The costs of poor IAQ can be striking. There have been many lawsuits associated with IAQ problems, though most are settled with no financial details released. However, some publicly disclosed cases have involved legal fees and settlements exceeding $10 million.
• In 1995, Polk County, Florida, recovered $47.8 million in settlements against companies involved in the construction of the county courthouse (including $35 million from the general contractor’s insurer), due to moisture and mold associated with building envelope problems. The original
construction cost for the building was $35 million, but $45 million was spent to replace the entire building envelope, clean up the mold, and relocate the court system.
• Occupants of a courthouse in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, received a $3 million settlement in 1999 following a series of IAQ problems associated with a combination of inadequate ventilation and fumes from a waterproofing material applied to the occupied building. Numerous IAQ problems have also occurred in private-sector buildings and homes, but these tend to be settled out of court and are therefore not in the public record. As in public buildings, the causes of the problems vary and the settlement costs can be very expensive. A conservative estimate puts the lower bound of litigation costs during the early 2000s well over $500 million annually.
Importance of the Design and Construction Process
While there is ample information and experience on achieving good IAQ in homes and buildings, it doesn’t happen automatically. It takes a level of awareness and commitment that isn’t typical of most projects, including an effort to make IAQ part of the design at the very beginning of the project. There are two primary reasons to include IAQ considerations in the earliest stages of project planning: avoiding problems that occur when IAQ is treated as an afterthought and allowing consideration of alternative design concepts that involve decisions made early in the design process.
Incorporating IAQ at the very beginning of conceptual design gets a number of key issues before the design team, enabling them to make informed decisions that will affect the project through the construction and occupancy phases. These issues and decisions include the owner’s expectations for IAQ in the building, outdoor contaminant sources in or near the site, the activities expected to occur in the building (and the contaminants that might be associated with these activities), the characteristics of the occupants (e.g., their age range and health status, as well as the possibility of short
term visitors that may have very different expectations than occupants who will remain in the building for a long time), and the approaches used to heat, cool and ventilate the building. If these considerations are not addressed until after the building layout is defined, the ventilation system type is selected, and the ventilation rate design calculations are complete, it will be difficult if not impossible to accommodate the particular needs of the building, its owner, and its occupants.
Many design decisions that can lead to poor IAQ are made in the early phases of design and are difficult to modify or correct later on. Early design missteps can be avoided if IAQ is put on the table as a key design
issue at the start. Examples are inadequate space for mechanical equipment, limiting access for inspection and maintenance, and selection of interior finishes that can lead to high levels of volatile organic compound
(VOC) emissions or to moisture problems in the building envelope.
Making IAQ part of the initial discussion of design goals—on par with building function, image, and energy use—allows consideration of high-performance design concepts that can support good IAQ, energy
efficiency, and other important design goals. Examples include building in radon reduction systems and mechanical systems that separate outdoor air ventilation from space conditioning, the application of natural ventilation, high-efficiency air cleaning in conjunction with lowered ventilation rates, and the selection of low-emitting materials based on sound technical consideration of the options.
Making a commitment to good IAQ at the beginning of a project and maintaining that focus through design and construction will result in a building that is more successful in meeting its design goals and achieving the desired level of performance throughout its life.
TP Environmental Consulting can help you meet your design goals to achieve good IAQ. www.gotbadair.com Terry Pierson Curtis is a Certified Third Party Inspector for Maine Building Code.