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Laboratory settings in green buildings present unique challenges


In 2009, DePaul University's Andrew J. McGowan Science Building earned the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certification—a significant accomplishment, as laboratory facilities are large consumers of energy and other resources.

The building, known as McGowan South on DePaul's Chicago campus, opened in January 2009 and was the first university science building in Illinois to achieve sustainable designation from the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council.

Green features of the 130,000-square-foot facility include high-reflectance materials used in roofing and pavement fabrication, a green roof with two greenhouses and a planted garden, and the use of more than 25% recycled materials in construction, among others.

But while LEED certification does not specifically increase exposures for school properties, laboratory settings do, said Mark Titzer, associate vp at DePaul University in Chicago, whose responsibilities include risk management.

And sustainable construction efforts need to be modified to accommodate these exposures.

“Like any building that features laboratory equipment such as gas ports and open burners, there is inherently more risk than with a building containing ordinary classroom space,” Mr. Titzer said.

To manage such risks in a laboratory setting, DePaul University has enhanced fire protection equipment and other safety features available, he said.

“So while there is an additional element of risk, it is offset by other design elements and rigorous safety training for faculty and students, which we conduct each quarter,” Mr. Titzer said.

Rod Mazandarani, a San Diego-based associate with architectural design firm HKS Inc., who worked on the building as a LEED consultant, said other unique sustainable considerations include an exhaust air recovery system, variable air volume supply and exhaust, high-efficiency natural gas boilers and water heaters, and efficient lighting with occupancy sensors.

“The structure included extensive use of regional building materials, with a high recycled content and low (volatile organic compounds) finishes,” he said. “We incorporated an aggressive construction waste management plan and a green housekeeping plan to reduce adverse impact on our resource and building occupants.”


Those features and other sustainable efforts added approximately 1.4% to McGowan South's $40 million price tag. But the green features of the building are expected to make the structure 24% more efficient than a comparable building that is compliant with Illinois' basic building standards, the U.S. Green Building Council said in a statement.

But designing and constructing the building came with its own set of challenges as laboratories can use as much as five to 10 times the energy and water per square foot than an office building of comparable size, Mr. Mazandarani said.

“From a green perspective, it's always challenging to design an energy-efficient laboratory building because of the density of high-performance systems, the rigorous ventilation requirements and the precautionary health and safety measures required in lab facilities,” he said.

“We used a number of different strategies in combination to reduce our energy use as compared to similar buildings,” Mr. Mazandarani said, noting that there was not a specific LEED rating system for laboratories.

Mr. Titzer said that LEED certification for McGowan South did not necessarily affect risk management procedures for such properties.

“LEED certification in and of itself does not automatically produce risk management issues for properties,” he said. “However, certain elements that may factor into LEED certification, such as green roofs, do create insurance issues that have to be addressed.”

LEED certification that includes green roofs, for example, also increases the structure's replacement costs, which can affect associated insurance premiums, Mr. Titzer said.

“Still, DePaul has not experienced any material impact for the premiums for its three LEED certified structures,” he said.