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Comparative Case Studies, Alternative Energy Solutions for Lab Ventilation

Richard R. Janis, PE, LEED™ Accredited, William Tao & Associates, Inc.
Jeff Erker, Johnson Controls, Inc.
This presentation compares four project case studies. Each project uses a different approach to saving energy in lab ventilation systems. The projects are:

  • Nidus Center (LEED™ Silver, Labs21, Consulting Engineers Council Engineering Excellence Award)
  • Washington University Earth & Planetary Sciences Building (LEED™ Registered)
  • SE Missouri State Crime Lab
  • Pfizer St. Louis Research Buildings AA/BB (MSPE Outstanding Engineering Achievement Award)

Each of these projects is exposed to the same climate conditions and has significant ventilation requirements due to fume hoods and air exchange rates for safety. There are, however, differences in lab users' practices, differences in materials being handled in the labs, and differences in budget and economic goals of the owner. Meetings and close communications were done throughout the design process to make sure that the designers were producing solutions appropriate to the specific needs of each of the projects.

Differences in specific needs of the projects dictated different solutions to the problem of energy conservation in the design of ventilation systems:

  • Nidus Center: Utilizes the owner's suggested minimum air exchange rates, full VAV hood controls, and energy recovery wheels in general lab exhaust.
  • Washington University Earth & Planetary Sciences Building: Uses low flow hoods, adjustable airflow rates based on safety requirements of individual lab modules and supplementary cooling for appliance loads.
  • SE Missouri State Crime Lab: Uses concensus air exchange rates and 2-position VAV fume hoods.
  • Pfizer St. Louis Research Buildings AA/BB: Uses corporate standard minimum air exchange rates and full VAV hood controls.

The presentation will describe the project context and program characteristics which resulted in the different solutions. Pro's, con's and results of these basic system choices will be outlined for specific applications.


The primary lesson of for lab designers is that no single solution is applicable to all labs. The lab designer must consider many issues before applying a specific ventilation technology and energy conservation methods:

  • Nature of hazardous materials
  • Corporate/institutional/local authorities standards and codes
  • Experience level of lab users
  • Climate
  • Building configuration
  • Maintenance capabilities
  • Initial cost constraints
  • Owner investment criteria

If the project design is not approached on a "whole building" basis, the ventilation system may become an off-the-shelf-solution copied from the last project or the latest journal.

The presentation will also address energy modeling and commissioning as part of the overall design and installation process. Energy modeling was performed during design of each of these projects. (Accuracy of the modeling techniques was validated by operating experience with the Nidus Center, which has sufficient records to provide reliable data.) The case studies include energy performance comparisons of the various technologies used on the four projects. In addition, these projects include valuable data on initial cost, maintenance experience, and life cycle economics. At the time of presentation we will also have had a chance to consult with users and assess their reaction to the installations. Three of the projects will have over one year of operation; the other two several months.

All of the four projects were commissioned, but the procedures varied based on differences in project delivery methods. The presentation will comment on lessons learned about the effectiveness of commissioning methods.

Labs21 Connection:

The approach used on the four projects was to design ventilation systems based on the engineers' understanding of "whole building" issues rather than simply designing to air conditioning loads and minimum air exchange rates. The list of issues in the prior section indicates the variety of people whose input was needed during the process. This approach involved close cooperation and communication among the many owners' representatives, the architect and the engineer to make sure that solutions were integrated and that they truly address the programmatic needs.

Considerable meeting time and charrettes were necessary to gain information, test concepts, and assure that solutions were specific and appropriate to the project. These four, fairly contemporaneous projects in the same climate and locality are markedly different in their ventilation systems designs. This demonstrates that specific solutions are necessary for different project needs.

Life cycle cost analysis was performed for each project in order to compare solutions and demonstrate to the owner that the chosen designs were consistent with their general investment guidelines. In all cases it was important to save energy within reasonable economic parameters. Spending too much on energy technology would have diverted resources better spent on other aspects of the project. Again, a "whole building" approach was used.

Safety was a paramount consideration in each of the designs. Three of the projects were designed with input from corporate or institutional environmental health and safety professionals. The other was designed to safety guidelines from a national accreditation organization. In some cases, the project team challenged guidelines and they were relaxed when proposed solutions were considered equivalent in safety.

The projects exemplify many of the Labs 21 tenets, including whole building design, investment decisions based on life cycle, energy efficient HVAC systems, and recovery technology. These tenets, properly applied, will produce unique designs, specific and appropriate to unique project needs.


Richard R. Janis, PE, LEED™ Accredited, has been a practicing professional engineer for over 20 years. Mr. Janis was educated at University of Missouri at Rolla, where he received his B.S. Degree in Mechanical Engineering. His graduate work includes a Master of Architecture and an M.S. in Building Environmental Systems from Washington University.

His work includes research, evaluation and design of building environmental systems and sustainable energy technology. As manager for most of his firm's master planning and high-tech projects, he is responsible for establishing design criteria, systems selection, utility requirements, design implementation, and planning commissioning efforts. Innovative concepts in laboratory and data center projects have won national design awards.

He is author of Mechanical and Electrical Systems in Buildings (Prentice Hall 1997, 2001) and numerous articles on topical issues in the field. As an affiliate Associate Professor, Mr. Janis teaches building technology courses including "Climate and Light" at Washington University School of Architecture and "Engineering Systems Parameters" in the School of Engineering.

Janis is active in USGBC St. Louis, having served on the Executive Committee since the Chapter's inception in 2002. He is also active in IFMA (International Facility Managers Association), is a past Chapter President, and has presented papers on sustainable design topics at World Workplace.

Jeff Erker, BS-ME UM-Rolla '96, Account Executive with Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI), has been working in the St. Louis area's Research and Life Science Market for the last 6 of his 8 years at JCI. Jeff works closely with the owners, engineers and contractors to assist in system design, installation, and commissioning processes.

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