Like a Breath of Fresh Air
Being built to LEED standards is very exciting, but I sometimes find that I need to take a deep breath as everyone working on me is scrutinizing the points I’ll need to earn for my certification. So when I found out that most of our exposure to environmental pollutants occurs by breathing air indoors, I wondered if I could take that deep breath after all?! I was also concerned about my future occupants, the firefighters, who work so hard spending a lot of time out in the community saving lives and protecting property.
So I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that the Indoor Environmental Quality credit (EQ) can earn me up to 15 points (the second highest total) towards my LEED certification. My designer knew from the start that well-chosen building materials and construction methods would contribute to the health and well-being of my occupants. The LEED Reference guide (Version 2.2) for New Construction and Major Renovation points out that Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors, and pollutants can typically be from two to five times higher than outdoors. That just goes to show you how important it is to have high indoor air quality standards.
During construction the contractor followed SMACNA (Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Guidelines for Occupied Buildings under Construction. I know, it sure is a funny name but it really does help to protect the HVAC (Heating Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system during construction from pollutants such as dust and debris. As I heard someone once say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I learned of another project under construction in the City that did not follow these procedures. Dust got into the duct work during construction and when the HVAC unit was tested, rooms filled with dust. Multiple cleanings over several weeks were necessary to clean up the mess that could have been avoided by covering the duct openings during construction.
Another way my indoor air quality was protected during construction was that the contractor made sure that absorptive material, like insulation, carpeting and drywall were protected and not exposed to weather and moisture. Keeping materials protected and dry reduces the chances of mold growth that could cause dangerous indoor air conditions. All of this hard work not only keeps my air safe and clean, but it also goes towards meeting the LEED Environmental Quality (EQ) Prerequisite 1 for the Minimum Indoor Air Quality requirements.
The contractor also carefully selected products that reduced the amount of indoor air contaminants that are odorous, irritating, and harmful to the health of workers during construction, and that also means cleaner air for the firefighters after they move in. Every label was checked to make sure the paints, sealants, adhesives, carpet systems and composite wood products such as cabinets, contained no or very low quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). Organic chemicals are found in many products that we use in our homes and buildings. The VOC’s which are emitted into the air as gases can have short and long-term health effects.
So, keeping my air clean during construction is important but what about after everybody moves in? It’s also important to think about what is being brought inside my doors after my occupants move in. One easy way to maintain a high level of indoor air quality is to use green cleaning products for all the times I need to be cleaned up to look my best. Cleaning products that are made from non-toxic and environmentally safe ingredients are effective without that strong chemical odor that can really affect the firefighters who live here or the people who visit me, especially the ones who have asthma, allergies, or are highly sensitive to VOC’s.
All of these choices not only help to earn the points for LEED credits 4.1-4.4 (4 points) but they also add up to making a healthier and safer work environment that enhances the quality of life, and reduces long-term health and environmental consequences. It might sound simple but being able to take in a breath of clean, fresh air can make a world of difference.