Energy modeling to help a new research laboratory earn LEED Silver certification
The University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) Biologic Laboratory is a 75,000 sq. ft. research and development facility that blends state-of-the-art laboratories with offices and collaborative gathering spaces.
Laboratory buildings present particular challenges to green-design specialists. Because they need high ventilation rates, have large processing loads, and tend to contain specialized and demanding equipment, it’s hard to make labs efficient.
UMMS and the Biologic Laboratory’s designers had set the objective of achieving LEED Silver certification for the new research facility, meaning it would have to earn a substantial number of energy credits in the rigorous LEED system. They knew a highly efficient envelope would be key to their success – and that high-performance building systems would be essential complements to their high-performance envelope. UMASS approached us for help gaining a detailed understanding of the building’s energy usage and its specialized ventilation system.
We collaborated not only with the lab’s architects (Tsoi/Kobus & Associates) and consulting engineers (BR+A) but with its end users to gather information and deliver energy modeling that would help the designers enhance the lab’s energy performance.
At the beginning of the design process, based on detailed discussions with BR+A Consulting Engineers, we created energy models of the proposed building that were flexible enough to evolve throughout the design process. Although the design was still in development, this initial 3D model was able to predict energy consumption patterns throughout the laboratory and office spaces. Equipped with this predictive capability, the designers were able to iteratively refine and verify the performance of the energy-conservation measures they were developing, including plans for district heating, cascading lab air, server room heat recovery and demand-control ventilation.
Preventing Heat Loss
To support the building’s success in the stringent LEED review process, RWDI worked with the design team to verify the performance of key façade materials. One element of the façade was a bespoke rain screen; to reduce uncertainty about how the rain screen would affect the performance of the façade overall, we conducted thermal modeling of the screen’s expected heat-loss. This enabled the design team to be confident that their energy model was informed by an accurate overall U-value (a heat-loss measure) for the building’s façade.
Insight Into End-Users
To fully optimize the performance of the building, we had to understand in detail how its spaces and equipment would be used. To ensure that our team had a rich understanding of how and when users would activate the facility’s specialized lab equipment and ventilation systems, we held process energy use sessions with the design team and with future lab users. These discussions yielded information that led to new ideas about waste heat recovery and cascading make-up air solutions. Both these design adaptations played a significant role in reducing the building’s overall energy consumption.
In addition to delivering a range of energy modeling services, we also worked collaboratively with the building’s architects and our fellow engineers to support the team’s LEED submittal process.
Because laboratories need enormous amounts of energy, boosting efficiency wherever possible is essential to keeping their overall consumption in check. In the case of the UMMS lab, detailed energy modeling was critically important to achieving the project team’s sustainability objectives. Understanding the building’s energy sinks and sources, and its overall operations, allowed the design team to deliver state-of-the-art research and lab facilities while reducing energy consumption beyond ASHRAE benchmarks by more than 15%. Targeted analysis of the performance of lab spaces, ventilation systems, and façade materials was important to the overall outcome: LEED Silver for a complex and demanding facility.