Q&A: New UL Program Tackles IAQ

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on average, Americans spend the vast majority (about 90%) of their time indoors. As improved health and productivity move to the forefront of facility management concerns, a key area to pay attention to is indoor air quality (IAQ). For green building efforts (including certifications) there are many factors considered, including: energy consumption, carbon footprint, and water conservation. However, IAQ is not addressed to a comprehensive degree, despite its proven health impacts.FE-WebOnlylogo

To combat this issue, UL (Underwriters Laboratories) has established the first comprehensive IAQ certification and preventive maintenance program for buildings. The program serves both new and existing buildings; it is being launched during the first quarter of 2015.

In a recently released report, UL outlines how facility executives and other building professionals can design, construct, and manage buildings with healthier indoor air. Facility Executive recently spoke with Henning Bloech, General Manager, Building Performance Programs at UL about the program.

Henning Bloech General Manager Building Performance Programs, UL
Henning Bloech
General Manager, Building Performance Programs, UL

What prompted UL to create this certification program?
This program is serving a strong need expressed by building owners and operators to protect their building assets from potentially costly IAQ-related events (mold, moisture, etc.) and ensure an indoor environment for building occupants that won’t negatively affect their well-being and productivity. Our program is less of a traditional building certification, but rather a program that adds a preventive maintenance aspect to the scheme. The intent is to ensure a building’s current IAQ performance as well as provide the tools to maintain acceptable indoor air going forward.

Building certifications do a fine job providing guidance regarding IAQ in buildings, but they don’t require an acceptable IAQ performance. With much of the attention paid to energy efficiency, IAQ often becomes an afterthought. Additionally, this Building IAQ program is aimed at the mid- to top-tier buildings rather than the top 2% or so that may be served by the majority of building rating systems, and therefore has a broader appeal. Mid- to top tier buildings describe mid-size to large office buildings or hotels that have been designed and are being maintained to meet certain performance specifications (energy, water, environmental, etc.), but are not certified under a green building rating system or standard.

Does the certification program focus on one aspect of IAQ over others? For instance, do the program parameters focus on materials and finishes as pollutants; mechanical systems operations as a culprit; building envelope features; or a combination of these?
It assesses a building against all of these parameters (HVAC, envelope, moisture, ventilation, pollutants, dust, VOCs, etc.), including a full building audit and visual inspection, documentation and design review, as well as air sampling.UL_IAQ

What sets the UL testing apart from other testing in the industry? What types of information and benefits can facility executives gain from pursuing UL IAQ Certification?
The UL brand has been around for over 120 years as an independent safety science company dedicated to promoting safe living and working environments. Tapping into our depth of experience, UL takes a practical and solution-oriented approach to conducting indoor air quality evaluations in all types of buildings. Our senior building consultants average 20 years of experience in their fields of expertise and are frequently sought out for independent evaluations and expert testimony. UL leads the industry in developing cost-effective, proactive practices that promote good indoor air quality. With prevention as the cornerstone of our philosophy, the building consulting suite of IAQ services spans the lifecycle of a building, from its initial design and construction through its long-term occupancy, operation, and maintenance.

How do you see building IAQ management changing over the next 5-10 years?
Currently, much of IAQ management is still based on visual inspection, maintenance processes, and actual air sampling. With the improvement of sensor technologies, more sensitive sensors will help enable building managers to monitor air quality in real time and integrate IAQ management with other building control systems. This will ultimately lead to better IAQ and fewer serious IAQ incidents and help ensure that energy systems, HVAC, and IAQ work in harmony to achieve optimum performance throughout.