We at Cashins & Associates have provided consulting services to many contractors working on LEED-certified projects. Most of the time, we help in the area of "Indoor Environmental Quality," which deals with the status of the indoor environment before and after construction.
What we have been seeing, especially of late, is the failure of contractors and building owners to achieve the point related to Indoor Air Quality. For various reasons (mostly foreseeable and avoidable), some projects are not able to take advantage of what should be a fairly easily achieved point. The following is an outline of how to gain this point successfully.
1. Read the Project Specification (Especially the section on IEQ)
What we have found time and again is that many times the project superintendent is not sufficiently familiar with certain sections of the specification. This is understandable, given the size and complexity of most specs and the number of responsibilities given to project managers. However, in this case, it makes sense - usually the IEQ section is fairly short, is well marked, and is easily understood.
Many times, the specification will call for IEQ-related activities before, during, and after construction is complete. Knowing these requirements, and complying from the beginning, is a good way to ensure success.
2. Develop a Site-Specific IAQ Plan
Many times, the project specification will call for the development of an IAQ Plan. These plans deal with techniques for maintaining good air quality throughout the duration of the project, how to protect installed and stored ductwork, techniques for reducing airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and the like.
These plans are expremely important for success in post-construction air testing. If contaminants are controlled, dust suppressed, and pollutant pathways are interrupted from day one, pre-occupancy air testing will be much easier.
These plans also make it clear to subcontractors from day one what is expected of them. These expectations include use of low or zero-VOC products, the protection of ductwork, the importance of moisture and mold control, and the like. In our experience, a manager that has a clear and straightforward IEQ Plan at the beginning of the project has a much greater chance of subcontractors understanding and carrying out expectations.
3. Utilize a Third-Party Consultant
Whereas it is possible to fulfill LEED requirements during construction using only inside personnel, it is usually much more effective to have an expert consultant assist in the creation and implementation of the IAQ Management Plan. Projects in which LEED consultants are used historically have a much better chance of being successful than those without. This is because a good consultant is better able to create a complete and useful management plan, is able to give proper guidance throughout the construction phase, and has at his disposal the equipment and expertise to identify and rectify IAQ problems before it is too late.
In many cases, a construction management company will retain a third party consultant not only to develop the plan, but to perform periodic visual inspections and air testing. This provides the project manager and owner an ongoing paper trail, which is invaluable when dealing with a process as complex as LEED Certification. It also shows the client, as well as the community, that the project is being performed per the spec and in a responsible manner. It is also a great way to identify potential pollutant sources within or around the building before it is too late.
4. Leave Enough Time
Easier said than done. However, leaving a sufficient amount of time between the completion of construction activities and the date of turnover is essential in successful IAQ air testing. It is sometimes the case that certain tests will fail the first round. If there is no time to identify the problem(s), correct them, and re-test, the LEED point is gone, as the testing cannot be completed when the building is occupied. Again, teaming up with an outside consultant at the beginning of the project gives this portion of the project a much higher chance of success, in that potential problems can be identified and rectified before it is too late.
5. Perform Pre-Testing
Failed air tests can almost always be avoided. In addition to utilizing the help of an outside consultant, this can be accomplished by taking some air quality readings prior to the official sampling. A photo-ionization device can perform real-time detection of VOCs, and is a wonderful tool for pre-screening building interiors for elevated VOC levels. Portable dust meters can show instantly whether airborne dust levels are acceptable. A hand-held IAQ meter can show almost instantly whether or not carbon monoxide levels are where they should be. In other words, a two-hour air quality test prior to official LEED sampling can save time, money, and ultimately avoid failure to achieve the IEQ point.
The bottom line is obtaining the IEQ point comes down to planning and preparation. The best way to plan and prepare is to involve an expert at the outset. In this way, all of the above may be achieved - the IEQ requirements in the specification will be understood, a site-specifica IAQ Plan can be developed, potential pitfalls can be avoided, and pre-testing can be performed. If success is planned for at the beginning of a project, it will easily be achieved at the end.