Laboratory Design Checklist for 2024

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Lab design checklist: the essential considerations for setting up your new laboratory

Research conducted by Savills indicates a significant uptake in laboratory and office space in Cambridge, surpassing 192,000 sq ft in the first half of 2022. Notably, life science and tech entities comprised 76% of these transactions, suggesting a thriving sector poised for further expansion.

The increasing interest in life sciences emphasises the opportune moment for action. Whether initiating a move or refurbishment, now is the time to act. However, the complexity of relocating or setting up a laboratory extends beyond mere square footage. Fundamental infrastructure components such as backup generators and vacuum lines, alongside crucial Biosafety level (BSL) considerations, demand attention. Additionally, bespoke design elements like audio-visual systems for hybrid work setups and collaborative spaces add layers of intricacy.

In light of this, how do you build a laboratory environment that fulfils precise design criteria, ensures aesthetic appeal, and prioritises safety protocols?

Explore our checklist listed below or, alternatively, download our printable PDF for an all in one easy to read laboratory design checklist.

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Checklist for laboratory relocation and fit outs

Prioritise your lab design specifications

Laboratory designs vary significantly, adapting to specific scientific demands that continually evolve. Understanding your space requirements is essential, and you can gauge this by considering the following specifications.

At Area Laboratories, we categorise these specifications into 3 tiers: low, medium, and high lab specifications. Begin by identifying which category aligns with your needs before delving into the finer details.

Please note: The specifications provided below primarily focus on wet labs (utilising liquids, fluids, chemicals, etc). Nonetheless, elements of CL1 are applicable to dry labs (electronics labs) as well.

Interested in learning more? Download our additional FREE guide ‘Designing laboratory and controlled environments fit for tomorrow’.

Low Specification Lab

Low-spec labs are classified as Containment Level 1 (CL 1), which primarily encompasses environments conducive to low-risk activities. This typically involves handling Group 1 biological agents, Biosafety Level (BSL) 1 genetically modified microorganisms, and genetically modified animals or plants.

This specification entails the following features:

  • Biosafety Hazard 1 – microorganisms that are considered to be BSL-1 are not known to cause disease in healthy adults and therefore present minimal health or safety risks

  • Cellularised lab areas

  • Modifications to standard air conditioning and ventilation system

  • Additional lighting

  • Medium specification flooring

  • Multiple power and data points

  • Specialist equipment PPE requirements (own clothes, no need to wear PPE)

  • Disinfection – never a need to decontaminate an entire space

  • Cross-contamination control (low risk)

  • Handling systems – standard specification

  • Drainage – standard building drainage systems

  • The complexity of lab equipment – bench-top equipment

  • Lighting control – standard lighting

  • Airflow – normal base-build systems

  • Lab gases – N/A

  • Accreditations – N/A

  • Operating/emergency procedures – standard life support, e.g. fire alarms

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Medium Specification Lab

This specification encompasses Containment Level 2 (CL 2), corresponding to medium-risk activities. This may entail handling Group 2 biological agents, Biosafety Level (BSL) 2 genetically modified microorganisms, and genetically modified animals or plants.

This specification entails the following features:

  • Biosafety Hazard 2 – microorganisms that are considered to be BSL-2 pose a moderate risk. Examples of BSL-2 microbes are HIV and hepatitis B

  • Cellularised lab areas

  • Slab to slab walls

  • Separate ventilation system

  • Air pressure cascade

  • Additional specialist lighting

  • Hard cleanable flooring resistant to chemicals

  • Multiple power types, connections and data requirements

  • Secure access and egress

  • Specialist equipment and finishes

  • PPE – cover-up outerwear and using low-level personal protection

  • Disinfection – wash-down

  • Handling systems – dedicated extract

  • Drainage – bespoke drain connecting to building drainage

  • Basic humidity control

  • The complexity of lab equipment – free-standing equipment which still fits within normal office space

  • Clean rooms – class 1 clean rooms, possible dirty room user (HEPA filtration)

  • Lighting – controllable light spectrum

  • Airflow – turbulent or not all laminar airflow

  • Lab gases – bottled

  • Accreditations – self-assessment

  • Operating/emergency procedures – sprinkler systems, drench showers, powder showers, air curtains, etc.

  • Shared Autoclaves

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High Specification Lab

Our most advanced laboratory design specification is Containment Level 3 (CL 3), tailored for high-risk activities. This facility is intended for work involving Group 3 biological agents, Biosafety Level (BSL) 3 genetically modified microorganisms, and genetically modified animals or plants.

This specification encompasses the following features:

  • Biosafety Hazard 3 - microorganisms that are considered to be BSL-3 can cause serious or potentially lethal diseases through respiratory transmission. An example of a BSL-3 microbe is Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the bacteria that causes tuberculosis)

  • Slab to slab walls

  • Hermetically sealed lab areas with cleaning agents such as Hydrogen Peroxide Vapour (HPV)

  • Airlock entry (risk assessed)

  • Separate ventilation system with HEPA/ UV filtration

  • Additional lighting

  • Seamless, disinfectant resistant, hard flooring

  • Multiple power and data points

  • Secure access and egress – touch-free (retinal scanning, facial recognition or motion control)

  • Specialist equipment and finishes

  • PPE – changing facilities, disposable lab clothing, ventilators, Tyvek suits

  • Biosafety hazard – controlled substances, DNA/genome level molecules, bio weaponry, disease management

  • Disinfection – complete room or lab with base-build services

  • Cross-contamination – manufacturing process rather than R&D

  • Handling systems – internal transportation methods (driving air from one area to another)

  • Drainage – site-wide dedicated drainage system

  • Humidity control – sealed rooms for the lowest humidity

  • Complexity – large, dedicated equipment with size and weight requirements

  • Clean rooms – classes 2, 3 & 5, complex molecular filtering requirements

  • Lighting – UV light systems, dark rooms

  • Airflow – bespoke pressurised air environments

  • Lab gases – direct serve (piped-in system)

  • Accreditations – ISO level, for example, 17025, 15189, 17025

  • Operating/emergency procedures – gas suppression and outbreak control

  • Dedicated Autoclaves

  • Decontamination shower

  • Inactivation of GMMs in effluent from hand washing sinks and showers and similar effluents

  • High IP-rated sockets and conduits

  • Observation windows

None of the 3 specifications recommended by Area include Biosafety Hazard 4 (BSL-4). This is due to the significant risk of aerosol-transmitted infections posed by microorganisms categorised as BSL-4, which often lead to fatal outcomes. Examples of such BSL-4 microbes include Marburg viruses and Ebola. Consequently, these high-end laboratory facilities are rare and require specialised suppliers for design and construction.

Once you have determined the appropriate specification for your needs, the next step is finding a suitable building. This involves ensuring that your lease permits major modifications and assessing the environmental impact on the surrounding area, among other considerations. Rest assured, we possess expertise in navigating this process.

In the interim, continue following our comprehensive lab design checklist for relocation and fit outs. This resource is invaluable for consulting your in-house experts and evaluating your potential locations.

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Considerations for existing buildings

It's time to assess your options by gathering stakeholders from various departments within the organisation and addressing the following inquiries:

  • Is the primary electrical supply adequately sized for laboratory equipment usage?

  • Is there a sufficiently sized backup generator to meet requirements?

  • If no generator exists, is there available space to install a new one if needed?

  • Do other tenants in the building have service preferences, such as an uneven distribution of electrical supply?

  • Is the water supply of suitable size and quality for laboratory operations?

  • Can the building's drainage system accommodate the waste removal needs of the laboratory?

  • Is the building equipped with sprinklers, and if so, how does this affect laboratory processes?

  • Is there adequate floor-to-ceiling height to accommodate equipment and services?

  • Are there designated spaces in the risers for fume hood ducting or other extraction systems, or space available for new internal/external risers?

  • Are the existing windows airtight and capable of maintaining a pressure cascade regime?

  • Is there space on the roof or in the plant compound for new equipment?

  • Is the roof in good enough condition to allow for the installation of exhaust vents?

  • Can the floors/slabs support the weight of large scientific equipment?

  • Is the building adequately insulated for laboratory and office use?

  • Does the building have a suitable loading bay for deliveries and waste removal?

  • Is there sufficient access to the loading bay to support laboratory processes? (Note: Multi-tenanted buildings may restrict loading bay usage, affecting efficiency.)

  • Does the building have a goods lift accessible to laboratory floors, with adequate space/height for equipment movement?

  • Is there enough space in the base to install HVAC systems to support laboratory operations?

  • Does the building already have a medical gas supply and storage, or provisions for them?

  • Are there existing laboratory tenants in the building, and if not, do other tenants have veto rights regarding their potential neighbours?

  • Is the incoming telecoms/fibre internet capacity adequate?

  • Will a wayleave be necessary to install new services?

  • Does the existing fire strategy of the building allow for laboratory usage?

  • Are there any utilities nearby that may cause equipment instability? (e.g., tube lines, construction sites)

  • Do the existing security systems of the building need to be aligned?

  • Are the retained existing finishes compatible with the required cleaning regimen?

  • Is there sufficient and appropriate space available for storing hazardous waste?

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Elements of laboratory design

Now, let's delve into the specific aspects of designing your laboratory environment. Once again, there's a multitude of factors to consider, but by following this comprehensive list, you can ensure thorough coverage.

  • Determine Lab dimensions in square metres.

  • Specify location within the building - floor, wing, sector, room numbering, etc.

  • Determine occupancy numbers - number of operatives.

  • Define cleanliness level - containment level 1, 2, 3, 4 / ISO14644 level / clean room A, B, C, D grading.

  • Choose partition type - plasterboard, glazed / part glazed, aluminium, steel, blockwork, bespoke modular.

  • Decide wall finish type - plasterboard, Whiterock, laminate, polyurethane, acoustic performance, sterishield paint, blinds, manifestation, pass-through hatch.

  • Choose floor finish - solid, screed, resin, vinyl tile, vinyl sheet, ceramic tile.

  • Decide ceiling finish - height, exposed, soffit height, grid, solid MF, vinyl faced, metal plank, lay in, clip-in, acoustic baffles, fire barriers.

  • Choose skirting - coved, moulded, painted timber, bump rails.

  • Decide on doors - size, finish, vision panel, red glass, lock, signage, closers, air tightness, fire performance.

  • Decide lab benching - leg construction, trespa type top, under bench storage, above bench shelving, integrated lighting, anti-vibration, downflow.

  • Choose lab furniture - technicians' chairs, stools, waste containers, storage, shelving.

  • Specify lab equipment - dimensions, weight, power and data requirements, connections, installation logistics, calibration process.

  • Define water requirements - reverse osmosis, de-ionized, distilled, domestic, lab grade, hot & cold, waste away, sinks, spill process, drainage, break tanks.

  • Define PPE process - gowning area, wash hand basins, full PPE changing, storage, clothes lockers, stepovers, showers, PPE disposal.

  • Define welfare facilities - WCs, showers, tea points, dishwashers, staff fridges, microwaves.

  • Define cleaning regime - cleaner sinks, washing machine.

  • Specify power requirements - 240v DC, 110vDC, 3 phase, single/double RCD sockets, IP rating, dado trunking, ceiling-mounted, floorbox, clean earth, filtered supply, anti-static.

  • Define data requirements - RJ45 points, Cat 5 / 6 / 6a cabling, phone points.

  • Define mechanical requirements - pressure cascade, humidity, air cleanliness, air quality, airlocks, summer/winter temperature control, mechanical ventilation, cooling system, extract system, fresh air rates, drainage, fume hoods, noise criteria, heat loads.

  • Specify gases - nitrogen, CO2, Oxygen, compressed air, vacuum, Argon, medical air, natural gas, liquid nitrogen, bottles or piped, copper or 304 steel pipework, press-fit or welded, manifolds, alarms and sensors equipment interfaces, monitoring, fumigation HPV.

  • Define AV requirements - AV screens, cameras, whiteboards, projectors.

  • Specify lighting - lamp type, lighting control method - manual, PIR, dimmable, daylight linked, photocell, red light, light boxes, lux levels, uniformity, quality (4000K = daylight).

  • Define life support systems - Fire detection, smoke detection, heat detection, xenon beacons, oxygen depletion, gas sensors, purge ventilation, gas suppression, sprinklers, kill switches, isolators.

  • Define security requirements - CCTV, access control, intruder alarm, mag locks, panic alarms, window breaks, public address.

  • Specify DDA requirements - hearing loops, access, WCs.

Certainly, relocating and fitting out a new laboratory entails numerous considerations. Rest assured, we have extensive experience assisting a number of clients in designing clinical and controlled environments that are resilient and adaptable for the long term. From consolidating user requirements to overseeing commissioning and implementation, we possess comprehensive knowledge of laboratory design and construction intricacies.

Seeking preliminary guidance? Reach out to us today.

Download our checklist today

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