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The Business Forum Journal


Building & Maintaining Healthy Commercial Buildings


By Steven G. Rush


An 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 the Beginning

Green Building is a broad term that describes the design and construction of sustainable and environmentally conscious buildings - Matthew Hancock -

Building Science 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:

1.    The 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. 

2.    It is preferred to not use nasty chemical pesticides, but for sure you do not want any nasty pests in the building!

3.    Fresh 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.

4.    Strong 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 them. 

1.    Do you have any kind of reaction while in the building?

2.    Do you sneeze? Do your eyes become red? Other allergic reactions?

3.    Is it comfortable to all of your senses?

4.    Do you feel better after spending time in the building?

5.    Is the environment conducive to productivity?

6.    Talk 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?

7.    Talk to the building management – how was working with the architect/builder?

8.    Have there been unexpected problems with the building’s performance?

9.    Ask 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?

Building Maintenance

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 help:

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 and materials.

For general information on the LEED EB-OM certification, see

 For the actual LEED EB-OM rating system, see

The American Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC) recently added a new certificate called the Council-certified Indoor Air Quality Manager (CIAQM) - see  If 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 2008 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:

1.    Mold - Keep it dry and mold will not be a problem

2.    Pesticides – Use an Integrated Pest Management strategy. 

3.    Fragrance – Use fragrant-free cleaning materials.  No air fresheners!

4.    Cleaning supplies – Use those with no added chemicals and no fragrances.

5.    Remodeling – Use Natural paints and floor finishes (not just Low-VOC); wood or tile floors instead of carpets; real wood cabinetry.

6.    Dust – Use allergen-type air filters; replace as needed; clean air ducts when needed.

7.    Natural Gas – Avoid when possible.

8.    Wiring – Be sure your building is properly wired.  Have it tested for elevated magnetic fields.

9.    Mystery Toxins- Often come from improper return plenums.  Ensure that all heating and air conditioning ducts are clean and the air is well filtered.

10.  Stress - 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 quality.  

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 green.

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