Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) mandates a commitment of time and effort from today's property owners and managers that was far less onerous ten or even five years ago. With insurance carriers restricting or eliminating coverage for mold-related claims, and lawyers involved with more IAQ-related litigation, the risks have escalated even further.
Many factors impact IAQ in commercial properties, including those related to bricks and mortar.
Bricks and Mortar
The bricks and mortar factors are probably the best understood by building owners and managers and consists of issues directly related to the building: heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, interior pollutant sources and the surrounding environment. The cause of the problem is usually a building component failure such as water intrusion or ventilation system problems. The effects may be mold contamination due to water intrusion or health-related symptoms due to an ineffective ventilation system not purging indoor pollutants.
Many building-related IAQ factors involve water damage or leaks. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collected baseline indoor air quality data from 100 U.S. public and commercial office buildings. The study, Prevalence of Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution in U.S. Office Buildings, found 85 percent of the buildings had past water damage or leaks and 45 percent had ongoing leaks. Roof leaks occurred in 50 percent of the buildings, basement leaks in 28 percent of the buildings and mechanical room leaks in 17 percent of the buildings. The leaks impacted occupied areas in 71 percent of the buildings.
These results suggest most buildings will have some form of water damage during their lifetime. Water-damaged building materials and furnishings can become significant sites of microbiological contamination, leading to potential problems ranging from unpleasant odors to irritation and allergic-like responses. Appropriate management of water intrusion will reduce microbial growth and minimize health risks to building occupants and potential liability for the building owner. Additional information on managing water infiltration is available online at www.dehs.umm.edu/iaq/ flood htm/,
IAQ issues related to the HVAC system may include insufficient outdoor air, poor air distribution and maintenance, dirty ductwork or air handlers and moisture catty-over from cooling coils leading to mold growth within the alt handing unit. These issues are often noticed through tenant complaints of temperature extremes, stale air, odors, allergy-like symptoms or dustiness. Insufficient outdoor air may exacerbate other IAQ issues.
Interior pollutant sources are often associated with tenant activities or construction work in the building. Many commercial office buildings have production areas or warehouses used for light manufacturing, chemicals or operating propane-fueled trucks. Light manufacturing work that may impact IAQ includes print shops or graphic arts facilities, loading docks, garages, kitchens, computer rooms and laboratories. These interior pollutant sources may require supplemental ventilation such as local exhaust.
The pollutants generated by tenant activities may also impact adjacent tenants. Pollutants can travel through dividing walls or from an exhaust vent to an air intake for another tenant. Issues related to interior pollutant sources ran be minimized by balancing ventilation systems, proper placement of exhaust vents and by locating pollutant-generating tenants away from sensitive populations.
Interior pollutants are also generated during remodeling, construction and building maintenance. Although these activities are temporary, lack of controls often leads to tenant complaints and, occasionally, to evacuation of a space due to real or perceived health risks. Remodeling activities may produce dust or odors which can be irritating to tenants. …