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Sustainable By Design: Purchasing Choices And Proper Ventilation Contribute To Improved IAQ

Written by Anne Vazquez. Posted in Columnists, Environment, Interiors, Magazine, Renewable Energy, Safety, Sustainability, Topics

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Published on May 08, 2005 with No Comments

By Anne Vazquez
From the May 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Virtually every facility manager, at one time or another, has received a complaint about an unpleasant or strange smell in the building. Or, perhaps an employee repeatedly suffers from a headache when working in a specific location. Addressing complaints about indoor air quality (IAQ) is necessary for several reasons, not the least of which are occupant comfort, health, and safety.{{mainArticleBox}}

Numerous sources can be contributors to an uncomfortable or unhealthy indoor environment. Fortunately, there are also a number of ways good IAQ can be created, improved upon, and regulated.

Significant portions of the U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Existing Buildings (EB) and LEED for Commercial Interiors (CI) focus on the Indoor Environmental Quality of the building, which addresses IAQ as it pertains to fostering a sustainable facility. In LEED-EB, for instance, facility managers earn two points toward LEED certification by optimizing the use of IAQ compliant products. Products can include furniture, paints and coatings, adhesives and sealants, carpet, and textiles that might emit harmful chemicals, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These chemicals are known to be eye and throat irritants, cause headaches, and even contribute to liver and kidney damage when people are exposed to very high levels over an extended period of time.

The Greenguard Environmental Institute, located in Atlanta, GA, is one of the certifying bodies referenced in LEED rating systems. Greenguard has been certifying low emitting interior products since it incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2001. With more than 3,500 product categories certified under its testing conditions (all of which are listed at, Greenguard is a third-party organization that facility managers can refer to when shopping for low emitting products. For instance, in LEED-CI, the section for low emitting materials (systems furniture and seating) lists Greenguard certification as an option in procuring furniture that meets LEED standards.

“Over the past two years, the categories in which we have seen the biggest increase in requests from manufacturers for certification are office furniture and flooring,” says Henning Bloech, communications manager at Greenguard. “I think that’s been mainly driven by LEED. The LEED-CI rating system uses Greenguard as a reference credit [for systems furniture and seating], and that drove the market tremendously.

“Early on, we worked with a lot of insulation products and building materials,” continues Bloech. “Those manufacturers joined the program early, so there’s not many left that don’t have Greenguard certification.”

Often, certification at Greenguard has been a case of follow the leader. Bloech notes, “Sometimes, there is an issue in the industry where one manufacturer gets certified and then others do it. In the case of flooring, there was a European manufacturer who decided to apply for Greenguard certification and that stirred up the market.”

Testing for Greenguard certification involves “worst case scenario” room conditions. “We are very conservative regarding the four parameters used to determine emissions concentrations in a room,” says Bloech. These four parameters are: emissions factor; amount of air in the space; air exchange rate; and how much of the product will occupy the space.

The air exchange rate-how much fresh air is introduced into the space by building systems-is measured against the minimum requirements outlined by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in its Standard 62.1 (Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality). “We set the parameters so the facility manager doesn’t have to make these calculations,” explains Bloech. “They can look at this ‘worst case’ and this conservative estimate, and say it’s safe to use in any application.”

ASHRAE Standard 62.1 is referenced in both LEED-EB and LEED-CI in the Indoor Environmental Quality sections. Meeting the minimum outdoor ventilation rates prescribed by the standard is a prerequisite in both these LEED rating systems; achieving 30% above the minimum required by ASHRAE 62.1 earns one point toward LEED-EB or LEED-CI.

A change to Standard 62.1, entitled Addendum 62n, was approved in July 2003 and officially became part of the Standard 62.1-2004, which went into effect earlier this year. This modification contains revisions to the calculation procedure for zone ventilation airflow into a facility. Previously, zone ventilation rates had been prescribed by cfm/person (cubic feet per minute/person). The updated standard now also assigns a cfm/ft2 rate, which takes into account the presence of indoor pollutants in a given space. Together, these rates result in new recommended ventilation rates.

Considering both occupancy density and indoor pollutant density is not new to this ASHRAE standard. However, earlier versions did not explicitly present a rate for both figures. Instead, dilution rates for building related contaminants were added to the per person dilution rates, and the result was presented as one number. In the instance of an office space, the previously required 20 cfm/person was comprised of 15 cfm to dilute occupant related odors and 5 cfm to dilute building related odors.

Because these previous ventilation rates were based on either cfm/person or cfm/ft2, the rates were found to result in overventilation in some facilities. For example, high occupant density zones (such as theaters and lecture halls) were often overventilated during periods of very low occupancy. Under the new guidelines, the minimum required breathing zone outdoor air rate has decreased to 5 cfm/person with the area outdoor air rate rising to 0.06 for cfm/ft2. The aim is to provide a more balanced approach to ventilation rates. (More information on this change can be accessed from ASHRAE.)

Whether or not facility managers are working toward LEED certification, ensuring that IAQ meets accepted standards is important, and most likely required. Purchasing low emitting products, coupled with proper HVAC operation, enables the facility manager to meet those goals.

Information for this article was obtained through an interview with Bloech and analysis of the ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2004.

About Anne Vazquez

Anne Vazquez

Vazquez has been writing about facility management since 1996 when she began working at Today's Facility Manager (TFM) as the magazine's Editorial Assistant. From 2000 to 2005, she continued to work in publishing in another subject field until rejoining TFM's editorial team as Managing Editor in February 2005. In September 2012, she was promoted to Editor of TFM, where she continues to seek out solutions and trends for the magazine's facility management audience. Vazquez can be reached at

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