WHAT MAKES AN IAQ EXPERT
Technology is only as smart as the person using it. A quality graphing calculator might be able to determine the force needed to break free of the Earth’s gravity, but I’m not a rocket scientist. You could give me the fanciest calculator on the market, but you shouldn’t use any equation I come up with to build rockets. It’s not enough to have a quality piece of equipment; you need
to know how to use it. Two projects I recently became involved with prove this fact clearly.
The first project came to me after a large-home builder received complaints from a person who purchased one of their new homes 18 months ago. The homeowner noticed an unusual odor and rented some equipment to do some testing of their own. Not satisfied with the results of the rented equipment, they hired a home inspector who came in with a pretty elaborate piece of equipment. After doing some testing, the inspector came back with a report that claimed there was high levels of formaldehyde in the home.
The second situation came from a large commercial property management company who was involved in a workers’ compensation claim. The claim was filed by a tenant’s staff member who claimed the indoor air quality of the building they worked in harmed their health. In response, the company hired someone to investigate their IAQ. The man they hired brought in a fancy piece of equipment and ran 35 tests on the top floor of the building. When the man came back with the results, he claimed everything looked good and there were no problems.
But there were a number of problems with how both these projects were initially handled. The reason I was called in was because the equipment in both cases produced a 35- to 40-page report. These massive reports were filled with readings neither of the inspectors were trained to interpret. Then the reports were handed over to the tenant and then the building owners who didn’t know what to make of them, other than forwarding them along to me.
After reading the reports, my response was pretty simple: It was obvious that both investigators used one particular instrument that doesn’t require any understanding or background knowledge of the work these people were claiming to do. The equipment is easy to run, and though it provides a very voluminous report, it doesn’t provide the training to understand the report or to even run the tests correctly.
When I looked over the report from the commercial building, the summary noted, “The sample at area 26 shows high levels of carbon dioxide. This could be because I breathed on the instrument.” I was floored. He might have breathed on it?! Who would ever turn in a report like this?
Somehow more troubling is the fact that this piece of equipment needs to be calibrated annually. Otherwise the data is no good. I’ve spoken to people who purchased this equipment years ago and were still charging clients to run tests despite not calibrating the instrument since they bought it.
These kinds of situations drive me crazy for a number of reasons. First, I saw a homeowner and a tenant in a large building pay good money for a massive report that was poorly organized, offered no solutions, and may have been based on tests run using equipment that hadn’t been properly calibrated. It’s incredibly dangerous to make decisions based on bad data, especially when a family’s health or a lawsuit is on the table.
I’ve been in this business for decades, and that experience has taught me a lot. The equipment I use is quality, but my knowledge and my experiences are what I rely on to do a good job for the people I work for. The trouble is that there are a lot of misguided people out there misrepresenting the industry. Anyone can become an IAQ expert if they’re willing to put in the hard work to gain the knowledge and experience.
A fancy piece of equipment doesn’t make someone an IAQ expert; just like a graphing calculator wouldn’t make me a rocket scientist.