When to Buy New vs. Used Lab Furniture

Whether you’re building a brand new laboratory facility or updating your current lab, you are making a major investment. We take a deep dive into the pros and cons of searching for used laboratory furniture versus purchasing new laboratory furniture custom-made for your facility.

University Innovation Lab with Benchmarx


Laboratories these days come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the traditional “old school” designs that feature built-in casework to the newer generation of modular laboratory furniture that can be reconfigured easily — even disassembled and moved to new locations when necessary.


7 Points to Consider When Deciding Between Used Lab Furniture Vs. New


Changes happen. Perhaps you are designing a brand-new facility, updating or expanding your current laboratory, or looking for a ‘home’ to house an expensive new piece of test equipment. When change happens, what are your options? Is there a strategic approach to follow when looking at the pros and cons of used versus new lab furniture?


1. Is Buying Used Lab Furniture the Most Cost Effective Solution for My Laboratory?


While you can sometimes get excellent deals at auction and liquidation sales, you can’t always assume that used laboratory furniture is always the cheaper option, particularly over the long run.


Having said that, if you can afford to take the time required to attend public auctions and liquidation sales, you may find significant deals on used laboratory furniture that’s being retired from government offices, schools or labs that have gone out of business.


However, you might find you are competing with furniture brokers who are looking to acquire inventory to sell online at a significant markup. That’s why it pays to get a competitive quote (from Formaspace, for example) before you go shopping. In many cases, you’ll find it’s more cost effective to order exactly what you need.

specimen processing technician workbench
Specimen Processing Laboratory Benches


2. Avoid Some of the Common Pitfalls when Shopping for Used Laboratory Furniture


Travel time is a major consideration when buying used lab furniture. Do you have time to take this on?


You really need to inspect the goods in person with your own eyes — even with high-resolution photos and video, flaws such as mismatched hardware, poorly fitting doors and shelves, missing keys, etc. are difficult to spot without taking a look in person.


If you are the one making the purchasing decision for a big lab construction or renovation project, it’s all falls on you to convince the architect or construction manager that used equipment in question is suitable for the job. Most architects and construction planners may balk at the potential risk involved and want to go with a known quantity, e.g. new furniture.



3 Will Used Lab Furniture (Versus Laboratory Furniture Which is New) Blow a Hole in Your Construction Schedule?


Project planning is another issue.

University Maker Space and Innovation Lab with Double Benchmarx

In some cases, used laboratory furniture can be a boon — it’s possible to save a significant amount of money if you are in the right place at the right time and fortunate enough to get a good deal on furniture that’s in good condition.


However, this approach can also lead to some significant issues when it comes to construction planning.


First, you’ll have to arrange for the disassembly and transportation of the used furniture to your site.


Will the lab furniture be damaged in transit? This is especially true of casework type furniture, which is hard to remove without damaging it. If it is damaged, how will you source a replacement part for an ‘orphan’ piece of used furniture?


Next, if it’s a big installation, the furniture will need to be stored to give you time to plan the new laboratory layouts.


In this case, the space planners will be working out of their regular sequence. Instead of doing programming studies to decide the optimal layout,  space planners will have to come up with a design that incorporates the used furniture components you have purchased.


Sometimes this works out OK in the end, but oftentimes it’s actually a longer process overall for designers to measure used furniture components and come up with a workable design.


The extra time and effort to do this additional work needs to be taken into account as it might make ordering new laboratory furniture that’s designed to fit your preferred floor plan exactly a more cost-effective solution.



4. Can You Get the Most Efficient Lab Layout When Purchasing Used Lab Furniture?


Another aspect to consider when looking at used laboratory furniture is whether the end result will be something you want — or too much of a compromise.


When the design is driven by what you find and not what you need, there can be quite a few tradeoffs.


Will you be wasting valuable square footage with a less-than-ideal layout?


Is there enough custom storage to hold the equipment you have, or will your employees spend too much time shuffling equipment back and forth from storage areas?


Will there be large gaps that are hard to clean because the furniture doesn’t fit in the available space?


Does the used laboratory furniture have ergonomic features, such as sit-to-stand worksurfaces, which can help reduce fatigue for your lab workers?

adjustable height office table

5.  Can You Live With Other People’s Mistakes?

There is a bright line between “vintage” and “used”.


While we find vintage tools to be charming historical artifacts, the reality is that heavily ‘used’ items often reflect a history of misuse and abuse.  After all, there is likely a good reason the furniture has been liquidated.


Are you willing to compromise?


There is no automatic right or wrong answer.


For some, it’s more important to save money upfront — they are not bothered by scratched and dented equipment, mixed and matched cabinet colors, or old-fashioned designs in inconvenient sizes – built for an earlier generation of laboratory equipment.


However, many are put off by laboratory furniture that is in poor condition or can’t be repaired easily due to lack of original parts. If you are one of these people, you’ll probably also agree that how your laboratory looks is a good indication of the seriousness with which you and your employees take the work at hand – and, as a result, your preference will be to opt for purchasing new lab furniture.

corner laboratory casework
Fort Sam Houston Laboratory Remodel


6. What’s the Risk of Unwittingly Purchasing Stolen Goods or Other Legal Issues?


When something is too good to be true, it probably is.


A word of caution: when shopping online, be aware of scam artists. While the vast majority of liquidators and brokers are honest, there are a few out there who prey on unsuspecting buyers looking for a bargain.


This is why we recommend inspecting used lab furniture in person before authorizing any payment – as well as getting as much documentation on the history of the equipment as possible. If the equipment is being sold as the result of bankruptcy, get documentation confirming that the seller can sell it to you free and clear. You don’t want your purchase to be subject to a lien from a bankruptcy procedure after you’ve installed it!


You’ll also want to transfer your used lab furniture purchases out of the broker or liquidator’s facility in a timely manner. There have been cases where brokers or liquidators themselves have run into financial difficulty and, once their doors are locked, you will have a difficult time accessing your purchases.



7. What About Load Limit Certifications, Replacement Parts and Warranties?


Don’t underestimate the importance of construction details when choosing lab furniture. In many cases, you’ll be placing equipment worth thousands of dollars on it or in it. You don’t want to suffer catastrophe just because a lab intern or two decided it was a good idea to sit on a countertop during a lab meeting — causing a poorly made used cabinet to collapse to the floor.


This brings us to some key issues with used laboratory furniture… do you have access to the original specifications and load limits? What is the load limit rating*? Is the laminate countertop resistant to chemicals or not? Are those shiny surfaces really made of stainless-steel or something less resistant?


(*Formaspace lab furniture is designed to carry a minimum of 1,000 pounds of evenly distributed load — if needed, you can order extra strength furniture designed to carry even heavier loads.)


What if something breaks and you need a replacement part, or, say you want to purchase a matching cabinet, what can you do?


When buying used lab furniture, try to get as much documentation as you can so you can track down the original manufacturer. One common problem: the product was probably made overseas in China (unless it’s from Formaspace — we make all our furniture here in Austin, Texas) so it may be difficult to communicate directly.


Warranties and guarantees are another issues to consider. Most used lab furniture purchases aren’t guaranteed – it’s just cash and carry. New Formaspace furniture, on the other hand, is guaranteed for a full 12 years — and we’ll be able to provide any replacement parts or matching items you need, whenever you need it.

Formaspace laboratory furniture


Make an Informed Decision about When to Purchase Used or New


We hope this guide helps you make good, informed decisions on whether to purchase used laboratory furniture or if it’s in your best interest to order brand new furniture from a manufacturer like Formaspace.


Don’t forget that doing your due diligence starts with a call with a Formaspace Furniture Design Consultant. Just fill out the quick contact form below to get started.


Our Formaspace Design Consultants can help you with useful insights on how to make your lab space more efficient and productive. It’s a free service. You can also request a quote on laboratory equipment, either from our full line of modular or casework lab furniture.


We’re confident that when you analyze the pros and cons of buying used lab furniture vs laboratory furniture which is brand new, you’ll get the best deal by ordering lab furniture direct from our factory here in Austin Texas.



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