Selected Highlights of the Labs21 2007 Annual Conference


Energy Efficiency in Vivariums

Peter Rumsey, Rumsey Engineers, and Glen Berry, Design for Science


Building efficient laboratories can be a challenge, but vivariums present an even bigger challenge. With their higher demands for temperature stability and humidity control, as well as for energy, they are more difficult to design than other facilities. Despite these challenges, there are many opportunities for successful efficient design.

Vivariums can be two to three times more energy intensive than laboratories, as they typically have higher air change rates and use more steam and energy for cage rack cleaning and sterilization. Traditional practice usually places safety and performance above all other concerns, at the expense of energy efficiency. Most facilities managers, owners, and engineers have a “belt and suspenders” design mentality: if one is good, two must be better.

picture of vivariums in a large holding room

Vivariums in a large holding room

Transgenic mice are the next big thing in biotech laboratory research, and to some extent this is driving the exploding need for vivariums. These are mice without immune systems—they are useful for research because they die at the slightest infection. Researchers inject different materials to determine what reaction causes death. If there's an outbreak, however, the potential problem is that all the mice die. Therefore, barrier control and optimal airflow are at a premium.

Some of the design strategies that have been effectively employed in efficient vivariums include: lowering minimum air change rates; using computational fluid dynamics modeling to optimize airflow; specifying highly efficient air handling equipment; minimizing reheat; and selecting highly efficient cage rack cleaning systems and tunnel washers. 

The selection of highly efficient equipment like sterilizers, autoclaves, and biosafety cabinets presents a good opportunity for energy savings. There are also different energy impacts between open cage racks and ventilated cage systems. The authors recently conducted a thorough comparison of energy implications of a wide variety of cage rack washing systems. They found a wide range of energy efficiency among different vendors of washing equipment, and discovered that often the best equipment available in a given category is not optimal in terms of energy efficiency.

Building practice for vivariums must evolve to incorporate new energy efficiency standards promoted by the U.S. Green Buildings Council, Labs21, and other organizations. Highly efficient and sustainable vivariums can be designed and built without sacrificing safety, performance, or cost effectiveness.

View this entire presentation in PDF format (2.3 MB, 32 pp)


Peter Rumsey, founder and president of Rumsey Engineers, Inc., is a global player in energy efficiency, with over 20 years of experience in a broad range of government, scientific, and private sector projects. His expertise includes design of efficient HVAC systems and energy monitoring systems in commercial buildings and critical environments, management of project teams, and analysis of design options using computer simulation tools. Peter has published many papers on energy efficiency and HVAC issues. Before founding Rumsey Engineers, he held engineering and management positions at Sol*Arc Architects, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, XENERGY Energy Consultants, the International Institute for Energy Conservation, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Mr. Rumsey has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, and is a registered mechanical engineer in 11 states, including California, Arizona, and Texas. He is a Certified Energy Manager and an active member of ASHRAE and the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE). The AEE San Francisco Bay Area Chapter named Peter Energy Engineer of the Year in 2001.

Glen Berry is the president and founder of Design for Science. Mr. Berry has specialized in the programming, planning, and design of science buildings since 1986. He holds a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Utah (1988) and a Bachelor of Arts degree in design from Brigham Young University (1983). Mr. Berry is a registered architect in Utah and Nevada, and is certified with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Prior to founding Design for Science in June 2000, Mr. Berry was a principal with Hellmuth Obata + Kassabaum, GPR Planners Collaborative, and Research Facilities Design.