Building Management Hawaii October/November 2013 - (Page 30)
Is Your Building Sick?
A building is a living, breathing structure. What is your action plan for keeping it healthy?
By Vanessa Van Voorhis
hVaC & iaQ
hree weeks after moving in, the new tenant at a
commercial building you manage calls to complain
about a strange odor and claims staff members are
experiencing sinus problems, headaches and fatigue.
It’s the first time you’ve received an indoor air quality
complaint, but you ask your maintenance crew to
After their visit, the crew reports they noticed no
unusual odors, they experienced no poor indoor air
quality (IAQ) symptoms and they saw no signs of mold
or mildew. You begin to wonder if the IAQ complaint
might simply be a cold that’s going around, or perhaps
the new occupants are just overly sensitive to the office’s
newly painted walls or the cleaning products used
by the janitorial service. You call the new tenant and
suggest they try to air out the office for a few days.
As the weeks go by, the complaints continue. You’ve
already established there is no evidence of a problem,
so you avoid the new tenant and hope the issue
eventually resolves itself. You might even mentally
label them as troublemakers who are trying to concoct
an excuse to break their lease or force you to make
A couple of months later, the owner of the building
informs you he has received a court summons
concerning IAQ complaints to which you failed to
respond. You’re told the tenant is seeking to nullify
the lease and wants reimbursements for medical bills,
lost worker productivity, personal injury, relocation
expenses and business interruption.
After the case is settled, the tenant posts comments
on various websites warning prospective renters that
you’re operating a “sick building,” and the owner
worries his other tenants may file similar claims for
IAQ-related damages. The solution to the owner’s
dilemma may be to fire you and advertise that the
property is under new management. You’re left
wondering what you did wrong and how you could
have affected a better outcome.
SICK BUILDING SYNDROME
Sick Building Syndrome is a term that describes
a building where its occupants experience acute
negative health and comfort effects, but often no
specific illness or cause can be identified, according
to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Occupants’ symptoms may include headache,
fatigue, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, nausea,
sensitivity to odors, and eye, nose and throat irritation.
October - November 2013
Symptoms normally subside shortly after leaving the
building. General causes of Sick Building Syndrome
are inadequate ventilation, chemicals from indoor or
outdoor sources and biological contaminants.
Inadequate ventilation may occur if heating,
ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems fail
to adequately distribute air.
Kevin Saito, P.E. with Heide & Cooke and Hawaii
chapter president of the American Society of Heating,
Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers
(ASHRAE), said, “A window air conditioning unit
may not have outside air ventilation capability. Units
that have an outside air vent depend on fan speed to
determine how much outside air is brought in. The
faster the speed, the more air is drawn in.
“Direct-expansion split systems may have the
same capabilities and limitations as their window
air conditioning unit cousins when it comes to
ventilation,” Saito said. “Addressing ventilation rates
by installing a demand-control ventilation system will
not solve everything and may introduce unintended
consequences, such as an unbalanced building that
exhausts more air than is brought in.
“It’s slightly different when you deal with
package terminal air conditioning (PTAC) units,”
Saito said. “Although PTACs look a lot like window
air conditioning units, a major design difference
could be their outside air damper. PTACs are
used predominantly in the hotel and lodging
industry and frequently have outside air ventilation
capability, many with basic control dampers. Unwary
maintenance workers could also close the outside air
intake damper with the intent of keeping out warm,
humid air, but this may cause occupants to suffer high
concentrations of volatile organic compounds.”
Indoor air is often two to five times more polluted
than outdoor air, according to the EPA, and the
average American spends 90 percent of their time
indoors. Fabrics, upholstery, carpeting, manufactured
wood products, adhesives, copy machines, pesticides,
smoke and cleaning products may emit toxic,
carcinogenic and volatile organic compounds (VOCs),
such as formaldehyde and particulates.
Jason Princenthal, president and chief investigator at
AirCare Hawaii, said, “Today most of our buildings and
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Building Management Hawaii October/November 2013
Remodeling & Renovation
HVAC & Indoor Air Quality
Building Management Hawaii October/November 2013