Balancing Lab Safety With Reducing Ventilation

Paul Tsang, Jacobs Engineering Group

Ventilation is a major contributor to energy consumption in labs. Typically once-through air systems are used since the air in the lab cannot be recirculated to other parts of the building. Besides the minimum air change rate requirements mandated by Codes and Standards, large amounts of outside air (as makeup) are also needed for fume hood exhaust.

There is always a concern about the environmental health and safety inside a lab. When chemicals and solvents are being used in the lab, the lab operation managers are often reluctant to reduce the airflow rate.

To ensure that air quality is acceptable while airflow is turned down, sensors placed in the space can continuously monitor the air quality. However, sensors and instrumentation requires calibration and regular upkeep. Another option would be capturing air samples from specific room and routing these samples to a centralized suite of sensors for analysis. The sensor analysis is then used to inform building ventilation controls to optimize the air change rates based on the current conditions in the lab space.

Utilizing this continuous monitoring approach, critical spaces can be monitored for carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulates. Ventilation rates can then be adjusted according to actual needs of the space. This approach addresses both safety and energy efficiency by providing higher ventilation rates, only when needed, while saving significant amounts of energy when the air is clean.

Learning Objectives

  • Learn about the approach of reducing airflow rates in the lab in order to reduce energy consumption.
  • Learn about the effective ways to monitoring air quality
  • Learn about key factors that affect lab air quality.
  • Learn about different air monitoring systems


Paul T. Tsang is a Professional Engineer, Certified Energy Manager and LEED Accredited Professional with over 30 years of experience in design and construction management of mechanical systems. Paul has designed and managed projects in life sciences and laboratory building construction. Paul is a member of the Massachusetts Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. He has been teaching evening classes at Northeastern University for the past 28 years.


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