The following post was provided by Bala Consulting Engineers.

Energy intense labs present owners, developers, and designers alike with a unique challenge to balance functional lab design with new emissions reduction requirements and energy codes. Decarbonization of the building sector is being accelerated in New England by Boston’s BERDO 2.0 and new DOER Massachusetts Energy Codes which pose stringent building emissions limits and highly efficient energy standards. Now more than ever, converting offices to lab spaces requires new, more innovative, and future-focused design strategies.

Office to Lab Considerations and Challenges

Reducing operational carbon emissions in tandem with the conversion of an existing building into a lab requires a highly technical analysis as well as an understanding of laboratory and energy-efficient system options.  Bala Consulting Engineers understands the challenges of office-to-lab conversions and has resolved a variety of them on a recent office-to-lab conversion at 51 Melcher, where we are integrating strategies to decarbonize this laboratory design.

51 Melcher Street Decarbonization Strategies and Solutions

51 Melcher is an office-to-lab conversion project located in Boston’s Fort Point District. The existing building totals 9-stories and approximately 100,000 SF, with approximately 60% being converted to lab space and 40% staying as office space.

To meet future BERDO 2.0 emissions standards and requirements from Boston’s Planning and Development Authority (BPDA), Bala’s engineering design utilized system reuse where possible and highly efficient all-electric systems. While working with the owner, architect, and CM, Bala came up with a flexible approach to support future lab requirements and meet emissions/energy targets while also reducing the need for seismic upgrades.

Efficient Design Solutions

In the early phases of design, a series of energy models were performed to analyze the existing façade. Improvements to the exterior wall thermal performance were identified, yielding a significant reduction in energy consumption. A more efficient, and tighter façade resulted in reduced heating and cooling loads.

Integrating energy recovery from laboratory exhaust air systems and fume hoods was another effective project approach. Building heating and cooling systems were downsized due to energy recovery systems reducing the peak heating and cooling demands.

Reuse and Integration of Existing Infrastructure

Bala analyzed existing building infrastructure – a natural gas-fired system – for potential reuse alongside integrating new all-electric systems. Midway through the project design, the BPDA expressed that the project needed to reduce its fossil fuel usage by 90%. To significantly reduce fossil fuel usage, our team pivoted to use primarily all-electric heating and cooling systems.

This system approach demonstrated an annual fossil fuel use of only 3% for 51 Melcher – used as a backup in case of extreme temperature swings. The reuse of some existing building infrastructure, including the existing cooling tower and associated condenser water pipework, also decreased the embodied carbon of the project. Reusing existing systems eliminates carbon that would have been produced from manufacturing, transporting, installing, maintaining new systems, and disposing of the old building materials.

All-Electric Design Solutions

Air Source heat pump (ASHP) technology is the prevailing system we are incorporating into the building design for heating and cooling. Our project team’s final design incorporated a combination of air-cooled and water-cooled heat pump equipment for the building’s heating, cooling, and domestic hot water. The ASHPs provide heating/cooling for the main AHUs.

BERDO 2.0 Analysis

To ensure future readiness for 51 Melcher, Bala conducted an analysis to compare four design scenarios against long-term BERDO 2.0 emissions limits. We provided an analysis for the following design options:


  •  The ASHRAE 90.1-2013 baseline HVAC system
  • The original proposed design:  reuse of existing fossil fuel system
  • A carbon-neutral design with the use of district steam.
  • This has been split into two emissions projections as district steam can have an
    environmental impact if not produced from “clean” renewable energy sources.
  • An all-electric design

The first year of non-compliance with the BERDO 2.0 emissions limits has been circled for each of the design scenarios. The slope of these lines is dependent upon the grid decarbonizing over time and the proportion of electricity use versus natural gas or steam use.

Our analysis does not consider future potential upgrades, nor does it consider potentially more drastic grid decarbonization. It’s important to note that both of these factors will affect future compliance with BERDO emissions limits.

Developing a Future-focused and Adaptive Approach

To make decarbonization a reality, design teams should approach lab projects strategically. As seen with our 51 Melcher project, optimal strategies come from analyzing existing infrastructure and determining which systems can be reused and what needs to be supplemented to meet program requirements.

Bala is continuing to invest in internal research and development to identify forward-thinking, sustainable solutions.  With holistic evaluation and planning among architects, owners, CMs, design professionals, and manufacturers, decarbonized laboratory design that delivers sustainability, cost- effectiveness, flexibility, scalability, and overall value is possible.

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