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 T 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 inspect nonetheless. 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 unnecessary improvements. 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. 30 October - November 2013 BMH 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. VENTILATION 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.” CHEMICALS 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
Disaster Preparedness
HVAC & Indoor Air Quality

Building Management Hawaii October/November 2013