Preventing Indoor Air Quality Problems

Preventing indoor air quality problems in commercial buildings can best be done through the implementation of a Pro-Active IAQ program. Such a program has the building’s owner or manager develop a profile of the building, looking for potential indoor air quality problems, before they actually occur.

An IAQ profile is a “picture” of building conditions from the perspective of indoor air quality. 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 in the future. Baseline data collected for the IAQ profile can make later investigations much easier, should problems arise.

An IAQ profile is a description of the features of the building structure, function, and occupancy that impact indoor air quality.

The IAQ profile can help building management to identify potential problem areas and prioritize budgets for maintenance and future modifications. Combined with information on lighting, security, and other important systems, it can become an owner’s manual that is specific to your building and that will serve as a reference in a variety of situations.

What Questions Should You Consider

There are several key questions to answer while developing an indoor air quality profile for your building. They are:

  • How was the building originally intended to function? Consider the building components and furnishings, mechanical equipment (HVAC and non-HVAC), and the occupant population and associated activities.
  • Is the building functioning as designed? Find out whether it was commissioned. Compare the information from the commissioning to its current condition.
  • What changes in building layout and use have occurred since the original design and construction? Find out if the HVAC system has been reset and retested to reflect current usage.
  • What changes may be needed to prevent IAQ problems from developing in the future? Consider potential changes in future uses of the building.

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 a building managers busy schedule. On the other hand, professional consultants (such as our own firm) can be hired to perform the review and develop the profile on your behalf.

Steps in an Indoor Air Quality Profile

The information needed for an IAQ profile is similar to that which is collected when solving indoor air quality problems, but includes the entire building rather than focusing on areas that may have caused an identified problem. The IAQ profile should be an organized body of records that can be referred to in planning for renovations, negotiating leases and contracts, or responding to future complaints.

The process of gathering information for the IAQ profile can be divided into three major stages:

1. Collect and review existing records.

2. Conduct a walkthrough inspection of the building.

3. Collect detailed information on the HVAC system, pollutant pathways, pollutant sources, and building occupancy.

The first two stages should be carried out as quickly as possible, but the third stage can be handled as time allow so that it does not interfere with other staff responsibilities.