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Product Focus: Fume Hoods

Energy efficiency often promises a quick return on investment

Mike May, PhD

Mike May is a freelance writer and editor living in Texas.

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Universities are fuming over the money that hoods suck out of their systems. There’s good reason to get upset—research indicates that a traditional fume hood can use as much energy as a house, and some studies say as much as a few houses. Consequently, many universities run contests to reduce the energy consumption of fume hoods. Best of all, several advances in fume hoods can dramatically raise their efficiency.

When asked about the key trends in fume hoods, Andrew Sinnamon, technical adviser for lab products at Mott Manufacturing (Brantford, ON, Canada), starts out with energy. “In terms of energy costs, the trend is for high-performance, reducedvelocity designs.” Despite the energy concerns, other trends exist in fume hoods. For example, Sinnamon points out the need for flexibility. “You are seeing fume hoods that are height adjustable for standing or seated use. This makes them accessible to anyone.” Last, he adds, “The current generation of fume hoods has improved aesthetics.”

To duct or not to duct

In general, fume hoods come in ducted and ductless forms. There are pros and cons to both. For example, a ducted hood requires a complicated installation, including ductwork that goes from the hood to the exterior of a lab building. Nonetheless, ducted hoods have been around for a long time and they work with essentially any chemical that a scientist needs to use in one. Ductless filtering fume enclosures, on the other hand, trap fumes in a filter. These do not consume any air and can even be portable within or between labs. The filter is the strength of this approach— and a potential shortcoming, because it must be changed after saturation. A variety of opinions exist on which type makes the best choice.

Stephane Hauville, president of ERLAB (Rowley, MA), says, “In 1968, the founder of our corporation invented the ductless filtering fume hood.” He adds, “By attaching advanced carbon filtration to a fume hood body, the ductless fume hood was born.” Still, many things needed to be improved. The filter needed to be formulated for specific chemicals, and traditional fume hoods handled most anything. That triggered better and better filters, such as the Captair line from ERLAB. Today, Hauville believes that ductless filtering fume hoods work in almost any situation.

“Why should a lab manager care about such technology?” Hauville asks. “It allows labs to be designed like simple spaces. You can have a very flexible, very simple, very easy design that is not dependent on a duct system.”

It’s also possible to put a ductless filtered hood where a traditional one existed before. For example, ERLAB developed its GreenFumeHood technology for this purpose. This technology exists in various hoods, available through partnering agreements with ERLAB, including the Green Solution Hood from Air Master Systems, the Dimanlab Fume Hood, and the Thermo Scientific Hamilton Infinity Fume Hoods.

Sinnamon points out, though, that “Canadian standards do not consider ductless hoods to be an acceptable substitute for a chemical fume hood.” He makes sure to add, “Standards vary in other parts of the world.”

Mostly about energy

Some fume hoods are old enough to need replacing because of being worn out from the years of harsh exposure to chemicals. Also, a hood system might fail an assessment, and solving the problem could lead to replacing the hood itself. For most of today’s lab managers considering replacing a hood, it often comes down to energy

Top ten features/factors respondents to our latest survey said they look for when buying a fume hood:

  1. Durability of product
  2. Performance of product
  3. Ease of use; ergonomic operation
  4. Safety and health features
  5. Low operating costs
  6. Low maintenance / easy to clean
  7. Value for price paid
  8. Total cost of ownership
  9. Service and support
  10. Warranties

“The cost of energy is not going down,” Hauville says. For example, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates that the average retail price of commercial electricity increased by more than 25 percent from 2003 to 2012. That means that many of the inefficient hoods out there will keep costing more and more if they are not replaced.

According to Sinnamon, a current-generation fume hood can reduce operating costs by 40 percent, especially in comparison to a 10-year-old unit. As he says, “That makes it quite an important consideration.” In fact, Sinnamon says that the energy costs of an existing fume hood could even warrant early replacement.” Given the potential savings, he says, “That would warrant looking at replacement from an energy-saving point of view.”

Even a ducted fume hood replacement can quickly pay for itself. “If you can make the needed adjustments to the ventilation system to reduce the airflow,” Sinnamon says, “you can get a decent return on investment. Depending on the energy costs, a two-to-three-year return is not out of the question.”

Concepts to consider

In shopping for a new fume hood, many elements come into play. For one thing, it depends on whether it’s a new or replacement situation. In designing a new lab or redesigning an existing one, Jim Lynch of School Specialty Career & Technical Education (Mansfield, OH) recommends asking three questions:

  1. What level of protection will the lab worker require?
  2. What materials are going to be used under the hood?
  3. How much space is available in the lab for the fume hood?

The answers to these questions provide a starting point for fume hood shopping and also help you work with a vendor to find the best fume hood solution for your situation.

These considerations also apply to replacing a hood. For replacements, though, Sinnamon adds some additional points. For one thing, he says, “Look at the ventilation system available, which might require selecting the best fume hood that works with the existing ventilation system.”

Do you have hoods that need to be replaced? Hauville suspects that you do. “Not every hood in America needs to be replaced,” he says, “but the majority of installations out there would benefit from modern technology.”

For additional resources on Fume Hoods, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit