaust), often at high ventilation rates, is needed. Some portions of the laboratory operate 24/7 (with multiple shifts of staff) while others are 12/5. Diagnostic laboratories must also adapt to changes in technology, operations, and individual staff requirements.

The building design incorporates the following features to improve the energy performance by 37.8% as compared to California's Title 24 Energy Standards:

1. HVAC:

  • Phoenix Controls VAV laboratory system with Aircuity OptiNet to match ventilation rates to the actual demand, improving dilution ventilation when contaminants are sensed and providing energy savings during low-process and non-occupancy periods. Air changes/hr (ACH) can be modulated between 4 and 12 depending on airborne contaminant levels (VOCs, CO2, particulates, etc.).
  • Sensible and latent energy recovery on the exhaust air stream with pre-heating and pre-cooling coils in all air handlers.
  • Variable-speed drives for air handling units (AHUs) and pumps.
  • Switchable local exhaust devices (backdraft, snorkel, canopy hood).
  • Demand control ventilation on the AHU serving the office area.
  • Staged high-efficiency chiller plant and boilers.
  • Johnson DDC energy management system.

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Demand controlled ventilation varies airflow in labs according to actual measurements of air quality. Images courtesy of the authors   

2. Lighting:

  • Occupancy sensors control lighting in non-laboratory areas.
  • High-efficiency lighting and lighting controls.

3. Architectural:

  • High-performance dual-pane tinted glazing.
  • A high-mass building with added thermal insulation in the walls and roof.
  • Cool Roof Rating Council–certified roofing material.

An energy analysis was developed for CHS as part the California state-wide SavingsByDesign energy-efficiency program. BIM modeling enabled coordination of building systems. The building was fully commissioned by a third-party commissioning agent to ensure the design intent was implemented.

The additional costs to the project were calculated to be $410,850. Part of this cost was offset by a utility rebate of $138,131. The remainder was calculated to be offset by energy savings in 6.5 years. Calculated energy savings are 233,633 kWh of electricity and 57,097 therms of natural gas.

Laboratory planning adaptability
The LEAN laboratory planning approach enables programmatic change without compromising operations or employee health, safety, and comfort. PDL continues to reconfigure the casework and install new equipment, enabled by the Herman Miller adaptable casework system, and grid of drains provided by cup sink drains mounted in the casework cores. The casework contributes to sustainability due to its returnable/reusable packaging, durability, pre-consumer recycled content and post-consumer content.

Flexibility, adaptability and redundancy in building systems, casework, and open planning enable PDL to balance staff safety, health and comfort with energy and operational efficiency. The PDL site in Goleta is an example of how the combination of an integrated design approach, forward thinking, and clients who are receptive to innovation can come together to implement a successful project. Feedback from employees, management and CHS facilities personnel confirms that design goals are being met.

Amy Delson, AIA, is principal at Strategic Facilities Planning, Atherton, Calif. ( Thomas Hughes, CEPE, LEED AP B+C, is principal at Mechanical Engineering Consultants Inc., Santa Barbara, Calif. (