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Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in recent times is one factor that has the attention of both tenants and owners of commercial buildings. Increased awareness, quest for better wellbeing, the drive for improvements in energy efficiency, and competition are some factors that have fueled the embers of its popularity among stakeholders.
Respiratory diseases, allergies, eye irritation, intoxication, heart diseases, some types of cancer, building sickness syndrome are some negative health conditions that are associated with poor indoor air.
And with people spending significant time of their day inside commercial facilities across the nation, the effect of IAQ on public health is proven and well documented by a number of sources including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States and the World Health Organization (WHO). IAQ in commercial facilities has been singled out as an important factor that affects the wellbeing and productivity of its occupants.
According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), “air in which there are no known contaminants at harmful concentrations as determined by cognizant authorities and with which a substantial majority (80% or more) of the people exposed do not express dissatisfaction” is considered to be “acceptable indoor air quality.”
Having said that, acceptable indoor air quality requires effort and is determined by the amount of pollutants present, which may come from a number of sources and supported by some factors in building design and construction.
For newly constructed commercial properties, it is common for people to erroneously assume that the IAQ is also “new and fresh.” Unfortunately that is not the case. A look around and you’ll discover that commercial facilities by their very nature are constructed to be “air-tight;” meaning natural ventilation is sacrificed for mechanical systems. That’s not all; add to the fact that the building process including the installations of fittings, furniture, and interior design is culpable for introducing pollutants into the inbuilt environment thus lowering indoor air quality.
Therefore the need for certain measures to ensure the air in newly constructed buildings are safe for intending occupants. One of such practice is known as “flush out.”
A “flush out” is the process whereby outdoor air is forced through a building (especially one that is newly constructed) for a period of time before the building is occupied.
This is usually done to eliminate air pollutants that produce gas, odors or any air particles from newly installed items. Building materials, flooring, treated wood, particleboard, vinyl, furnishings, fresh paint, finishes, adhesives and sealants are some of these items that release gases such as formaldehyde (HCHO) and other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) which leads to lowering of the quality of air within the building.
Ironically, these new materials are guilty of giving off the highest amount of pollutants; therefore, a flush out following construction is important to reduce any potential risk on human health and safety.
Since the aim is to improve Indoor Air Quality, it is therefore imperative to keep an eye on proceedings which can be achieved through continuous IAQ monitoring.
Continuous IAQ monitoring entails sample collection and subsequent measurements of the concentration of air pollutants in real-time. Since, IAQ is a function of space/location and time of sampling and measurement, it is important to obtain data of these variations so that indoor air pollution patterns can be identified and more importantly, the safest level of pollutant acceptable for human exposure determined.
Some few benefits of continuous IAQ monitoring during the flush out process include:
- Health and Safety
Of course the aim is to improve air quality which can only be determined through empirical measurement of the concentration of air pollutants present. Meaning, as long as concentrations still remains high, the flush out process will continue until acceptable concentration levels are reached before human occupation can be allowed. That way, human exposure to harmful air is avoided and sicknesses prevented.
- Economic benefits
Continuous monitoring will serve as a guide upon which informed decisions concerning the flush out process can be based. Areas with high concentration of pollutants will receive special attention while time and effort will not be wasted on safe parts as determined by the monitoring process. At the end of the day, this will help cut cost, save time and improve the efficiency of the whole process.
Another important factor is the value it can add to the building. Having measured data to prove great IAQ can encourage and eventually persuade intending occupants to settle for such a building irrespective of the price which is very important for managers of commercial buildings since they seek tenants.
- It is used to establish acceptable baseline conditions
What this means is that concentrations obtained from problematic parts of the building can be compared with levels obtained at a different location and time. This is particularly important in testing a hypothesis about the source of a pollutant(S).
- Regulations and certification
IAQ monitoring and a Flush out process pre-occupation is an activity favored by most regulators. These measures come in handy when you want to obtain certifications from the likes of LEED, RESET®, or WELL Certification.
So also, the measured concentration is compared with exposure standards and other health and safety guidelines in a bid to satisfy government, building, or safety regulations.
- It validates the flush out process
Having supporting data as an evidence of a job well done can be tendered. This can help during the quoting process and in commanding more credibility.
Furthermore, obtained data can be used to confirm that an intervention (control) to reduce or eliminate the pollutant concentration is effective.
Finally, having data to proof the quality of the indoor air is reassuring to both the commercial property owners and prospective tenants.
- It is informative
The concentration level of certain kind of pollutants can be used to make inferences on their source and the type of building involved. This knowledge can guide future exercises and can also be considered during construction and also in developing improvements in building design as well as the flush out process.
- Effective IAQ management
Continuously monitoring IAQ during the flush out exercise is an important step in achieving and maintaining good IAQ. Data obtained here can be used to model HVACs solutions for the building.
Continuous IAQ monitoring during the flush out process of commercial buildings will help reduce/eliminate harmful pollutants quickly. This will assist in achieving improved indoor air quality and also make the process of building validation and certifications faster. All these factors when put together will ensure that the value of any such commercial building is increased which more than likely will translate to good business for owners and managers of such properties.