Planning Considerations for a Healthy Darkroom
Obviously the starting point of planning a new or remodeled student darkroom will depend upon the floor space available. However, apart from that consideration, a healthy and safe student darkroom requires paying attention to some other key requirements.
Whilst all black and white darkroom chemicals must be treated with great care they are generally not hazardous if handled correctly.
However safety can be greatly improved with a minimal change in procedure. Placing chemical trays on a dry bench is a practice which should be avoided because some spillages will inevitably occur. The chemical ‘cocktail’ which impregnates the bench immediately begins to decompose, liberating sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide is a particularly hazardous gas, affecting the respiratory tract and mucous membranes even in healthy individuals, so imagine how it affects asthma sufferers. You will find that even with a Laminex surfaced bench, the joints will carry sufficient chemical to cause problems.
Remember a ‘healthy’ darkroom should have no odours. When you use a chemical resistant wet bench with correct water connections and a dilution tank, nothing remains at the end of the class.
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Your ‘healthy’ darkroom requires good ventilation, designed not to remove toxic gases (there shouldn't be any), but to provide comfortable working conditions in a windowless environment. Fifteen to twenty students together with a teacher who has already been subjected to many darkroom classes all need good air flow - at least fifteen changes per hour.
This air flow will not be achieved if the room has a closed door. An open ‘light lock’ without curtains is the answer. This ensures that the exhaust fans are removing the maximum volume of air from the room. Please contact us if you require assistance with ‘light lock’ darkroom entrance design. It is generally simple and inexpensive. And remember, darkroom curtains aren't a good idea; they impede air flow and gather dust.
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Whilst on the subject of assisting you with ‘light lock’ darkroom entrance design we can provide you with a complete floor plan for your new upgraded darkroom. There is no charge for this service. Often the areas made available for school darkrooms are less than desirable and present a considerable challenge in providing an efficient work area. In this regard, our expertise will be of great value to you.
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Eye fatigue can be avoided by installing adequate safelights and painting the darkroom white (never black). White surfaces ensure that the maximum amount of ‘safelight’ is reflected around the room. Constant changes from red ‘safelight’ to white light can potentially cause eye fatigue.
Ensure that students do not have to leave the darkroom to evaluate test strips by installing a Test Print Viewer. This is an inexpensive unit with an internal low level white light sufficient for checking test strips and prints. You should avoid purchasing commercial safelights, they are unnecessarily expensive and distribute no more light than a beehive style at $74.
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Vinyl tiles are wonderful, but if the area available for your darkroom has only a concrete floor, then we suggest that you finish it with paving paint - it's an inexpensive product which seals the floor and is ready to walk on the next day.
Any heavy traffic areas can be touched up at the end of each term. While on the subject of flooring, it is advisable to train the students to carry wet prints around in trays (250 x 200mm trays are cheap). Many darkrooms that we've visited have had floors awash with water from dripping prints. Apart from the physical safety concerns, this water can also be contaminated as over enthusiastic students may remove the prints from the Fixer without even a quick rinse in order to quickly evaluate them.
A dilute Fixer solution on the floor can also be a source of sulphur dioxide (see the earlier discussion of chemicals). So it's a good idea to keep a number of trays under the wet bench for carrying wet prints to the Test Print Viewer or Print Dryer.
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Most darkrooms are designed to carry ten enlargers with two students operating each enlarger. The area made available for these twenty students is often considerably smaller than a standard classroom. Therefore a room design allowing ease of movement with good access to equipment and superb ventilation is of the utmost importance.
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