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Create an Indoor Air Quality Management Plan at Your Property

The property management industry is increasingly challenged to provide a healthier indoor environment. Whether to protect against airborne infections like H1N1 or pollutants from office equipment, an Indoor Air Quality Management Plan is a comprehensive way for property managers to meet that challenge.

The trick is crafting a plan that addresses the individual needs of each space that extends beyond HVAC tune-ups. The process should start with the selection of an IAQ manager and an identification of problem locations and staff whose activities affect air quality. Next, it’s imperative to open up lines of communication between stakeholders such as the staff, contractors, occupants and IAQ managers. 

"I think most property managers keep the filters clean in their HVAC systems,” says Glen Bachman, CPM, RPA, CSM, who teaches sustainable property management for his chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) in Bellevue, Wash. “But they may not be watching their air volume exchanges" to calculate how often air is being replenished — a step that recently some property managers have begun taking due to an increased health awareness of building occupants and training of HVAC mechanics and engineers.

Whether you’re revamping an old plan or starting from scratch, why not view it as an opportunity to streamline your process? For example, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) suggests a minimum exchange of 5 cubic feet per minute per person in an indoor environment (5 + 0.06 cubic feet per minute per square foot for office spaces).

As part of your management plan, Bachman recommends having that rate tested by a certified engineer. If your rate is 12 cubic feet per person, that could point to lack of ventilation, a faulty variable air volume box or some other problem. 

“Until the green movement becomes commonplace, [the plan] is a good practice that can set your building apart,” says Jennifer Hessley, a LEED AP and Senior Property Manager formerly of Stiles Property Management in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 

How air-tight is your IAQ management plan?

A sound indoor air quality management plan should include certain steps to be as efficient as possible:

1. Property managers should consult a variety of industry organizations such as ASHRAE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which outlines standards and steps for creating a plan. According to the EPA, an IAQ manager should start by reviewing terms of contracts (e.g., pest control, leases) and record-keeping systems and incorporate any information that affects air quality into the plan. 

That will enable you to upgrade your plan to include such changes as the EPA’s recent ruling on lead-safe practices, which impacts contractors working around lead contamination and the way property managers inform their tenants. In case you decide to build out, your IAQ manager should consult the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA), which addresses construction-related air quality issues. 

2. Schedule routine maintenance of motors, fan belts and filters with certified mechanics. "Everything should be looked over at least every 90 days," says Bachman. An air exchange test will determine if it needs to be done more frequently. "If you're making silicon chips, then you're probably doing maintenance and changing filters daily," he says.

3. Specify filter selection and maintenance in your plan:

•    In mixed-use buildings, be sure you create a separate filter schedule for each occupant. "That gets overlooked the most," says Bachman, who oversees a shopping center of more than 4 million square feet. One tenant that uses cardboard packaging causing dust build-up changes their filters every six weeks.

•    Consider the filter’s Minimum Efficiency Rating Value (MERV) rate; the higher the number, the smaller the particles that are filtered out. Hessley uses MERV 13s on the indoor air intakes but MERV 8s for indoor construction projects. “Particles that come out in construction like drywall dust are bigger, so you don’t need as strong a filter,” she says.

•    In highly sensitive environments like a medical facility, use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which removes nearly 100 percent of particles 0.3 microns or larger.

4. In addition to incorporating any changes in code affecting air quality, you should also take into account procedures for dealing with common complaints in your buildings. 

For example, Hessley says in Florida, tenants often complain of humidity or musty odors. To address this, her company consults an IAQ professional who takes air samples and analyzes them at a lab. Based on those findings, the company uses air scrubbers or installs dehumidifiers, Hessley says.

5. Make note of other environmental factors affecting air quality, such as the use of cleaning products that adhere to EPA standards.

A plan is only as effective as your ability to implement it, so be sure to educate occupants about their influence on air quality, as well. By revisiting the plan regularly and incorporating industry upgrades, you’ll be able to keep both the plan, and your building’s air quality, in peak condition.

If you’re looking for cleaner air, incorporate these initiatives from Hessley’s indoor air quality management plan:

•    In densely occupied spaces, install alarm-based CO2 sensors that meet ASHRAE 62 standards for ventilation levels of minimum of 10 CFM per person.

•    Prohibit smoking within 25 feet of doors.

•    Use entryway systems (grills, gates, mats) to reduce the amount of dirt, dust, pollen and other particles entering the building.

•    Implement Integrated Pest Management program to reduce the volume of chemicals used throughout the building.

•    Install ultra violet lights in air handlers to kill bacteria circulating in the air.

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