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JJay
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[*] posted on 4-8-2021 at 18:44
Home Lab Construction


I am going to be pouring a foundation for a new home next week, and I want to have a home lab. I still have almost complete flexibility in terms of the floor plan. I don't have to worry about any zoning ordinances, but I will build in a residential area with municipal services and a septic tank.

When it comes to building a home lab, there is no one approach that is right for everyone, but there are best approaches. I have several questions, and I am looking for thoughts on these topics from people who have built labs:

First, is it better to put the lab in an outbuilding or inside the home? My gut feeling here is that an outbuilding is a better place for a home lab, but it could be a lot more work to install climate control, plumbing, electricity, and so forth in an outbuilding than inside the home.

Should the lab sinks drain into the septic tank? I tend to think that they probably should--and that toxic substances shouldn't be put down the drain.

Should floor drains be installed? If floor drains are installed, should they drain into the septic tank? I tend to think that floor drains might be a good idea but that they should preferably drain into a moat or basin or perhaps a barrel.

Should explosion-proof fixtures be installed? This is not a detail I necessarily need to consider right now, but it is something to think about.

Do I need a sprinkler system in the lab?

What kinds of security features should be installed in a home lab?

What else should be considered when constructing a home lab?

It will be several months until I actually complete construction, but I do appreciate sage advice from people who have experience building labs.
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[*] posted on 4-8-2021 at 20:29


Firstly, congratulations – both on your new home and the possibilities it presents.
Here are my thoughts.

An outbuilding is better if you can do it. Lab mishap mixed with home could be nasty. Particularly if fire (and insurance) is involved.
Waste water – you want an option that allows you to dispose of relatively innocuous substances without upsetting the ecology of yoru septic tank. I an thinking of things like NaOH, ethanol, wiping the bench etc. A separate waste trap would be my pick here. And a floor drain is a great idea. But remember that with water on the floor you have very little control over what is in it. So, loading it into the septic tank may not be a brilliant scheme.
If you have to plumb an outbuilding, why not have the supply lines run over the roof and install a sprinkler. Makes perfect sense. I would not have it automated: just controlled by a lever by the door as you evacuate the lab.
Gas sensors are a good idea. CO alarms are available OTC and can apparently be adapted for some other gases.
Security -- definitely a couple of locks.
Same as a kitchen, think about the number of power outlets needed and tehir location. Err upwards. Short cords are preferable to long draping things.

You will need more storage than you are planning. Guaranteed. Good storage helps you to keep stuff off your bench and maximise work space. Consider somewhere you can store half-finished projects. Think also about waste storage and solutions that you wish to reclaim / recycle.

My lab has hanging stuff at the entrance -- coat hook for the lab coat, place to hang the safety glasses, fire extinguisher, fire blanket.
I also have space to store spray bottles that get used for all sorts of things. I have thiosulfate solution, ethanol, water and sodium carbonate solutions. Brilliant for cleaning up spills.
Glove dispenser in a convenient location.
I like a generous deep bench. But this makes under-bench storage tricky. I have bins operating as drawers. And I have them two deep. To get to the things at the back I need to completely remove a bin. Suffice to say that clearly thinking through the storage is a good thing. You might find an island works best.
Think about the roof space. My lab has a low ceiling and, while it is limiting in some senses, it has lots of advantages. I have test tube racks hanging there ready to grab whenever needed. I attached to a roof beam a dowel with a bulldog clip screwed on. That swings down when needed as a burette stand. Has zero bench footprint and cannot be knocked over. I also have a large roll of paper towels and another of disposable cloths attached to the ceiling. Just so handy.

I use my lab for teaching so a whiteboard is essential. But I would recommend it anyway. Great for quick calculations, recording weights, making lists and any routine things that you don't want to clutter your lab journal with.
I also recommend having a computer in the lab. Internet access can be invaluable when you are doing something. In my setup, I actually have the PC in the next room. HDMI and USB are piped through the wall. Wireless keyboard, mouse and bluetooth peripherals all work without having the computer in a potentially hazardous space.

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[*] posted on 4-8-2021 at 22:08


Definitely away from the house, but it would be convenient to reach it without going outside.
Perhaps a small hallway.

If I could do it from scratch I would have a separate space for chemicals and storage, one that is properly vented and with some form of climate control.
I would prefer to have this on the far side of the lab and house, if anything goes terribly wrong this is where the show is at..

Quote:

Should explosion-proof fixtures be installed? This is not a detail I necessarily need to consider right now, but it is something to think about.


Anything that does not have to be inside the lab I would move out of the lab, perhaps on the other side of the wall.
And since this is 2021 why not control it via a (digital) remote.
Even electrical valves are getting quite cheap.
I would probably install a remote kill switch too.
Along side the gassensors j_sum1 mentioned I would install a camera to be able to monitor slow and boring things while reading sciencemadness :)


As suggested, floor drains would be convenient but I would just lead them to another container (big blue drum?), spills that are large enough to flood it seem unlikely and very rare.
I would probably prefer making the floor into a bathtub, and have it slightly lower than the surrounding space.
If anything happens at least it is contained this way.




[Edited on 5-8-2021 by Belowzero]




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[*] posted on 5-8-2021 at 00:28


The lab should be away from the house, for safety and insurance liability.

Best to use several moveable waste containers rather than anything fixed.

A 'fireproof' chemical cabinet is something good to have.

Ventilation is a must. Have an explosion-proof/sparkless fan for a fume hood. I'd also make sure there are windows and/or forced air for the whole room. (These things can get expensive, just doing it outside is way cheaper!)

I'd advise that unless you have a degree in chemistry, or something related, you should stick to just a shed to store your stuff and do your experiments outside. Significantly cheaper, just as safe, and the things that you could mess up go way down.

I remember one of my professors talking about how his brother is a contractor for college labs. It costs a lot of money to do it right. The materials and the skill. The contractor before them cheaped out on the black table top that's chemically resistant, for a wood black-paint table top. On several occasions the tables would have acid eat through them and on other occasions they would easily light on fire as the paint was super flammable. Experienced chemists would get around it, but the students didn't and so they'd have these problems.




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macckone
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[*] posted on 5-8-2021 at 11:11


Definitely an outbuilding if possible.
I would suggest separate waste treatment.

You can install a separate septic system for the floor drain or a sump, if there is a sink you have to have it go into a septic system by code. It is stupid but it is what it is. One work around is a sump basin that is pumped into the septic tank. Then you can treat the basin before introducing it into the septic tank. Back to the floor drain with a sump. A plumber will have to check local code. Where I live floor drains that are primarily to deal with flooding can have a sump. If not they have to go to a waste treatment system. Example would be a floor drain in a garage cannot be straight piped because of oil and other chemicals potentially introduced from working on cars or them leaking.

If you can afford it then explosion proof is definitely the way to go. In NM, had a neighbor that blew up their shed storing their lawn mower and gas can. Lots of heat and fumes accumulated. They turned on the light and boom. Noone hurt because it was along the fence line. There was supposed to be a 5ft setback but they put it up against the fence. Was not a big deal, fire department didn't cite them for anything. But they were out a shed, and had to repair the fence. The lawnmower was ok too, gas can not so much.

Lots of ventilation, You think you have enough, double it. See above story.

Second the comments on lots of storage but that can be cheaped for non-flammable stuff.

Flammables cabinet with venting is a good idea. I store my gas can along the fence line in a waterproof box. But my lab is in the basement. So the flammables inside are dependent on being well sealed and good ventilation.
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JJay
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[*] posted on 5-8-2021 at 11:23


I completed the requirements for an undergraduate minor in chemistry. I'm actually starting grad school this fall for cybersecurity.

Gas sensors, flammables cabinets, and cameras are definitely good ideas. I really like the idea of putting the lab in an outbuilding connected to the house with a hallway. I'm not sure how practical it is.

Putting in a whiteboard is a very good idea.

[Edited on 5-8-2021 by JJay]
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macckone
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[*] posted on 5-8-2021 at 11:43


JJay,

Yes, a whiteboard, definitely.

That is so basic I didn't even think about it.

I have two, a wall mount and a smaller one that is portable.
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[*] posted on 5-8-2021 at 12:42


Quote: Originally posted by JJay  
I completed the requirements for an undergraduate minor in chemistry. I'm actually starting grad school this fall for cybersecurity.


That's awesome! Congrats on getting into grad school.

I don't know about the hallway. Something needs to be in it to stop a fire from spreading from the lab to your house. However the benefits of temperature control, electric lines, water lines and whatnot is pretty good.

Maybe a hybrid approach is best. Connect the outbuilding via a hallway. Fire proof the hallway. Spend extra money on safety and proper ventilation. Then cheap out on normal stuff.




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[*] posted on 5-8-2021 at 20:28


You’ve probably already thought of this JJay, but I’ll mention it anyway. The fume hood can pull a lot of outside air into the room and put a heavy demand on the air conditioner. You’ll probably need a filtered makeup air vent to the outdoors to keep the air moving while the outside door is shut.

If it were me I’d probably have a small conditioned room attached to the main lab for chemical storage and then just close the door between the rooms when operating the hood.




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[*] posted on 5-8-2021 at 21:19


Consult with an architect.

Code for an attached outbuilding vs a separate outbuilding is significantly different.

A hallway between a shed and a house makes a big difference in what is required for code.

It also makes a big difference in insurance coverage.
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JJay
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[*] posted on 6-8-2021 at 01:16


Code compliance is optional where I am building, and I won't need insurance.

These are ordinarily major concerns when building a lab, though. I think code compliance is generally a good thing. I hadn't considered insurance... I'd imagine the insurance companies aren't huge fans of underground tunnels behind bookcases and hidden bunkers with labs in them.

Perhaps a simple outbuilding with its own climate control would be best. Plumbing and electricity are absolutely required, though...
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[*] posted on 6-8-2021 at 04:22


In most places, establishing an actual chemical laboratory by the book is not nearly possible in residential areas. This is basically because there are no legal steps made for such a small thing, it's either chemical factory/facility or it's not.

Everything below that falls as a hobby, and it could be dictated by numerous regulations, not limited to fire, hazmat, energetics, pharmaceuticals, etc. In practice, most just stfu, keep everything tidy and fire retarding equipment at hand and very likely never have to explain anything to anyone.

Many places, separate building can have limitations on floor areas and so on. Where I live, small buildings, like under 10m2 or like that do not need separate permission, and outside districts the restrictions are much less stringent even for larger ones, one basically needs to just send a document that they are gonna build 50m2 warehouse on their lands and it's ok. There was a case where a guy built like dozen of those 10m2 sheds in his yard, and the city council could not decide if it was ok or not. :D

For good lab, one might wanna have separate room for storage with good passive ventilation, and in workspace have a large fume hood with strong exhaust outdoors to sky through a chimney. This way one could handle most anything imaginable without issues. I would most likely build a huge badass fume hood that is like 3 meters wide, 2 high and at least 1 deep with perhaps 2 or even 3 sliding plexiglas shields to reduce the need for extreme fan power if the whole space is not needed. The hood should have one deep and large SS sink and inverted J type faucet to fit large vessels below, and another water valve for other purposes. So you can get water and wash stuff that you don't want to remove from hood uncleaned, either smelly or toxic. The hood should be made from inflammable materials, best would be to line it with SS or glass. Some have just used tiles. It should have basin for spills, and drain hole or just the sink so it is easy to control spills and clean it after work. Power sockets should be high enough not to be exposed to spills. I would use LED panels of 5000K with high power, at least 600lm/m2, but up to 1000lm/m2 adjustable brightness would be ideal. It would be wise to build SS tube grid for clamps.

Second sink and water hose outlet with separate valve with all mains switches next to exit door so in case of fire you can instantly kill off any electricity and hose it down. Place one or two special extinguishers(Foam? Powder? CO2?) for cases where water is undesirable. The extractor fan kill switch should be separate, so it can be controlled even if all other power is killed.

Alongside that, rest of the space should have a lot of tables, and perhaps a center-counter also. You never have too much table area and you can dedicate different areas to different projects which you don't have to dismantle every time, like having a designated space for rotavap, evaporation/drying box, etc. Next to sink you should wanna have a lot of space, perhaps wall racks to mount any ware to dry. Paint all in white or light color and get good, adjustable lighting at 4500-5000K color to make it look very clean and neat, and just paint it again when you spill it all up. Floor would ideally be not of wood, best would be tiles, likely so it can be easily washed and does not suffer from moisture.

This is what I'd do, or at least something along the lines. I would do with like 10m2 workspace, and small room for storage.
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[*] posted on 6-8-2021 at 05:12


The particular area I am building in does not have any zoning ordinances whatsoever, so the fire codes and other building codes have not been included in any local ordinance. I don't even have to follow septic codes, really. The local utilities do have standards that they want people to follow, and I'm sure the fire protection service would prefer that I follow NFPA codes, but there is no legal requirement. That's part of the reason why I like this particular location. The need for code compliance and insurance comes into play mainly if I want to take out financing against the property.

My plan was to make the lab about 10 m^2. I have usually done chemistry in small but well-ventilated workspaces, usually about half a 4x8 bench... the idea of putting in a big lab with fancy fixtures has a lot of appeal, though.
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[*] posted on 6-8-2021 at 14:16


Code compliance is also an issue if you want to sell the property at some future date to someone that isn't paying cash.
May also be an issue in the future if they start enforcing code.

Nice not having to comply with code though.
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[*] posted on 6-8-2021 at 23:24


A building with

A clean, dry comfortable room for glassware storage, books, table, computer, weighing scales etc. and a comfy place to relax

A storage space for chemicals

A lab with running water, a sink, emergency shower, etc.

Is architectually not much different to a tiny house.
So it may be worth considering building a small domicile that can for now be used as a laboratory?
Maybe summer air-conditioning and/or winter heating, for you, your chemicals and your equipment?
...................................

If practical I'd have an elevated water tank for
. emergency shower
. reliable source of water for firefighting
. source of constant pressure cooling water for distillations




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[*] posted on 6-8-2021 at 23:44


10 square metres seems a bit on the small side to me. That is if you have options. Mine is probably about 8 and I have plans to expand it.

I disagree that it needs to be like a domicile. Way less complex. And no bedrooms. (Although a comfy couch for when you need to babysit long distillations has a certain appeal.)

Do consider future needs. How do you cope when you come across a cheap GLC or liquid N2 apparatus? What if you decide you need a kiln? Plan on enjoying your spaciousness early on and having wiggle room for later.
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[*] posted on 6-8-2021 at 23:48


Another thought. Depends on what you like to do and what setup you prefer. Bottled propane outside and plumbed into the building might be nice. Or a vacuum line if that is useful to you. I recall some good ideas from Doug's Lab maybe five years sgo when he built a new space.
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[*] posted on 7-8-2021 at 01:53


Yes, that's why I said "you never have too much room". If I lived in rural areas where land is cheap and also buildings can be really cheap, I would not hesitate getting an actual small garage type hall or warehouse for the purpose. My friend has got a 100m2 garage workshop WITH another 100m2 attic space as a storage, which I'm reaaally jelly of. Only downside it's not heated space, so it's not useful for wintertime without extra measures. Maybe now you only have that amount of stuff, but if you want to expand your hobby and also get some auxiliary equipment maybe not directly related to chemistry, you thank yourself for the extra space.

A remote vacuum pump with on-hand power switch is a good idea. So the noise can be cancelled, and the exhausts can also be ejected away, and you may also be able to add extra cooling to pump. I ran my rotary vanes in a small carton box which I attached to exhaust lining with 1000m3 duct fan and activated carbon filter, the strong airflow was able to keep the pump pretty cool over long distillations, because it was not designed to be ran for more than 10-15 minutes and got too hot to touch quickly. Stick an air compressor next to it, they are noisy AF and you'll be very happy one running far away and having pressurized air at hand at one button's reach. If you wanna get really serious, mount inert gas, oxygen or other utility lines too.

And like j_sum1 said, comfy couch and a computer station, maybe TV also or some entertainment will be must, when you babysit long reactions, distillations, etc. I actually have done many longer reactions by different measures, most of them were passive so I just left them stirring overnight, but because I did not have temp controls accurate enough, I had to babysit a couple by simply putting a dual sensors with alarms in reasonable ranges and just went to sleep next room, and they rang me up once because of overheating.
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[*] posted on 7-8-2021 at 06:20


A minimal cost approach could be a small secure storage room and a large roof so that you can work outside with protection from rain/snow/sun.



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[*] posted on 7-8-2021 at 06:53


If it comes to that, you can get yourself a large tent, like ones that are used by military and humanitarian forces.
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[*] posted on 15-8-2021 at 16:46


Good luck with your home lab, it sounds exciting. i have my own home lab that is well stocked that I use extensively. I'll give my two cents, that is different than others. YMMV. Everyone's needs are different.

From my perspective, the most important thing is to have a large sink close by, as I'm needed to constantly wash things. you will also want plenty of cabinets for storage of reagents, glassware, bottles, etc. You will also want the ability to one day have a fume hood, or have good ventilation. I don't think you need drains, or a sprinkler. I've only had tiny spills, if that. My lab is in my garage, which works fine for me. I'm not doing anything that would I think could cause a fire or explosion (knock on wood). But you never know. I'm not using gas cylinders.

Of course, I don't know what you have planned. Looks like others have also chimed in with their own advice.
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