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Female Scientist Analyzes Liquid in the

Why is the life science buildout process so different
from a 'typical' buildout?

October 5, 2020
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Congratulations! Your successful company is growing and your real estate needs are changing.  

Now, how do you decide whether a laboratory renovation, new build-out or build to suit is the best way to meet business demands and remain competitive? 

For many clients, the chance to design a new laboratory is a once in a lifetime experience. Yet understanding the financial complexity of a life-science project can be daunting. Lab facilities are complex, technically sophisticated, and mechanically-intensive assets that are expensive to build and to maintain. Hundreds of decisions must be made before and during new construction or renovation that will determine how successfully the facility will function when completed, and how successfully it can be maintained once put into service.  


Laboratories demand the widest variety of utilities and performance requirements, making these multiplex buildings some of the most expensive to construct. There is no one formula, and each lab use and building needs to be evaluated individually. Missteps and gaps in scope at the early stages of a project can turn into compounding headaches and overruns heading to the finish line.

Laboratory design and construction costs are subject to several key variables:


  • Existing Infrastructure: Not every facility lends itself to lab or light manufacturing. Buildings well-suited for office tenants are not particularly suitable for a lab tenant. An existing space’s availability of infrastructure, the amount of demolition required, and what new services or mechanical and electrical systems will need to be brought into the building to support the planned usage of the space -- all greatly impact costs.

  • MEP Requirements: Laboratories typically have very specific requirements for factors such as HVAC control, process gasses, waste handling, physical environment, lighting environment, electrical equipment loads, process water systems, chemical treatment and storage requirements.  And while HVAC systems for office buildings and educational facilities are typically the type that re-circulate air and have “lax” temperature/humidity control, labs generally require once-through air paired with complex humidification systems that maintain air temperatures within a few degrees and tight humidity control. They can also require specialty exhaust and filtration systems due to hazardous materials or clean room applications.

  • Floor elevations: The floor-to-floor ceiling heights should be no lower than 15’ to accommodate the extensive supply and return air ductwork and plumbing services required above the ceiling.  Not having this can result in higher coordination costs and building structure modifications.

  • Floor structure: Laboratory buildings require a robust structural design in order to minimize vibration issues for sensitive instruments and experiments. Structural features that may be required include thicker/stronger floor slabs to support the additional equipment and seismic reinforcement to compensate for larger equipment with heavy moving parts.

  • System Redundancy + Overall Energy Demands: The general-use power density in laboratory spaces can be multiples of a standard office space. As well, many labs require emergency power systems to act as a backup in case of scheduled maintenance or unplanned failures. These redundancies act as performance insurance but also add cost.  As a result, owners can expect higher design, equipment, installation, utility, and maintenance costs to meet performance requirements.

Consequently, due to these factors and more, laboratory design and construction costs vary greatly, and can range from $125 per square foot for a renovated space with a simple lab benching arrangement to in excess of $1,325 per square foot for a vivarium or clean room environment. Because of these large variances, it is extremely important to have a representative on your side. Whether your real estate project involves new construction, renovation or consolidation of laboratories, process facilities or manufacturing facilities, GRE has the experience you need.


Our project managers understand the unique requirements, specialized equipment, and stringent regulations that pharmaceutical and life science companies face, and we can handle them all.  From concept to completion, GRE offers the full spectrum of real estate advisory, project management and owner’s representation services.

Looking for that next level of service for your life science project?

Contact us to learn how GRE can protect your construction goals and bottom line down to the smallest detail.

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