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Start a productive program on the Indoor Air Quality.

Remember the old story of the ant and the grasshopper? While the ant was busily building her nest, laying stores against the winter, and planning for other contingencies, the grasshopper gallivanted lazily through the days. In the end, it was the grasshopper who lost out.

This child's tale bears a lesson for those of us entrusted with the environmental health and safety of buildings that people work in every day. Now is the time for studying and replacing older practices, equipment, and materials that may be hazardous with sounder approaches that will improve air quality in our office buildings. We should be carefully monitoring energy conservation technologies and procedures so that we don't produce energy-efficiency at the cost of toxic air. And, as federal and state regulations continually evolve to encourage us to safeguard air quality, we must stay informed of their changing requirements.

It's a lot of work, which may be why some property managers only measure their Indoor Air Quality when a tenant complains or a lawsuit is lodged. But we believe a proactive, preventive approach benefits everyone.

More Reasons Than Ever

The Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Act of 1994 passed on August 9, 1994 promotes a program of educational and voluntary actions for reducing indoor air health risks in commercial, educational, and health-care facilities. It also stipulates that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conduct scientific studies to determine how best to improve air quality.

At the same time, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) published a new set of proposed rules on indoor air quality. When finalized, these rules will no doubt require employers and landlords to establish a detailed, written IAQ compliance program and appoint an individual to be responsible for its implementation. From ensuring adequate ventilation of daily HVAC systems to taking special precautions in areas undergoing renovation, the OSHA rules will cover all the bases. Property managers should study and follow the proposed rules if they want to be state-of-the-art on IAQ.

Why go to all the expense and trouble of establishing a proactive IAQ compliance program when the rules are not yet finalized? Well, for one thing, it's important for your relations with existing and prospective tenants. Many people are alarmed about Indoor Air Quality. The public is scared that the buildings they work in are "sick," and that working in them could make them sick, too. Evidence is mounting that airborne contaminants such as tobacco smoke, office chemicals, off-gases from office furnishings and carpets, and carbon dioxide can indeed produce illnesses, and workers have reported everything from allergic reactions, fatigue and concentration problems, to a range of flu-like symptoms. Indeed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claims that indoor air can be 70 times more polluted than outdoor air, and accounts for billions of dollars in lost productivity and health-related direct costs.

Get ahead of any problem before it becomes a problem. Preventing new air quality problems - and taking steps to document and alleviate any current inadequacies - can give your property a competitive edge in these tight, post-recessionary markets. It also establishes clear proof of your efforts so you'll be prepared to answer any tenant questions or complaints. And, in the event of future litigation, it also provides solid IAQ evidence.

Testing, Remediation, and Prevention

If someone gets sick and blames it on your building, testing the air quality is an obvious first-step response. But if you take a proactive approach to IAQ, it is actually just one of an ongoing series of air quality tests that you would have been taking for some time. A good program starts by testing air quality to establish a baseline and determine areas for improvement, and then conducts regular air quality screenings at weekly, monthly, or quarterly intervals, depending upon the need.

There are many consultants in the field these days offering IAQ testing. If possible, use a vendor with a proven track record in the field, one who already knows your buildings, and who is closely involved with the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International's IAQ initiative. Testing establishes a starting point for improving air quality. Companies who stop there typically are interested only in documenting IAQ for legal purposes. But the greater benefits come from establishing a sound remediation and prevention program.

At EastRidge Properties, we are finalizing such a program, and are customizing it for each of our 18 buildings. Depending upon the need, a building's program may include:

* Regular cleanings for each piece of HVAC equipment - air handlers, dampers, duct work, etc.

* Special paint in mechanical and fan rooms where air is fed to tenant spaces.

* Special work procedures and filters to keep dirt and airborne particles down during routine housekeeping or maintenance.

* Changing air intake filters quarterly.

* Daily checks on air-intake to recirculation ratios.

* During a renovation, special measures to keep dust, dirt, paint, or chemicals from entering the circulating air system.

* Comprehensive IAQ training for operating and maintenance personnel.

* Regular monitoring of important HVAC systems.

* Pre- and post-documentation of all IAQ-related procedures.

To make sure that our program is effective, everyone involved takes it very seriously. The credibility of any IAQ program depends upon the degree to which the property manager demonstrates, through actions and responses, that indoor air quality is important.

The costs of such an effort are greatest during the start-up phase, when baseline studies must be conducted, written plans must be drawn up, and maintenance staff must all be trained. And the benefits outweigh all the costs. Specifically, EastRidge Properties gains:

* Better long-term quality control of the air quality leg of its facilities management effort.

* Superior operating efficiency and longevity of our heating and cooling systems because of more frequent preventive maintenance on it.

* We are better prepared to answer questions or concerns of tenants, brokers, and prospective tenants.

* Protection from possible future litigation.

* Most importantly, we provide the healthiest work atmosphere possible for our tenants.

IAQ is just one of many environmental issues facing property managers and facility managers. Taking a proactive approach on all of them may seem too formidable a challenge. After all, the sands of regulation and technology shift constantly, and with all the hats facilities managers must wear these days, many are hard pressed just to keep up.

But consider the alternative. The costs for not being prepared can be considerable. Poor air quality can degrade your property's marketability, disrupt tenant relations, and create costly lawsuits.

So ask yourself, which would you rather be? The industrious ant, always preparing for tomorrow's contingencies? Or the happy-go-lucky grasshopper, who jumps only when he has to, when it may be too late?
COPYRIGHT 1995 Hagedorn Publication
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Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Wos, Mark
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 11, 1995
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