Building owners and managers over the past decade have become increasingly knowledgeable about the importance of good indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in their buildings. Programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Green Globes, and the Building Owners and Managers Association International’s 360 Performance program have served to raise the level of awareness of all aspects of building performance. Fortunately, HVAC design engineers and facility managers correspondingly have also raised their games and become valuable partners to owners and managers who are striving to provide the best IEQ possible in their buildings.
Many Interrelated Factors
When discussing IEQ with building owners and facility managers, the most important point to make is that good IEQ in a building is not just about filtration or ventilation. It is comprised of a number of interrelated factors. Owners and managers need to understand the holistic nature of how to provide good IEQ.
Take filtration and ventilation as examples. Even these basic IEQ concepts have many facets for an owner or manager to consider. Are we bringing in enough air? How are we doing it? What is our filtration situation? Are we doing it right, or do we need to upgrade our filtration? If we do that, what other kinds of consequences are we likely to run into? For instance, if we upgrade the filtering, is that going to degrade fan performance?
Furthermore, ventilation and filtration needs will be affected by other factors. For example, they must be viewed in light of the materials being used in a building with finish-outs, carpets, and office systems. What kinds of volatile organic compounds do those items emit? What kind of cleaning materials are being used? How do they affect IEQ? What types of paints, coatings, and adhesives are being used in tenant spaces?
Going a step further, ventilation and filtration may be affected by steps taken to prevent or minimize contaminants from entering a building. Matting, scraper, and absorption surfaces and careful consideration of air rates and airflow at entryways can help reduce airborne dirt and excess moisture in a building.
Additionally, daylighting and acoustics are examples of items that building owners may think of as separate from IEQ, but, in reality, are interrelated. Although the awareness of IEQ is greater than ever among building owners and managers, there is less universal understanding of the complex interrelationships that take place in a building. Energy and IEQ are obviously intertwined; for example, more robust filtration could increase energy use from the higher-capacity fans and motors that may be required. Many owners and managers do not necessarily think that way, at least not in the way they operate their buildings. They look at IEQ as one thing and energy efficiency as another.
Productivity and Health
Building owners and managers likely have heard about how good IEQ in a building will help tenants improve their productivity, but it is important to not overstate this idea. Tenants may wish to judge IEQ on absentee rates and create productivity rates specific to their businesses, but from a building-industrywide perspective, it is difficult to nail down productivity specifics; the studies we have are not that definitive.
Most building owners do fairly extensive tenant-satisfaction surveys, and most would agree that by providing good IEQ, the amount of productivity possible in tenant spaces certainly improves.
It is also important to be cautious when making any health claims related to building IEQ.
In the standards-writing and building-code arena, it is very problematic to claim health impacts without definitive research or studies to justify such claims.
Unfortunately, in our litigious society unintended liability can attach to unsubstantiated health-impact claims. For example, if a building occupant gets sick, is the owner automatically at fault? Clearly that is not the intention of the code. We are trying to provide a good working environment that promotes comfortable, productive spaces.
Tenant Satisfaction and Occupancy Rates
In the last five or six years, there has been an increasing amount of hard data to support what building owners know inherently: They will have an easier time renting a clean, attractive, comfortable space and, in some markets, may be able to command a premium rent for that space.
Again, it is difficult to pin this down to a hard-and-fast statement that would apply coast to coast. The old adage in commercial real estate still holds true: Location and price dominate everything else. However, other trends, such as tenant awareness of IEQ, energy efficiency, and green issues, are beginning to drive the market.
Therefore, in discussions with building owners, make sure they understand how paying attention to IEQ can help them better market and position their properties. These things will be more important to the new generation of workers entering the workforce. In many cases, they are “greener” than previous generations and more concerned about not only the global environment, but their personal environment.
Addition, ensuring that employees have a workplace that they feel good about is a way building owners can enhance the experience of their employees and tenants when the economy is tough. They may not be able to give big raises, but they can give employees a quality space and the benefits that go along with it.
Looking ahead over the next five to 10 years, it is safe to say there will be more monitoring of everything being done in a building. This trend is evident today with energy monitoring. In fact, a growing number of buildings are presenting their energy use for all to see in the form of energy dashboards in their lobbies. An increasing number of municipal jurisdictions will require disclosure of energy use; that is going to become common over time.
Moving forward, monitoring will be increased to gather hard data about IEQ and other building operation systems and elements. The way owners are going to be able to respond to their buildings’ performance and improve it to see short- and long-term benefits for their tenants—and, therefore, their bottom lines—certainly is coming.
More robust monitoring will lead to more robust preventive-maintenance programs and building-operations-monitoring programs. An increasing emphasis (and value) will be placed on owners and managers providing a very professionally run building. HVAC design and facility engineers should look for opportunities to offer their expertise to ensure owners and managers are doing things the best way possible in their buildings.
HVAC building engineers can be a valuable resource to help building owners and managers understand how the elements of IEQ are interconnected and how IEQ needs to be part of a holistic program of how a building is being run. Ultimately, building owners and managers need to make IEQ a major area of focus so they can make sure they are budgeting properly every year to ensure the best IEQ possible. It will become increasing valuable for their tenants as well as their position in the marketplace.
In addition, there is a marketing component of IEQ that is important for building owners to take to their tenants. As more people become aware of how “green” their building is, part of the conversation should include how owners and managers are striving in their day-to-day operations to provide the best working environment for their tenants. Is that being communicated? And what kind of information can building engineers provide to owners and managers to bring added value to their conversations with tenants? If tenants understood how professionally a building was being run, and how efficiently the building’s systems were being operated, that could create a powerful marketing and image tool.
Ron Burton is the codes and standards consultant for the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International. He is also president of PTW Advisors LLC, Point of Rocks, Md., a building-codes and standards-advocacy consulting firm providing full-service representation in the development of building regulations and best practices for commercial and residential new construction and existing buildings. Prior to the launch of PTW Advisors in 2012, he served as vice president of codes, standards, and regulatory affairs for BOMA. During his tenure at BOMA he led building-codes, standards, and regulatory-issues advocacy at the national level and provided assistance to local BOMA affiliates and state coalitions in their efforts to influence the adoption and implementation of local and state building regulations. He holds memberships on ASHRAE’s energy and green building standards committees, the consultative council of the National Institute of Building Sciences, and International Code Council (ICC) code advisory committees. He serves as chairman of ICC’s industry advisory committee.