What to Consider When Designing an Indoor Cannabis Cultivation Facility

by | Nov 9, 2022 | Cannabis

Designing an indoor cannabis cultivation facility is more complicated than you may think.  The days of simply putting some plants in pots and giving them the appropriate amount of light, water and nutrients, a little TLC and calling it “good enough” are long gone if you want to compete in today’s marketplace.

While you don’t necessarily need every detail figured out before you start the design, you’d be surprised at how big of an impact a seemingly insignificant detail can have on the future success of your business if you aren’t sure what – or rather how many things – actually matter.  Knowing the big picture considerations – like how much square footage of plant canopy you need, what your Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing (MEP) requirements are – and determining all of the downstream decisions that impact them, are crucial to understand before you design your facility.  

How much cultivation space is needed?

The first thing to determine is how much space you need to cultivate.  The unseasoned cultivator might say “my license allows me to grow #####s of plant canopy so that’s what I’m going to do!”  Whereas what’s more prudent is to forecast sales and back-calculate into the plant canopy by determining how much you can produce in a given area to satisfy the sales demand.  Maybe you’re vertically integrated and need to produce only enough for your 1, 2, or 3 stores.  Maybe your breakeven is X# of pounds per year of wholesale flower and you need to be 50% higher than your breakeven to hit your sales targets and keep your investors happy.  Maybe your local market projects 54% of sales as flower and pre-rolls, 21% as vape products, 19% edibles and 6% extracts and you need your canopy to accommodate a shrinking flower demand and increasing derivative product demand all while bracing for the inevitable plummeting of retail prices. Whichever way you get there, the most impactful determination when it comes to designing a cannabis cultivation facility is to determine how much you need to grow…in square feet.  With this, you can start to play around with room sizing and your building will start to take shape.  

Mechanical, electrical, & plumbing considerations

One of the next crucial decisions is determining your MEP needs, such as your electrical lodes.  In other words, you need to know what equipment, how much, where it’s located, when is it used, etc.  so that your building can function properly, in addition to being sized properly.  Seemingly insignificant decisions – like using a 3-gal vs 5-gal pot – will have significant implications on the number of plants you can fit in a room.  While this may be a moot point when looking at total yield (10,000 square feet of canopy is 10,000 square feet of canopy regardless of the number of plants) it’s hugely impactful on the amount of water you need on a daily basis, which directly impacts key infrastructure such as the lode your HVAC system is designed to handle.  Due to the infrastructure impacts of questions as basic as “What kind of nutrients will you use?” a savvy architect will often encourage you to seek guidance from a grower.  

Design for your facility not your grower

The problem with seeking advice from a grower as it pertains to your facility design is all growers have their special way of doing things.  So when they tell the architect and engineers that they will grow 1,000 plants per room at 0.125 gallon feedings that happen 2x/day, under 100 x 600 Watt LED lights, the MEP engineer is going to calculate 1,000 plants * (0.125 gallon*2xday) = 250 gallon/day with equipment heat based off 100 x 600 Watt lights.  So, what’s the problem?  Well, the problem is that the grower who advised you in the first place may not be the grower who’s hired to manage the grow operation and even if they are, they won’t be the grower next year or 2, 3, 6 years later.  So you find out the hard way when Master Grower #2 is hired – who, by the way, is the new and improved version of Master Grower #1 who grows a better crop with better yields – that your facility and infrastructure was actually designed to accommodate one persons recipe.  Instead, you need input from many growers – or someone who already has the input of many growers – to know what any grower is going to need, and therefore not what the grower needs but what your facility needs.  

Sales Forecasting

When designing a cultivation facility, you want to be realistically aggressive in your forecasting.  This is somewhat counter-intuitive because for most modeling, like sales forecasting, we are engrained with conservancy; play it safe, use the average, etc.  But this mindset will set your facility design up for disaster.  Rather, ask yourself – or your grower – or your collection of growers – or your consultant, what’s the greatest number of plants you will grow in the facility?  What’s the most amount of water you will realistically give each plant on a daily basis?  What is the highest wattage lights you are likely to use?  With this you can design your facility around what you can reasonably any grower and make sure you have the flexibility to provide the tools any master grower needs to grow the perfect crop.

At Opus Consulting, we help design cultivation facilities to fit the needs of the business and not one particular person.  Through years of experience working hand-in-hand with a multitude of growers, architects, engineers, and equipment manufacturers, we know what it takes to design a cultivation facility that will grow for you and with you.

<a href="https://opuscg.com/about/team/" target="_blank">Nick Des Lauriers</a>

Nick Des Lauriers

Nick has over 8 years of experience in various industries for companies providing a range of professional services. During his career, he has gained hands-on experience with a wide variety of issues common to any start-up and businesses, particularly around business plan preparation, financial modeling, investor deck presentation, operational strategy formulation and execution, sales/marketing, human resources and more. He has specialized expertise in working with start-ups to take companies from an idea to operation to realizing profits. A graduate of Bryant University, he has worked at ProVerde Laboratories, one of the leading testing facilities in New England and has assisted numerous businesses with their business and operational challenges.
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