Tone Set for Healthy IAQ Future

May 22, 2006
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An electronic air filter — a necessity for clean indoor air — ensures that harmful particulates are filtered out of the ventilation system before they can become an irritant to building occupants.
The move to make IAQ a No. 1 priority of the building and HVAC trades has opened up a new world of business opportunities as Americans "green up" their buildings and improve the indoor environment for both healthy occupants and those suffering from allergies and asthma.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has led the charge to promote healthy IAQ with a number of different programs, many of which have a direct impact on the HVAC industry (see sidebar on page 28).

"EPA strives to improve building occupant health and reduce stressors by increasing the number of public, commercial, and residential buildings that are designed, constructed, and operated using practices which promote good IAQ," said Roxanne Smith, U.S. EPA press officer.

Smith noted that there still are gaps in practical IAQ guidance for building professionals and trades. "Rapid growth of the green building movement reflects strong momentum around environmental improvement, including IAQ, but there are often significant gaps between IAQ best practices and current building industry practices," she noted. "EPA is working to implement a "Green Indoor Environments Strategy" by developing and promoting guidance and tools to increase knowledge and use of IAQ best practices within the green building movement, establishing communication and outreach channels to support adoption of IAQ best practices, and fostering related research."

The EPA is currently developing a guidance document to address moisture control in the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of buildings. The EPA actively participates in the activities of the U.S. Green Building Council, the ASHRAE technical committee for Standard 62.1 Ventilation for Acceptable IAQ, and has expressed interest in participating in the new ASHRAE Standards Project Committee SPC 189P, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings.

PARTNERING UP WITH THE HVAC INDUSTRY

The EPA and other U.S. agencies have launched a number of IAQ programs, which directly involve the HVAC industry. And industry leaders have not hesitated to get their organizations involved.

Paul Stalknecht, CEO of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), said his organization works closely with a major EPA program. "We work with the EPA and provide advice and support to the Energy Star program," he said.

"In addition, we are assisting EPA through the development of the Quality Installation initiative; a quality installation means better IAQ."

The EPA is working to develop a companion label to the Energy Star for Homes label to help the new construction industry adopt a variety of construction practices and technologies that decrease the risk of poor IAQ in new homes.

This label, referred to as "Energy Star with Indoor Air Package" is currently being piloted in a limited number of markets to allow for a comprehensive evaluation of the pilot program and to make refinements to the specifications.

D.L. "Ike" Casey, executive vice president for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC), said that his organization is looking into a program that deals with lead poisoning. "We are finalizing comments we will submit to the EPA that summarize members' responses to a proposed regulation to reduce lead exposure in renovation and remodeling projects," he said.

"The proposed regulation is part of EPA's overall attempt to eliminate exposure to lead-based paint by 2010. It adds a focus on the elimination of lead "dust" created as a result of remodeling performed on residences built prior to 1978. It is uncertain when it will go into effect."

To assist professionals in the construction trades, the EPA has developed "Building Air Quality: A Guide for Building Owners and Facility Managers." "It is a very popular guidance document that was developed by EPA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health," said Smith.

"The guide provides practical suggestions on preventing, identifying, and resolving IAQ problems in public and commercial buildings. A companion document, "Building Air Quality Action Plan," is intended for building owners and managers who want an easy-to-understand path for taking their building from current conditions and practices to the successful institutionalization of good IAQ management practices. It contains eight steps and includes a comprehensive checklist designed to help verify implementation."

The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA) also takes part in a U.S. government program to promote healthy IAQ and green, environmentally friendly buildings. SMACNA has published two technical manuals, titled IAQ Guidelines for Occupied Buildings Under Construction and IAQ - A Systems Approach.

"SMACNA has earned the international recognition and respect as a standards-setting organization from the design community for its library of technical standards and manuals on specifying sheet metal installations and the fabrication and installation of HVAC, architectural and specialty sheet metal systems," said Keith Wilson, president of SMACNA.

"Our technical standards and manuals address all facets of the sheet metal and air conditioning contracting industry, from duct construction and installation to air pollution control, from energy recovery to roofing, and from IAQ to welding."

Wilson said that SMACNA's IAQ guidelines publication is a "one-of-a-kind publication that provides project management direction for maintaining satisfactory IAQ of occupied buildings undergoing renovation or construction. It offers hands-on guidance in situations ranging from a minor office reconfiguration to a more comprehensive roof replacement. Planning and inspection checklists make this book very practical."

The U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Green Building Rating System for Existing Buildings and New Construction references this guide.

Installing and maintaining a humidifier is a key component to ensuring comfort levels in the home — and comfort is a direct beneficiary of healthy indoor air.

SPREADING THE WORD TO MEMBERS

Members of organizations like ACCA, PHCC, and SMACNA not only "talk the talk," they also "walk the walk." By getting involved in IAQ programs, HVAC contractors are seeing the benefits of endorsing IAQ and related products.

"IAQ is, of course, a great concern and an opportunity for our members," noted Stalknecht. "We frequently cover IAQ-related topics in our quarterly magazine, online articles and e-mail newsletters. In addition, there is generally a heavy emphasis on IAQ in the workshops presented at our annual conference and commercial contracting roundtable. Our committees get involved with IAQ on many levels for the purpose of developing standards.

"Promoting IAQ products and technologies is a key way that quality contractors differentiate themselves from their competition. By staying abreast of new approaches, contractors are well positioned to resolve customer IAQ issues and concerns. Employee training on how to properly explain the benefits of a specific technology is always needed. Additionally, customer-focused materials that succinctly demonstrate the value of the offered technology help contractors to make the sell."

Casey said that the heightened awareness of the possibility of a bird flu epidemic will bring healthy IAQ to top-of-mind awareness for everyone.

"We frequently run IAQ-related information in our association publications and Website," he added. "IAQ has become an even hotter topic with the attention now on the bird flu possibilities. We also include several IAQ publications in our printed and online bookstores, and offer special pricing to encourage contractors to purchase them.

"PHCC's Educational Foundation also offers seminars on green building concepts that cover the latest in IAQ. Through our partnership with ISH North America, we encourage the addition of seminars that cover IAQ topics at the trade show. There will be several offered this year, including ‘Sustainable/Green Construction/LEED Certification' sponsored by the PHCC Educational Foundation."

Wilson said that his organization has taken the initiative to develop its own program for members. "SMACNA, along with its labor partners, the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association (SMWIA), is a co-sponsor of the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI)," he said.

"Through NEMI, SMACNA members attend seminars and have access to market research materials so that they can expand their businesses in the areas of IAQ, building commissioning and energy management. SMACNA members have access to market research that explores emerging and existing markets in this industry. Market reports that are currently available cover IAQ, building commissioning, retrocommissioning and energy management.

"Selling IAQ-related products is important to SMACNA members, particularly those in the service business. Most recently at the SMACNA/SMWIA-sponsored Partners-in-Progress Conference, an intensive, day-long residential retrofit session provided tips to contractors on helping technicians sell add-ons to customers."

IT'S EVERYONE'S BUSINESS

As important as healthy IAQ is to the HVAC industry, it is even more critical for the general public to be aware of the dangers of an unhealthy indoor environment. The recent rash of media attention to mold in buildings has brought a whole new cottage industry - mold remediation - into existence. Through education, home and building owners are becoming aware of the side effects of moisture and poor ventilation and how these factors attribute to mold growth and subsequent health issues.

The EPA offers a guidance document and online course on mold and mold remediation. "Concern about indoor exposure to mold has been increasing as the public becomes aware that exposure to mold can cause a variety of health effects and symptoms, including allergic reactions," said Wilson.

"We present guidelines for the remediation/cleanup of mold and moisture problems in schools and commercial buildings, including measures designed to protect the health of building occupants and remediators. It [guidance document] has been designed primarily for building managers, custodians, and others who are responsible for commercial building and school maintenance, and can serve as a reference for potential mold and moisture remediators."

The free online course (at www.epa.gov/mold) consists of nine chapters, includes voluntary knowledge tests, and covers mold basics, mold identification, mold prevention and remediation, and includes an image library with mold and moisture photos that may be used for presentations and educational purposes.

Being able to identify and fight leading causes of poor IAQ, such as mold, is just part of an overall strategy that includes equipment and education. The "whole package" needs to be sold to the U.S. public, according to Stalknecht.

"There's a critical distinction that is often missed within the industry," he said. "Some companies see HVAC IAQ as selling/installing a component (be it an improved filtration system, humidifier, energy recovery equipment, etc.). But HVAC IAQ is not just selling a component and walking away.

"IAQ is the broader issue of designing and installing a complete system that satisfies all of a customer's needs. This requires proper sizing and selection of equipment, quality installation of equipment, owner training in proper operation, and ongoing maintenance and servicing. We need the industry to promote HVAC IAQ as a complete system application and not just an add-on to an existing system."

Wilson summed up his feelings on IAQ awareness: "As an industry we need to emphasize the importance of IAQ to general contractors and building owners."

For more information, visit www.acca.org, www.phccweb.org, and www.smacna.org.

Sidebar: Addressing IAQ

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) current priority IAQ improvement programs include:

RADON
Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and is estimated to be responsible for 21,000 deaths per year. EPA's program focuses on testing for radon in existing structures, reducing elevated radon levels through the use of cost-effective mitigation techniques, and promoting the design and construction of new buildings with radon-reducing features.

INDOOR ASTHMA TRIGGERS
An estimated 20 million people in the United States have asthma, including 6 million children, and the number of children with asthma has more than doubled since 1980. EPA objectives are to increase the number of people being treated for asthma by taking actions to reduce their exposure to indoor environmental triggers, including mold, pests, dust mites, pets, and environmental tobacco smoke. As part of this goal, EPA has identified children and low-income individuals as disproportionately impacted and has placed particular emphasis on reaching these populations, as well as training the health care workforce on asthma trigger management.

ENVIRONMENTAL TOBACCO SMOKE
Environmental tobacco smoke poses risks to all segments of the population; however, children are especially vulnerable because they are still growing and developing. EPA's objective is to reduce the exposure of children six years of age and under to environmental tobacco smoke, predominantly in homes, childcare facilities, and cars. EPA makes a concerted effort to reach families of low-income and low-education households, which independent research has shown are most adversely affected.

SCHOOLS
According to U.S. Department of Education statistics, in 1999 about 20 percent of America's public schools reported IAQ to be unsatisfactory, while 25 percent reported that ventilation was unsatisfactory. EPA's goal is to ensure good IAQ management practices are used in urban, suburban, rural, and tribal K-12 public and private schools. EPA developed the IAQ Tools for Schools action kit which provides step-by-step guidance that enables schools to prevent, identify, and resolve IAQ problems in order to provide a healthier learning and teaching environment. EPA's goal is to increase the number of primary and secondary schools with effective IAQ management plans and practices, based on or consistent with the IAQ Tools for Schools kit.

The IAQ-Building Education and Assessment Module (I-BEAM) was designed to be used by building professionals and others interested in IAQ in commercial buildings. I-BEAM updates and expands EPA's Building Air Quality guidance and is designed to be comprehensive state-of-the-art guidance for managing IAQ in commercial buildings.

I-BEAM contains text, animation/visual, and interactive/calculation components that can be used to perform several tasks including conducting an IAQ building audit; diagnosing and resolving IAQ-related health problems; establishing an IAQ management and maintenance program to reduce risks; planning IAQ-compatible energy projects; protecting occupants from exposures to construction/renovation contaminants; and calculating the cost, revenue, and productivity impacts of planned IAQ activities. I-BEAM can be downloaded for free directly from the EPA website, and is also available on CD-ROM.

The EPA is also planning to publicly release the dataset from its Building Assessment Survey and Evaluation (BASE) Study. EPA conducted the BASE Study to characterize IAQ and occupant symptoms/perceptions in U.S. office buildings.

A sample of 100 randomly selected public and private office buildings was studied between 1994 and 1998, to characterize factors related to building construction, operation, and maintenance practices; environmental parameters commonly associated with IAQ; and occupant health symptoms and IAQ perceptions. This dataset has undergone extensive quality-assurance reviews and some limited analyses by IAQ researchers.

The EPA will be publicly releasing this dataset in a CD-ROM information package. It is anticipated to be released later this summer and is intended primarily for building professionals and IAQ researchers to address the "significant data gap" that exists regarding baseline IAQ in office buildings. It is also intended to provide information that can strengthen and support IAQ programs and guidance documents.

Publication date: 05/22/2006

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