Indoor air concerns seem to haunt facility directors during construction projects. The future expansion or operation of any type of building is a complex process that leaves facility managers little time for unnecessary activities such as employee relations or mediation. It is difficult to prevent indoor air quality (IAQ) problems especially if building areas are undergoing renovation while adjoining areas continue normal operations. One crucial component of a construction project is helping the building occupants understand that these construction activities can create indoor air quality problems. The beginning steps identified in this article can have a tremendous impact on the progression of your project.
It is not unusual for facility directors to incorporate a manager or a consultant to assist faculty and staff in identifying what to expect prior to any indoor construction project. As we all know, with every construction project performed inside a building, a number of complaints about room temperature, noise, excessive dust, and other elements of the building environment seem to come daily. These complaints will always be common due to the fact that people do not understand that renovation, redecorating, and remodeling activities can create indoor problems such as dust, odors, and emissions.
In the preliminary stage of any indoor construction project, establishing a consistent, healthy indoor environment for occupants can contribute to productivity, comfort, and a sense of health and well being during their workday. Indoor air quality can be managed efficiently with quality maintenance and by employing procedures used in operating and maintaining the building components during construction. Facility personnel such as custodians, HVAC employees, or general mechanics are not generally trained to think about IAQ issues as they go about their daily activities even though building occupants may be reporting events and conditions that are affecting them during their workday.
In order to eliminate potential problem, establishing an IAQ Assessment Program should be performed in the beginning stages with the architect and engineers. This proactive IAQ program will help to develop a profile of the building, looking for potential indoor air quality problems, before they actually occur. This IAQ profile is a picture of building conditions from the perspective of indoor air quality and potential air pathways. A review of construction and operating records, combined with an inspection of building conditions, helps reveal potential indoor air quality problems and identify building areas that require special attention to prevent problems during a construction phase. Additional baseline data collected for the IAQ profile can make later investigations much easier, should problems arise.
The process of developing an IAQ profile should require only a modest effort, from a few days to a few weeks of staff time, depending on the complexity of your building and the amount of detailed information collected. The work can be done in pieces over a longer period, if necessary, to fit into the pre-construction schedule. On the other hand, professional consultants can be hired to perform the review and develop the profile on your behalf.
The information needed for an IAQ profile is similar to that which is collected when solving a heating problem or indoor air quality problem, but includes the entire building rather than focusing on areas that are going to be under construction. The IAQ profile should be an organized body of records that can be referred to in planning for renovations, negotiating with contractors, or responding to future complaints. It is important to remember that an indoor air problem will take over an entire building and not just focus in the direct area of construction.
The process of gathering information for the IAQ profile can be divided into three major stages:
It is important to remember during your audit, airflow patterns in buildings result from the combined forces of mechanical ventilation systems, human activity, and natural effects. Air pressure differences created by these forces move airborne pollutants from areas of higher pressure to areas of lower pressure through any available openings in building walls, ceilings, floors, doors, windows, and HVAC system. An inflated balloon is an example of this driving force. As long as the opening to the balloon is kept shut, no air will flow, but when open, air will move from inside (area of higher pressure) to the outside (area of lower pressure). Even if the opening is small, air will move until the pressures inside and outside are equal. If there is excessive amount of dust by the traffic of construction workers, you can bet it will end up on the other side of the building.
In working with a number of facilities in the renovation process, I found out that these additional small steps have proven to be a benefit to the success of any renovation.
Working with professional consultants: Reinforce and communicate your concern about preventing indoor air quality problems to the engineer, architect, interior designer, or other professionals involved in the project.
Product selection: Specify products and processes that minimize odors and emissions, while maintaining adequate safety and efficacy. Review the general information provided by the product labels and MSDSs. Request information from suppliers about the chemical emissions of products being considered for purchase.
Work schedules: Schedule activities that produce dust, odors, or emissions for unoccupied periods if possible.
Isolation of work areas: Block off return registers so that contaminants are not recirculated from the demolition/construction area into adjoining areas, and install temporary barriers to confine dust and noise. If possible, install temporary local exhaust to remove odors and contaminants, and check to confirm that the temporary ventilation system is operating as planned.
Installation of new furnishings: Ask suppliers to store new furnishings in a clean, dry, ventilated location so that volatile organic compounds will be emitted before installation. Minimize the use of adhesives during installation or specify low-emitting products. After new furnishings are installed, increase the ventilation rate to flush the area with outdoor air and dilute emissions.
Smoking: Establish an agreement with outside contractors concerning smoking in the buildings. Although there are many potential sources of indoor air pollution, studies have shown that environmental tobacco smoke is one of the most widespread indoor air pollutants.
Occupant Relations: Managing occupant relations to prevent IAQ problems involves: allocating space and monitoring the use of building areas to isolate odor- and contaminant-producing activities and avoid re-entrainment; establishing a communication strategy that is responsive to complaints and provides tenants with information about their role in preventing indoor air quality problems; and modifying employee manuals or lease agreements as necessary to clarify the responsibilities of occupants and building management. A health and safety committee or joint tenant-management IAQ task force that represents all of the major interest groups in the building can be very helpful in disseminating information and fostering a cooperative approach to IAQ management.
Record keeping:As new practices are introduced into a building such as equipment, an organized system of record keeping will help the start up to become part of routine operations and to ÒflagÓ complications that could affect IAQ. The best results can be achieved by taking time to think about the established channels of communication within your organization, so that individuals have an understanding that there is some form of record keeping and control.
Even though the factors that affect the quality of the indoor environment can be numerous during construction, the good news is that most indoor environmental problems can be prevented or corrected easily and inexpensively through the application of common sense and vigilance on the part of everyone in the building. Success depends on cooperative actions taken by management and occupants to improve and maintain indoor air quality during these discomforting times. By becoming knowledgeable about indoor air quality, faculty and employees are in a good position to help facility managers maintain a comfortable and healthy building environment.