Given the current concerns over the flu outbreak and discussion about the threats associated with being in an enclosed area with other people, the topic of improving indoor air quality is a timely one. As I mentioned in a recent article (“Preparing for the Government’s Green Building Mandates”), the requirement of office and facility users doing business with the government (tenants, not just landlords) to renovate their project spaces to comply with LEED® is starting to surface. But that’s not all. All companies and organizations will need to accept more responsibility to ensure that the spaces occupied by their employees adhere to Indoor Environmental Quality standards to not only comply with best practices, but also to avoid potential liability.
Sick Building Syndrome refers to impact of inadequate fresh air intake and ventilation as well as inhalation of contaminants. It’s a real problem (WHO estimates that 30% of all buildings are sick), and the best solution for companies seeking a safe work environment and less liability is to adopt Indoor Environmental Quality standards. Given the costs and disruption associated with any renovation, the most efficient time to implement these air quality best practices is in conjunction with a lease expiration (renewal or relocation) or an expansion.
Here are a few considerations for your next renovation project:
- Sequencing construction activities to prevent contamination
- Increasing filtration, air volume and ventilation
- Monitoring CO2 and controlling your HVAC system
- Protecting HVAC equipment during construction
- Distancing air intakes from outdoor contamination sources
- Scheduling high polluting activities after-hours and employing flush-out procedures
- Installing materials (such as paint and carpet) with low toxicity levels
- Purchasing furniture with low Volatile Organic Compounds
- Isolating indoor chemical sources such as printers and copy machines
The first step is to have someone who understands the process evaluate your current facility. At which point, whether you plan to stay or move, we (ideally with an architect, depending on the size of your space requirement) can effectively incorporate the necessary changes into your space program. From there, we will need to effectively negotiate these standards into your existing or new lease (ideally before the lease during the proposal negotiation). If you’re considering this product during your existing lease term, make sure you understand the Alterations provision of your lease. Finally, it’s important to manage the buildout properly to ensure that the right materials are ordered and the equipment is installed properly to achieve your objectives; it’s not enough to leave it to the landlord and hope that everything works out.
While the swine flu scare may (hopefully) soon fade, it does bring to our attention the importance of enhancing the indoor air quality of our commercial facilities. Like with other changes, the improvements will come from some combination of stricter building codes over time and market demand from companies seeking to limit liability and provide a healthy work environment for employees. While it can be cost-prohibitive and disruptive to perform the renovations during the term of a lease, employing at least some of the indoor air quality techniques (particularly the less expensive measures) can demonstrate your commitment to new best practices while creating a better workplace for your employees.