James Woods, chairman of ASHRAE's Ad Hoc Committee for Building Health and Safety Under Extraordinary Incidents, said proper testing, adjusting, and balancing is vital to building safety.
CHICAGO — Last year in Atlantic City, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Presidential Ad Hoc Committee for Building Health and Safety Under Extraordinary Incidents released a report confronting environmental and building security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The report, “Risk Management Guidance for Health, Safety and Environmental Security Under Extraordinary Incidents,” was presented during ASHRAE’s winter meeting, and was meant to provide building owners, facility managers, and contractors with guidelines that could help reduce the risk to buildings and occupants in the event of war, terrorism, accidents, or natural disasters.

This year, the committee revisited the report in an open session during the ASHRAE 2003 Winter Meeting in Chicago. According to ASHRAE, additions have been made to the report to help ensure building safety. The committee said that no building system can be protected with absolute certainty, but some actions can and should be taken to reduce risks to building infrastructures.

Dr. James Woods, chairman of ASHRAE’s Ad Hoc Committee for Building Health and Safety Under Extraordinary Incidents, said that TABB-certified technicians can play an essential role in providing security for a building’s mechanical systems.

Safer Buildings

Several members of the committee were on hand during the open session to answer questions about building safety. Committee chairman Jim Woods, Ph.D., P.E., Dwight A. Beranek, P.E., Harvey Brickman, P.E., H.E. Barney Burroughs, and D. Scott Fisher conducted a presentation on the guideline.

Fisher opened the session and gave attendees a general overview of the ASHRAE guideline. He explained that it provides guidance for new and existing buildings regarding the protection of air, water, and food technologies within the building space.

He also said that building owners must assess the possible risks and dangers that could occur with the building’s infrastructure.

“Building systems are not 100 percent reliable,” he said, “but it’s important to address areas we can do something about.”

According to Burroughs, there are several things that should be looked at within a building, including basic utilities, fire protection, communications, and of course, heating and air conditioning systems. He said that building owners and contractors must look at the building systems and decide what kind of risks could happen with that system.

Brickman provided the audience with some examples of where risk can be minimized. He said that health, comfort, and productivity should not be compromised when minimizing those dangers, but methods for reducing vulnerability must be based on real evaluation of actual risks.

Once particular dangers have been determined, building systems should be constructed in such a way that ensures protection. One example is the location of outdoor intakes. The ASHRAE guideline suggests that intakes be located so that they are protected from external sources of contamination. Intakes should be placed away from public areas and intrusion alarms should be considered.

The building envelope should be designed to minimize liquid transfer, as well as air and water vapor infiltration. In addition, the guideline says that the pressurization zones within the building should be maintained at the appropriate levels for the functions within them.

Building owners should also be aware of air filtration and ventilation. The ASHRAE guideline suggests that buildings incorporate an air filter with the highest MERV rating that is physically viable for the environment and economically justifiable for the building owner.

Taking Responsibility

Finally, Woods spoke to the audience about the realities of building security. He said that some of the available technologies cannot safeguard occupants from all possible dangers. “Some air filters only capture particles, not gases and vapors,” said Woods.

He also mentioned that some technologies are just not available. For example, he said that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working towards building detectors that would sound an alarm when harmful elements are introduced into a ventilation system, but the technology is still years away. With this in mind, Woods said that building owners and operators must be proactive in their approach to protecting systems.

Part of this involves having an HVAC response and control sequence. The ASHRAE guideline says that integrating the control sequences of HVAC systems for normal and extraordinary periods of operation is a critical design issue.

One example is an emergency system shutdown. In the event that contaminants are introduced to a building’s ventilation system, building owners must know whether the best plan of action is to shut the system down or keep it going. The AHRAE guideline says that in some situations, shutting down the system as a general response control strategy could exacerbate exposure.

One of the best ways of protecting HVAC systems, according to Woods, is through commissioning and building diagnostics, as well as proper testing, adjusting, and balancing.

Woods elaborated on this point when he spoke at the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association (SMWIA) – Local 73 in the Chicago suburb of Bellwood.

The SMWIA Joint Apprentice Training Centers (JATCs) put individuals through five years of training. Apprentices learn to service HVAC systems, including the proper testing, adjusting, and balancing procedures. After the five years of training, apprentices have the opportunity to take the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB) certification, developed by the National Energy Management Institute (NEMI).

Woods said that qualified, knowledgeable, and trustworthy technicians is one of the most important lines of defense for protecting HVAC systems. He also said that TABB-certified technicians can provide this service.

“The bottom line is we have to understand risk and build our systems to that level of risk,” said Woods. “You’ve got to be able to trust the people who are out in the field who are doing work, setting up the systems to work the way they’re suppose to work. TABB gives us those people.”

During the conference, Woods also referred to the recent study by NEMI on the impact homeland security issues may have on the nation’s building and future construction guidelines released by ASHRAE. He said that the reports mesh together well.

“We need to know that what we deliver works,” said Woods. “Building diagnostics is the project that leads us to find the weaknesses and then be able to identify the treatment necessary to overcome those weaknesses. And TABB is the procedure that allows us to deal with that.”

Publication date: 02/24/2003