Expectations from a Laboratory Building Owner

By Andy Shanahan


Understanding what is expected from a laboratory building owner in the design and permitting process can be complicated. But it is important as laboratories continue to be a fast-growing market in Massachusetts. This information is also critical for lab operators because the building owner’s compliance with these requirements will dictate how smooth an operator’s permitting, occupancy, and annual permit or lab registration process will go.

That’s what we’ll be talking about in this post. We also have two others as part of a blog series describing what clients need to know about building and fire code compliance. (Here is a link to our first post about permit requirements and another to our second post about lab operator responsibilities).


Laboratory chemicals are limited by a space’s code-prescribed Maximum Allowable Quantity (MAQ). The tenant cannot know the MAQ of the space they are looking to occupy without input from the owner. Therefore, communication between the owner and the tenant is critical for the process to move forward smoothly.

Many factors can determine the MAQ’s for a specific tenant, including:

  • Rating of floors and structural frame
  • Number and layout of building control areas
  • Floor level of proposed laboratory
  • Other chemical users in the building
  • Age of the building (may predate the concept of MAQs)

Building owners who are trying to attract lab tenants should know all this information. And lab operators looking for space should be asking for this data upfront.


No individual laboratory operates in a vacuum. It is a lab tenant’s responsibility to know their inventory. They should know what chemicals they need, their throughput, and their waste. However, it is not a tenant’s responsibility to know what the tenants next to them, above them, or below them are using. This is the responsibility of the building owner.


A useful tool for building owners is the Hazardous Material Building Strategy Report. These are building-focused documents that outline the building’s fire-ratings, control area strategy, and MAQs per control area and per tenant. The report outlines whether there is a central chemical storage or waste area and whether these spaces are considered and designed as High Hazard occupancies, which require enhanced fire safety systems.

More and more cities and towns are requiring tenants to validate their MAQs by submitting the overall building strategy and inventory along with their annual permit application.

The Hazardous Material Building Strategy Report outlines and validates the MAQ for the lab tenant applying for their annual permit or lab registration. These reports should also include, or be accompanied by, an accurate inventory of each tenant space to demonstrate that the existing building is compliant with the MAQ outlined within the space. This report should be submitted alongside the tenant’s annual permit application to validate the MAQ strategy for the tenant.


If the building was constructed and used as a laboratory building before 1991 – when the Fourth Edition of the Massachusetts Building Code was adopted – MAQs were not in the Building Code. If this is the case, you may still be able to demonstrate compliance with Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Prevention Code through other accepted laboratory standards.

Consulting a fire protection engineer with experience in these codes and standards is strongly recommended to ensure the process goes smoothly. If a lab tenant or building owner needs assistance in this process, WB Engineers+Consultants are experts in this space. Whether it be related to permitting, or mechanical, electrical, and plumbing design, WB can help.

Looking for more information about the challenges associated with laboratory design? Our team has also done multiple presentations on converting office buildings to laboratories. Reach out to our Code Consultant Andy Shanahan for more details about these presentations!