With the demand for laboratory space continuing to grow, new core and shell laboratory projects are coming up daily, whether it’s a new high-rise building in downtown Boston or the repositioning of an existing building in the suburbs. While these types of projects range vastly in size and complexity, there is one feature that is common to the design of nearly all core and shell lab buildings: chemical storage rooms. As the overall chemical storage and use strategy is one of the primary components of a laboratory building, the design of the chemical storage rooms will play an important role in determining the overall portion of the life science market that a space may appeal to.
How should a chemical storage room be designed?
While this question may be the same for every project, the answer can vary drastically from one project to another. The need to provide certain features as part of the base building design depends on several factors, including the types of tenants, number of tenants, and the desired functionality of the room. Ultimately these factors will need to be reviewed in the context of the overall building chemical storage and use strategy to find a balance between the level of flexibility provided for tenants and the impact on the core and shell design.
What types of features need to be considered?
There are several protections features that should be considered as part of the design of a chemical storage room. These features will directly impact the functionality and future flexibility of the room, and thus the types of tenants that a space may appeal to. Key features include:
- Fire-rated separation. The fire-resistance rating for a chemical storage room will impact the quantity of chemicals that can be stored in the space. While it is common for chemical storage rooms to be designed as control areas as part of the base building design, it is important to consider whether there is a desire to provide flexibility for future conversion to a High-Hazard Group H occupancy, which would necessitate a greater fire-resistance rating.
- HVAC Design. The types of chemicals and operations within a chemical storage room may necessitate a specialty HVAC system to protect the hazards present. For example, a room designed for storage of flammable and combustible liquids will not require as robust an HVAC design as one where dispensing of flammable and combustible liquids will occur due to the presence of flammable vapors under normal operating conditions. At the time of core and shell construction, it can be difficult and costly to speculatively provide a system that is flexible enough to handle the wide array of chemical and operational hazards tenants may require. Often landlords elect to allocate shaft space to allow such systems to be provided at the time of tenant fit out once a known hazard can be identified.
- Secondary containment. The need for secondary containment is based on the sizes of chemical containers that will be present within chemical storage room. The sizes of containers that can be accommodated within a room will affect tenant operating procedures (for example, waste collection procedures). If there is a desire to accommodate larger containers, consideration should be given to providing secondary containment as part of the base building design.
- Fire protection. The required sprinkler design criteria for a chemical storage room depends on the types of chemicals and the storage arrangement within the room. The fire code references specialty standards in addition to the base NFPA 13 sprinkler design requirements to address specific hazards. Further, insurance carriers may have suppression design standards for chemical hazards. A basis of design for the sprinkler system should be established as early as the time of core and shell design with these additional requirements in mind to ensure the water supply and sprinkler supply piping are appropriately sized for a more robust sprinkler design to accommodate a greater variety of chemical types and storage arrangements.
- Electrical area classification. The presence of certain types of chemicals and operations (for example, dispensing of flammable liquids) could necessitate explosion proof or intrinsically safe electrical equipment within the chemical storage room. Consideration should be given to providing electrically classified equipment as part of the base building design to provide flexibility for the types of chemicals and operations that can be present within the room.
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