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Best Practices for Designing Energy-Efficient Laboratory Ventilation and Control Systems

Woody Dickinson, TSI Incorporated

Properly designed laboratory control systems maintain ventilation, comfort and pressurization. They provide primary and secondary containment by ensuring that fume hoods operate properly and that the entire laboratory space remains negative with respect to adjoining spaces. They can consume, however, a considerable amount of energy.

The type of laboratory and its use should determine the overall mechanical system design as well as the best control strategy. The reason for VAV labs is well understand with a brief summary of the features and benefits. Still, budget constraints and rising energy costs impose a greater incentive for designing in optimal laboratory control systems that reduce exhaust air volumes to that needed for the safety and comfort of those people working in and around laboratories.

Control systems and their components will be analyzed and compared for first cost and life cycle operating costs, including energy use. This will be a rigorous engineering based poster presentation that highlights advantages and disadvantages of todays commonly applied laboratory control systems: direct pressure, offset, or flow tracking, and flow tracking with pressure feedback. Examples of recently constructed laboratory buildings will be featured to focus on real-life lessons learned, including comparing fan energy use via fan curves and manufacturer's projected energy use. The control system selection affects the mechanical equipment selection and duct requirement, which, in turn, affect the structural requirements as well as the building floor plan and footprint.

System components have a profound effect on system operation and must be chosen appropriately, particularly when optimizing for energy efficiency. Dampers, flow sensors, and venturi valves all have pros and cons when balancing first cost with operating costs, accuracies, and system performance. All will be compared for advantages and disadvantages providing the engineer/planner with a basis for recommendation.

Labs21 Connection:

This poster presentation analyzes how the type of laboratory control system determines the HVAC system design, which, in turn, affects the building's design and its lifetime energy use. Poster graphics will show side-by-side comparisons of each laboratory control system in terms of first cost and design factors, equipment differences, and energy usage in easy to read and understandable tables. Similar techniques will be used to compare operating performance and energy usage differences of damper-based and venturi valve based systems, supported by two prominent, recently constructed laboratory-building projects.

This presentation technique provides a template for the engineer to specifically optimize whole building efficiency on a life-cycle basis and establish goals upfront for designing these systems, track their performance, and strive for continuous improvement. The posters will show the use of life-cycle cost analysis, adding laboratory ventilation control to the owner's array of energy efficiency strategies to promote energy efficiency efforts. This session will effectively encourage laboratory owners, operators, and designers to adopt the "Labs21 Approach" when it comes to the all important ventilation control system necessary for safety and comfortable working conditions.


Woody Dickinson earned his Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Colorado in 1976, an MBA from University of Wisconsin Whitewater in 1998, is a Greenbelt in Six Sigma and a long time member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers. During his 17 years in the commercial HVAC controls industry with Johnson Controls and Siemens Building Technologies, and currently with TSI Incorporated, he has become an accomplished technical marketer currently focusing on laboratory ventilation and controls projects as TSI's Senior Product Manager of Critical Environments.

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