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Five Top Areas to Value Engineer a Laboratory Build Out

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Five Top Areas to Value Engineer a Laboratory Build Out

Most engineers’ and architects’ typical approach when designing a lab is geared toward big pharma standards where there is an unlimited source of money available to build out the facility. They often design each space to prepare for any possible contingency, as many of these large companies are constantly making modifications. These same standards do not need to be adhered to for a small to midsize firm with a different business model.

Below are the five areas where costs can be better managed by value engineering the project.


The HVAC component accounts for 30-40% of the cost to build the space. Over-designing this component of the lab is the biggest offender in overspending. There are two ways this will waste capital and future resources. First, the cost of additional HVAC units, ducts and supporting infrastructure drives up the construction costs. Secondly, the additional cost to run these systems increases monthly utilities unnecessarily. HVAC systems are designed to satisfy the specific scientific requirements for CFM (cubic feet per minutes) and will vary depending on the specific need or process to be performed. Correctly assessing the number of air changes and type of air flow needed, whether once through air or recirculating air, greatly impacts the size and capacity of the HVAC system.

2. Power

Power requirements can be reduced by determining the connected load (sum of all the amps) and base power requirements more accurately. Diversification should be considered when designing for electrical usage. This considers the actual amount being used at each interval throughout the day because all items needing electrical service are not on at the same time. Another cost saving effort is to switch to LED from fluorescent which uses less power. This creates a larger cost upfront but will well make up for it over the life of the project.

3. Ceiling Height

The necessary volume of air flow has a large impact on the operating cost of a lab. The volume of air flow is affected by the ceiling height. A reduction in the ceiling height from 12” to 9’ can reduce operating costs by as much as 30%. Lab specs are typically measured in cubic feet per minute and either utilize once through or recirculating air. Making this modification can also reduce the size of HVAC units needed as well as monthly utility costs.

4. Materials

Many engineers and architects also design with modular construction even though the walls will never be moved. Sheetrock studs and FRP panels are less expensive and achieve the same result for a pharmaceutical use, though they cannot be moved. Other ways to cut costs are to evaluate whether all the walls must go up to the deck or not. Using thicker walls than needed may also increase cost unnecessarily.

5. Equipment

Another factor to consider is utilizing high efficient boilers. This will create a higher cost up front, but lower cost to operate.

It is most advantageous for tenants to make value engineering a project a priority before selecting and finalizing vendors. Utilizing the information detailed above will enable you to make the best use of your budget for both construction and ongoing operation of your facility.

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