article I wrote entitled “Living and Working in a Healthy Environment”
appeared in a recent issue of the Business Forum Journal. This article
is a follow-up for those of you who either own, plan to build, manage or
work in a commercial high-rise or similar building.
Two aspects of commercial
buildings will be considered here – building it right from the beginning
and maintaining it once it is built.
At the end of the article we will look
some of the common environmental problems found in commercial buildings.
Building it Right from
is a broad term that describes the design and construction of
sustainable and environmentally conscious buildings - Matthew Hancock -
combines building physics, systems design concepts, and an awareness of
sustainability to promote the design and construction of buildings that
are more durable, healthier, more sustainable and more economical than
most buildings built today.
In 2008 the AIA (American
Institute of Architects) saw a doubling in demand for green buildings
over 2007! And this trend is continuing.
Making a building healthy,
sustainable, and environmentally conscious is complicated, as you can
see in the examples below:
building should be water-tight so that no moisture that can result in
mold growth can get in, while at the same time it should “breathe” to
let toxins out and fresh air in.
is preferred to not use nasty chemical pesticides, but for sure you do
not want any nasty pests in the building!
outside air is almost always healthier than “inside” air that has been
re-circulated many times, but the “outside” air is almost always either
colder or hotter than the ideal temperature, so that means using more
energy (electric or gas) to heat or cool the air.
cleaners that emit toxic chemicals are not desired, but the building
must be kept clean.
The first step to creating
a healthy building is to hire architects, designers, and builders that
can keep all of these factors in the right balance. Look not only at
the companies providing the service, but at the individuals that will be
responsible for your building. Of course, each individual should
be judged on their own merits, but a good place to start is with a LEEDS
certified builder and architect.
Then do your homework. I
recommend spending some time in one or more of the structures built by
you have any kind of reaction while in the building?
you sneeze? Do your eyes become red? Other allergic reactions?
it comfortable to all of your senses?
you feel better after spending time in the building?
the environment conducive to productivity?
to the tenants – do they enjoy coming to work in the building? Do they
know of any tenants who became sick and thought it was because of the
environment in the building?
to the building management – how was working with the architect/builder?
there been unexpected problems with the building’s performance?
for some recent utility bills and compare them to similar existing
buildings with similar tenants – how energy efficient is the building on
a per square foot basis?
Ask to see the Maintenance
Management Log book and the Maintenance Procedures followed by the
staff. Are the procedures resulting in a healthy and green building?
Are the procedures being followed? Here are some resources that can
LEED for Existing
Buildings: Operations & Maintenance
is a rating system that helps building owners and managers learn the
current best practices concerning energy use and the indoor environment
and how to incorporate those into the building maintenance procedures
For general information on
the LEED EB-OM certification, see
the actual LEED EB-OM rating system,
The American Council for
Accredited Certification (ACAC) recently added a new certificate called
the Council-certified Indoor Air Quality Manager (CIAQM) - see
your building manager has this certificate, you are ahead of the game!
Another option is to hire
an environmental consultant to work with the maintenance/management team
to develop protocols and a list of materials to use that will ensure
that the building will be healthy and environmentally conscious.
Top 10 Building Hazards
In his book, “Healthy
Living Spaces: Top 10 Hazards Affecting Your Health” (copyright
Healthy Living Spaces LLC),
Dan Stih lists 10 of the most common problems that cause unhealthy
conditions in buildings and how to mitigate them. Here is a summary:
- Keep it dry and mold will not be a problem
– Use an Integrated Pest Management strategy.
– Use fragrant-free cleaning materials. No air fresheners!
supplies – Use those with no added chemicals and no fragrances.
– Use Natural paints and floor finishes (not just Low-VOC); wood or tile
floors instead of carpets; real wood cabinetry.
– Use allergen-type air filters; replace as needed; clean air ducts when
Gas – Avoid when possible.
– Be sure your building is properly wired. Have it tested for elevated
Toxins- Often come from improper return plenums. Ensure that all
heating and air conditioning ducts are clean and the air is well
- Physiological and psychological stress can result in perceived bad
indoor air quality OR the placebo effect of poor quality air filters or
other half-baked “improvements” can result in perceived good indoor air
Steven G. Rush is a
Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and is the
Founder and Principal of Rush Quality Environments, a green-oriented
company that specializes in creating healthy indoor environments.
He graduated from Emory University with a BS in biology and a
strong foundation in chemistry and has an MA from Duke University in
Forestry, specializing in plant physiology. Steve was a general
contractor for several years. He is a Registered Environmental
Assessor with the state of California and has these certifications
with the American Council for Accredited Certification: Certified
Indoor Environmental Consultant, Certified Microbial Consultant,
Certified Indoor Air Quality Consultant and Certified Mold
Remediation Supervisor. He is a certified Asbestos Building
Inspector. Steve has testified at arbitrations, mediations,
depositions and in court as an expert witness concerning indoor
environmental issues. He helps environmentally
sensitive clients create healthy homes and workspaces. He also
consults with builders and architects to make structures healthy and
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