By Ray H. Mackey, Jr., RPA, CPM, CCIM
Published in the November 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
It can be a challenge for facility managers (fms) to determine if their buildings have exceptional, fair, or even poor indoor air quality (IAQ). That is because measuring and testing IAQ is an imperfect science with many variables, and the path to establishing whether or not a building has healthy indoor air is rarely clear cut.
Inadequate ventilation, chemical substances (both indoor and out), and biological contaminants all play a role in determining the overall “health” of the indoor environment. While many noxious substances—garbage, dust, volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—make their presence known, some of the most dangerous are odorless, colorless, and tasteless.
Protecting occupant health is the primary concern for IAQ, and over the past 25 years, codes and standard regulations have been implemented to help ensure this concern is addressed. The Model Energy Code, first published in 1983, included ventilation rate requirements, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 62.1-2007, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality, set minimum ventilation rates and other requirements for commercial and institutional buildings.
Beyond addressing health and safety concerns, adhering to these standards is paramount because of the potential liability implications for organizations. Among the hot button issues are mold, presence of irritants/contaminants, and Legionnaires’ disease.
Mold. A significant problem in the past, mold has emerged as the most prominent IAQ issue. (See “The Facts About Mold” sidebar below for more information.)
Legionnaires’ disease. This threat surfaced during an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976. Since that time, several thousand cases have been reported around the globe each year. Onset of the disease is often the result of contamination in the cooling tower portion of the HVAC system of commercial or institutional buildings.
Presence of irritants/contaminants. This situation can occur through off-gassing of interior finishes and materials, contamination of HVAC delivery systems, and the introduction of chemical pollutants. The result is often respiratory ailments and other acute health and comfort effects.
Increased employee productivity is a growing incentive for maintaining optimum IAQ in buildings. The cumulative effect of a healthy and comfortable work environment can be quite enticing and may include improved performance, reduced absenteeism, fewer complaints, and lower turnover rates.
Although the connection between IAQ and productivity is difficult to quantify, research increasingly proves the relationship. A recent study by the International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy at the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby, Denmark demonstrated that office work performance could be improved by 5% to 10% through better IAQ.
Designing Smart To Manage Smart
There are many benefits to a healthy indoor environment, but part of what makes achieving exceptional IAQ and measuring it an imperfect science is that it is not always an intuitive process. In an effort to change this situation, guidance will soon be available to help fms who want to implement best practices, design elements, and strategies to improve IAQ.
ASHRAE Standard 62.1 and other codes provide minimum IAQ requirements for commercial buildings. To supplement the base stipulations and provide additional guidance, several organizations are collaborating on the publication of voluntary IAQ guidance designed to delineate best practices and simplify adoption of those through integrated design processes.
Set to debut in late spring 2009, “Indoor Air Quality: Best Practices for Design, Construction, and Commissioning” is being produced by ASHRAE in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors of North America (SMACNA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The publication is funded under a cooperative agreement between EPA and ASHRAE.
Andrew Persily, chair of the steering committee for this new guide, views the publication as a way to design for IAQ throughout the life cycle of a building.
“The guide will focus on design as a way to help make operations and maintenance more doable,” he explains. “If developers or owners want to focus on IAQ, they need to think about it at the very beginning of the process so key decisions related to IAQ can be integrated with other design decisions upfront. It is essential to determine project requirements and think about IAQ early on so there won’t be problems on the back end.”
The guide is intended for those who want to take the ASHRAE 62.1 requirements to the next level. It examines strategies in project management, such as establishing IAQ requirements, considering IAQ from the conceptual stage, and integrating those design ideas across the various disciplines. The upcoming guide also delves into specifics on design, construction, and commissioning for IAQ, whether it involves controlling for moisture, reducing the entry of outdoor contaminants, or restraining pollutants from indoor sources.
The guide focuses on both new buildings and renovations of existing ones. It is relevant for fms who might be involved in upgrading a building wing or floor and offers guidance on the best practices in numerous areas, from installing new furnishings and equipment to isolating construction zones from occupied ones.
Persily emphasizes the practical nature of the guide. “The guidance is less about ‘whiz-bang’ technology and more about good practices and good decisions,” he says.
The Green Connection
IAQ is often intricately linked to sustainability efforts, with the common goal of producing clean, healthy, and efficient indoor environments. Although the IAQ guidelines in the publication are voluntary, they come at a time when green building codes and regulations are ramping up.
Green building rating programs, such as LEED from USGBC and Green Globes system from the Green Building Initiative (GBI), include IAQ elements. Also, national efforts to develop new green building standards—such as ASHRAE Standard 189.1 (covering commercial buildings of all heights and residential buildings over three stories)—are under discussion and may include IAQ related provisions that exceed current minimum code requirements. Additionally, green building standards are in development by the GBI and ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials).
State and local governments are also establishing more regulations in this realm. California recently created the first state green building code, which is now available for voluntary use by municipalities in the state. However, later versions are intended to be enforced statewide. Local governments with aggressive green building programs containing IAQ provisions include Denver, CO; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; and Austin, TX.
Staying ahead of the curve on IAQ not only helps protect occupant health, but it is also a smart way for fms to keep pace with the quickly changing green codes and standards. And with the added benefit of protecting against potential liabilities and possibly improving productivity, it just seems to be the “healthy” choice.
Mackey is vice chair of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International and chief operating officer and partner for Stream Realty Partners, L.P. in Dallas, TX. He has more than 20 years of property and facilities management experience.