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3 MEP Elements Owners Should Consider When Designing a Cultivation Facility

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

As the market for horticultural facilities and accessible cannabis continues to grow, Tec shares a few of the MEP engineering elements that must be followed when designing construction plans for cultivation facilities. As an engineering and design firm licensed in several states that are adopting the legalization of cannabis products and medical cannabis, we are prepared to help clients navigate various federal, state, and local regulations. While some states are still debating the legalization of medical use, others have invested in the production of these facilities over the last few years. As more and more businesses and products emerge, the consumption and production of cannabis have become an economic driver. As recently as September 30, 2020 additional licenses have been granted by the Ohio Department of Commerce Medical Marijuana Control Program.

To abide by all codes and laws and obtain permits for this variety of facilities, several regulations must be followed and elements to be considered during the construction and engineering phases. Add to that the delicate balance of providing a healthy environment for the plants inside and owner/operators need to consider the potentially large impact HVAC, lighting and energy use necessary for providing a balanced environment for these complex plants. The lighting, temperature, security, and air circulation components are all equally as important as the next for healthy growing environments. To have a successful cultivation facility, each element must work correctly in the space.

Tec Inc. Director of Engineering, Tim Pool, PE, RCDD, has been involved with cultivation facility projects and helped us provide some tips that all cultivators should know about the specifications of the elements needed.

Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Elements to Consider

The following suggestions are important MEP engineering components that should be considered when designing a cultivation facility.

1. Lighting within horticultural growing facilities needs to be resistant to moisture, high output, broad-spectrum light.

What types of light are most efficient for this type of environment?

“Originally, LED light wavelengths were not ideal for growing plants, however as the technology in LED grow lights has advanced, broader spectrum LED grow lights are now commercially available for these spaces. LED lighting is also an important aspect in larger growing facilities because they are more energy-efficient, have a longer life span, and produces less heat than other light sources such as Fluorescent or High-Intensity Discharge.”

-Are there any specialty lighting design components for a growing facility?

“More energy-efficient lighting means less power (wattage), which means lower utility operating costs. In addition, less power also means smaller branch circuit wire size, leading to lower initial installation costs.”

2. A large amount of circulating air must be properly conditioned with sufficient humidity, so it does not dry out the product and result in stunted growth of the plants.

-When it comes to temperature and airflow, how does an engineer adapt their knowledge of 'regular' facility engineering to a specialty facility engineering job where temperature and airflow are main priorities?

"Temperature and airflow in a growing facility are very different than a conventional office space. The facility's HVAC system must rely heavily on air changes cycling through the plant leaves and foliage. Additionally, sensors should be installed within the facility to constantly monitor the airflow and automatically monitor and control the humidity and temperature within the HVAC system. Manufacturers of HVAC equipment have developed specialized equipment to specifically deal with the special needs of growing facilities."

This detailed chart shows the air circulation from the overhead HVAC ducts cycling air through the plants inside the facility space, and back into the system.

3. Grow facilities use a lot of power, and sometimes the amount of power required for the facility is not available at the planned site.

-What is an important and maybe unknown element to consider prior to jumping into this type of project?

"I think the most important thing to consider prior to beginning this type of project is determining if adequate utility power exists at the proposed site. This is potentially a large expense that must be considered by the owner. Coordinating this upfront with the utility company will determine initial costs."

According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC), indoor commercial cannabis production facilities can consume up to 2,000 to 3,000 kilowatt-hours of energy per pound of product.

*Aside from lighting, air, and power considerations, an efficient way of properly disposing of any bad plants or cannabis materials must be considered.

Security and Technology Codes to Follow

To gain permits, facilities must always be conscious of following codes and regulations that are recognized nationally for various types of spaces. Specific code requirements regarding security and technology are a necessity when constructing a cultivation facility and could potentially vary by state/ city. Security in a cultivation facility is extremely important, especially when it comes to dealing with substances that aren't completely legal in some areas.

Determining what type of technology and security design is necessary for the growing environment like cameras, alarms, locks, and motion sensors for storage, equipment, the plants themselves, and any finished product all must be safely stored within the facility. Ensuring that safety measures are in place prior to starting any growing processes is essential to keeping your product safe and protected from the start.

According to Tim, who has experience engineering these types of buildings, notes that the National Electrical Code Article 410 part XVI specifically deals with the electrical installation requirements within horticultural buildings. One of those requirements in the National Electrical Code states that all lighting circuits must be Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protected.

With these spaces becoming increasingly present across the country, there are many things to consider before even planning out a facility of this type. With the right engineering and design partners, you can have a successful growing space that is safe, both for you, your employees, and your crops.

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