By Simon Turner
Tenants today have high expectations regarding their building's service and technology requirements as they squeeze the last ounce of productivity out of their most expensive asset: their employees. Yet as you flip through the pages of this magazine, with its dazzling array of today's technologies, it's wise not to forget that the air in your building is one of the most important factors in maintaining employee productivity and health. While maintaining air quality isn't rocket science, because of this strong link between indoor air quality (IAQ) and productivity, inattention to air quality often results in ripple effects that finally wash ashore at the building owner's feet; these effects include liability concerns (of course). On a more positive note, however, they present a splendid opportunity for a building owner to add value to the building by setting correct perceptions about the workplace. If done right, this results in a more marketable, insurable, and saleable building.
Proactive IAQ monitoring has become a common and powerful tool used to achieve this goal. It doesn't rely on overly sophisticated gadgets, but on less glamorous documentation of the fundamentals that impact how pleasant the air inside a building is to breathe: ventilation rates, filtration, and basic hygiene inside mechanical systems. This is completed by a detailed visual inspection of the air-handling units and ductwork, and measurements of a range of constituents commonly found in building air and water sources. Most important is careful, detailed documentation that focuses on the positive in the property rather than the rare problem. Practical and positive-oriented documentation is a key part of resolving concerns an owner may have about opening Pandora's Box. In nearly all cases, proactive IAQ monitoring verifies good things about the building, certifying effective maintenance and operations.
While some states have established standards for IAQ in their own buildings, ASHRAE Standard 62-2004 remains the legal standard of care - not just for design of new buildings, but via an entire section on operations and maintenance. A properly designed proactive IAQ program will demonstrate compliance with this standard of care on an ongoing basis. This, in turn, will be an extremely valuable document in the event of a claim. Nearly all green building standards, including LEED, have an ongoing IAQ monitoring component, and an IAQ program can help earn valuable credits both for new construction and existing buildings. Some building owners - while not willing to expend the resources to fully adopt LEED certification - like to pick out certain elements (like proactive IAQ monitoring programs) that offer them the most value.
Eyes on the Prize
A cohesive, proactive IAQ monitoring program will allow a building owner to compile a set of indoor environmental records for the building - for pennies per square foot per year. Even if these records are never used to address an environmental complaint, the owner can expect smoother sailing with tenant (and insurer) relations and higher-quality maintenance. But, ultimately, when it comes time to sell the building, these records - when presented to a prospective buyer - will be worth their weight in gold. And that's real value.
Simon Turner is president at Fairfax, VA-based Healthy Buildings Intl. (http://www.hbiamerica.com/), a company specializing in proactive IAQ programs.