Commercial grow facility design is deeply integrated and complex. Just one system performing outside of specification can have ripple effects throughout the grow environment at a commercial scale. While some new commercial cultivators think that what worked well in their home grow will scale to commercial cultivation, that is simply not the case.
If you want to design a fully integrated, holistic commercial cultivation facility, you’re going to need an expert team of professional disciplines to help you realize your vision. At every step along the way—from planning and designing the building space with an architect to making sure the facility and plant monitoring systems work correctly—hiring experienced professionals will ensure that all the moving parts of your grow facility work together.
A grow facility is a complex operation, making facility and system design the worst areas to cut corners. Inefficient commercial grow facility design can spell disaster for your yields and result in significant costs of design re-work and facility improvements down the road. Do it correctly, and design it correctly the first time.
To set yourself up for the best outcomes, you need a proper design team and approach in place from the earliest discussions about building programming. In the following guide, you’ll learn the key elements involved in creating an optimized design: from the people you need on your team to the critical equipment and facility flow to consider. Consider this guide your road map to getting started with your commercial grow facility.
The Right Team
Who do I need on my commercial grow facility design team?
An experienced Controlled Environment Agriculture facility design team ensures that critical elements of your commercial grow facility are not overlooked. The building architecture must go beyond aesthetics to consider the function of each space and the interaction between people, plants, and processes. An architect-led integrated design-build process starts with all project stakeholders working collaboratively to develop and agree upon the goals, needs, desires, mission, vision, budget, and schedule – all of which will inform the project design. An expert A/E design team charts an efficient path that moves from facility planning and design to construction, and through operation, with the end goal of helping you achieve an efficient and profitable cultivation facility.
urban-gro - Plant and Facility Consultant & Project Management
Consider the urban-gro team as the heart of the project: our horticulture and building design experts kick off the pre-design process by discussing your cultivation goals and performing a needs analysis. From there, our iterative design process takes into consideration key factors like your site, budget, and yield projections. During this process, you’ll receive personalized questions with the goal of providing a customized facility design as unique as your grow and business goals. This early collaboration helps maximize your operational budgets and staff time, allowing you the flexibility to scale your operations and building footprint.
Architect - Facility Programming and Design
Designing a precision-controlled grow environment requires specialized architectural know-how. An architect who is well versed in plant-focused architectural planning and design can make sure your grow facility functions as designed. With an architect-led design-build approach, the architect will design a space that meets your specific business and production goals, but the architect will also oversee the manage the design team’s efforts to maintain budget and schedule. It is best to start with a site analysis for the architect to optimize the space, whether it's a new building or an existing facility repurpose/retrofit.
Mechanical & Electrical Engineering for Energy-Consuming Systems Design
MEP engineering design for living buildings is complex. From concept through start-up, the mechanical engineer should protect your construction budget through precise, plant-focused design for all energy-consuming HVAC and electrical systems. The mechanical engineer is your advocate and provides a hands-on approach at every phase of design, construction, and turnover. Transparency and open communication are supported by robust visuals, in-depth discussions, standardized documents, and user-friendly online project management systems.
The best facility design intent is useless if the construction and start-up execution is done poorly. urban-gro’s in-house commissioning team works hand-in-hand with the design team and general contractor to monitor equipment timing and stage equipment for installation. Systems are then installed, integrated, and started up according to specification. All systems are tested to ensure they function as intended. Beyond buildout and installation, our gro-care® team works with you to ensure that all systems continue to run correctly and deliver expert training to your teams.
An architect who is well versed in plant-focused architectural planning and design can make sure your grow facility function seamlessly.
Getting Started With A Commercial Grow Facility
What are the first steps for constructing a commercial grow facility design?
Constructing a commercial grow facility is the art of combining experience from different building types such as data centers (high energy consumption), clean rooms (pest-free environments), and horticulture facilities (living plants). Before you start swinging hammers, do yourself the favor of performing the advance due diligence that will save you time down the road. The order of operations may come as a surprise if you've never built a commercial grow space before.
Easily 90% of what makes commercial cultivation successful happens out of sight. Regulatory compliance and system optimization are the keys to staying competitive. We design to meet GACP & EUGMP compliance standards and apply our expertise to ensure that your project complies with your state and country regulations. Post start-up, we offer ongoing operational support through gro-care, and some of the features include continuous commissioning, crop protection, asset protection, and more. Our teams understand the regulatory requirements unique to markets around North America and EMEA and can ensure your facility stays compliant.
Starting with a clear business plan and realistic production goals will help you avoid operational issues once operational. We help clients bridge the gap between the administrative and the operational side, priming them for success. Unrealistic or unfeasible production expectations create a disconnect among your stakeholders with the potential to cause a host of required (and expensive) redesign to resolve problems during operation. Designing a successful facility starts with outlining business expectations and establishing realistic production metrics –and then harmonizing the two.
Architecture Programming and Design
Grow facilities are unique environments that require plant and facility design expertise because you’ll need to consider elements of efficiency for your cultivation space and overall facility planning. Keeping plants happy in a building is not the same as keeping people happy in a building: too cold at your desk and you’ll put on a sweater, but if a plant is too cold (or hot) it will wither along with your yields. Plants require climate control solutions that are specifically tailored to horticulture. For instance, the type of lighting and the type of cooling & dehumidification need to be integrated and controlled according to schedule to maintain a consistent, and optimal growing environment. An architect can also help create the ideal controlled environment agriculture system (CEA) through properly engineered HVAC systems. Carefully engaged architectural planning is necessary to build and maintain a successful grow facility.
Start gro-ing Plants and Profits.
urban-gro offers turn-key desing solutions that includes design, MEP engineering, construction management, systems integration and commissioning, and ongoing optimization. By working from holistic starting point, we enable your success in a competitive market. Contact one of our representatives today.
Cultivation Systems Design
What systems do I need to think about when engineering a commercial grow facility?
The integrated systems are complex for a commercial grow facility design, and they are critical to its success. While configuration and setup vary depending on production goals, a few key components are indispensable.
Lighting is a primary means for plant growth within an indoor grow facility. Different light spectra trigger vegetative growth and blooming, and types of lighting fixtures vary. LED fixtures are more efficient and controllable than HPS lights, and new technology makes them more effective and economical. Even greenhouse grow facilities can benefit from supplemental LED lighting without paying astronomical energy bills. Working with a trusted design partner can help you calculate the CAPEX investment relative to OPEX cost to determine what’s right for your facility.
How you choose to rack and bench will depend on your available space and yield goals. Each facility will have different operational goals and plan its planting configurations accordingly. Many growers think taller (multi-tier racking) is better but you need to consider how you’ll deal with plant maintenance, microclimates, drainage, and plant clearance.
Conventional HVAC systems are not designed to effectively manage humidity in grow environments. Maintaining temperature and Vapor Pressure Differential (VPD) requirements means that your standard commercial unit isn’t going to cut it. High-efficiency, purpose-built mechanical HVAC and dehumidification systems are essential to harnessing the cross-functional benefits of environmental control.
Cultivation systems design must be undertaken with a fully integrated, holistic approach. The “guts of the grow” can make or break efficiency and profitability.
Optimizing plant performance is built around understanding water and nutrient profiles and temperature requirements. That’s why precision nutrient and water delivery is key to the success of your facility. Automating your fertigation system to run according to your exact specifications reduces the chance of human error. But what do you do with all of the nutrient-infused runoff? Largely, it depends on the regulations in your area but generally, it’s not as easy as sending it down the drain. Having a wastewater plan in place is key to keeping your facility compliant and running smoothly. An experienced design team can offer water reclamation systems that not only keep you in the facility inspector’s good graces, they can also serve as a cost savings tactic and conserve natural resources—a particularly high priority in regions with scarce water resources.
Plant/Air/Fertigation monitoring & automation all rely on effective technology to monitor and maintain system efficiency. Using “sense and control” technology can deliver data-rich micro-climate intelligence that results in higher yields and more efficient use of resources.
Retrofitting or Repurposing Facilities
How can I convert an existing structure into a commercial grow facility?
Many commercial grow facilities are built utilizing existing facilities (eg, warehouses and other industrial spaces)that are retrofitted to suit the operation’s needs. However, it takes careful planning to ensure that a retrofit is designed properly.
Before you commit to a lease with the intention of converting a facility to a commercial grow, engage with an architect and engineer to evaluate the site. In addition to federal regulations regarding cultivation site locations and other specific land uses (eg, schools, childcare, etc.), the professionals can also determine the availability and quality of utilities. They will also provide a cursory inspection of the facility to determine upgrade/retrofit cost estimates, as well as the structural integrity of the facility to support cultivation-related equipment.
Our team of architects and systems designers can help you program the most efficient use of the existing facility for successful cultivation. With experience in nearly 500 other facilities around the world, our team’s expertise in which people, plants, and processes interact in a facility guide informed design. From moisture management to pest control, existing buildings present unique challenges that are best left to design experts with extensive experience.
As discussed previously, the needs of a commercial grow facility are different from those of commercial structures. Engaging a construction manager and general contractor who are familiar with the types of systems and equipment integrations needed in an existing building is critical to the function of a grow operation.
Plant-focused architecture and engineering services, combined with plant scientists and specialists, will ensure maximum efficiency and ROI for an indoor cultivation facility. While new builds can provide more flexibility and options, existing structures can help you get to market faster since they are already zoned and erected. You just need to engage the right team to bring your vision to reality.
The specialists at urban-gro have decades of experience with retrofits. Learn more about our approach and Start gro-ing Plants and Profits today.
Top Priorities of Commercial Grow Facilities
What are the main priorities in the design of a new commercial grow facility?
Similar to investigating the site before you commit to a lease for an existing building, you should engage with an architect and engineer to evaluate the potential site. In addition to federal regulations regarding cultivation site locations and other specific land uses (eg, schools, childcare, etc.), the professionals can also determine the availability and quality of utilities. There may also be tax credits if the proposed facility is in a designated Empowerment Zone or brownfield site.
To design a competitive grow facility, you need a design team led by an experienced architect. For example, an architect who designs office buildings may not know that a commercial grow facility requires detailed specifications for utilities and space allocation that will yield maximum efficiency. A well-designed grow facility requires a plan that encompasses all the elements that can be anticipated and designed by your architect.
HVAC and Cultivation Systems
The HVAC system is like the lungs of the operation: it keeps air flowing, manages moisture, and is responsible for air sanitation and microbial mitigation.
Controlling growth and bloom cycles is done by lighting, and different light spectra influence growth and development in particular ways. For consistent, efficient, optimized yields, lighting is key.
Once your facility is designed, constructed, and a Certificate of Occupancy issued, your work begins in earnest. Economically competitive, profitable facilities require ongoing maintenance and inspection. Even the smallest pest pressure can explode overnight if not observed and addressed. Consider your grow like that of a healthcare operating room: if you would choose not to have surgery in an operating room that is not well maintained, your plants will not thrive as they could if you had provided the cleanest, optimal grow environment possible.
The integration of cultivation systems designed for optimal plant performance, paired with the selection of right-sized cultivation and facility equipment, creates a ripple effect of reduced energy and water consumption
Choosing A Commercial Grow Partner
Choose the most experienced, helpful partner for your commercial grow facility design.
When you design your commercial grow facility, you want to get it right the first time. Choosing a team that works together at every step, from planning to design to construction to operations, will give you an edge over the competition.
Fortunately, urban-gro has everything you need to get started on your journey for your commercial grow facility design. urban-gro has the most experienced design team that takes a holistic approach and provides you with insightful assistance through the team's diverse skill sets.
With over 500 facilities and counting, we know how to design, deliver and support efficient and profitable cultivation facilities. urban-gro can guide your team through a highly coordinated, efficient process of facility design, engineering, construction management, commissioning and start-up, and operational services.
Start Your Design Project
Whether you are designing a new facility, expanding or upgrading an existing facility, your team experiences a simplified turnkey design process when speed to market matters.