Indoor Air Quality More Important Than Ever

Sept. 14, 2009

Energy conservation and reducing greenhouse gases have become matters of public policy and are what governments and the public associate first with green building. As a result, they are often given higher priority over indoor air quality (IAQ). What is missing in today's discourse is the understanding that to pursue energy conservation without taking the quality of indoor air into account puts the health of building occupants unnecessarily at risk. Conversely, to pursue good IAQ without considering the efficient use of energy may unnecessarily increase energy costs and emissions of greenhouse gases, thereby contributing to outdoor air pollution and global warming. The two go together.

Among the most powerful strategies for successfully balancing energy conservation and indoor air quality is a proactive Indoor Air Quality Management Plan, especially if LEED® certification is a goal. An IAQ Management Plan assists designers, builders, owners and facility managers in creating and maintaining healthy indoor environments throughout the building’s life-cycle, which in turn may reduce liability and the risk of litigation, puts mechanisms in place to identify and quickly resolve IAQ problems and offers advice on how to manage communications in case building occupant complaints are registered. Key elements of an IAQ Management Plan include:

  • Specifying building products, materials, furnishings, finishes, and office equipment, and using cleaning products and processes that emit low levels of VOCs and particulates.
  • Assessing the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system to ensure it effectively removes indoor air contaminants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that many energy efficiency measures with the potential to degrade IAQ appear to require only minor adjustments to protect the indoor environment (U.S. EPA 2000). As a result, energy efficiency efforts are not compromised by an ineffective HVAC system nor are efforts to provide a healthy indoor environment by a frequently employed strategy of reducing ventilation rates to save energy.
  • Authorizing pre-occupancy clearance testing for chemical, particulate and microbial contaminants.
  • Removing sources and correcting underlying problems if levels are found to be too high.
  • Conducting periodic IAQ audits throughout the building’s life to monitor indoor air contaminant levels. These audits can be designed to meet LEED Innovation credit requirements.

Because source control is the most effective way to minimize indoor air pollution, specifying low-emitting building products is especially important for achieving LEED indoor environmental quality (EQ) prerequisites and credits. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED 2009 for New Construction, 2009 for Commercial Interiors and 2009 for Schools require that indoor environments meet specific maximum concentrations of the most prevalent and worrisome indoor air pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulates, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. These standards also require testing for 4-phenylcyclohexane (4-PCH.) if carpet and fabrics with styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) latex backing are installed as a part of the base building systems (see Table 1). In each standard, these requirements are specified under Indoor Environmental Quality Section Credit 3.1: Construction Indoor Air Quality Management Plan – Before Occupancy – Option 2. Air Testing.

Table 1.  LEED EQ Credit 3.1 Maximum Indoor Air Contaminant Concentrations


Maximum Concentration


27 parts per billion

Particulates (PM10)

50 micrograms per cubic meter

Total VOCs

500 micrograms per cubic meter

4-Phenylcyclohexane (4-PCH)*

6.5 micrograms per cubic meter

Carbon monoxide (CO)

9 parts per million and no greater than 2 parts per million above outdoor levels

*This test is only required if carpets and fabrics with styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) latex backing are installed as a part of base building systems.

Creating an effective IAQ Management Plan, targeted to a building’s specific needs, including achieving LEED EQ prerequisites and credits, requires expert help. AQS Building Consulting is dedicated to partnering with building owners, designers and facility managers in creating and maintaining healthy indoor environments. With prevention as the cornerstone of AQS Building Consulting philosophy, AQS works with building owners, designers and facility managers throughout the life-cycle of a building, from its initial design and construction through its long-term occupancy, operation and maintenance. AQS Building Consulting is supported by AQS’ ISO 9001 registered microbial and chemical laboratories that provide IAQ-specific analyses.

Visit to learn more about how AQS Building Consulting can help you, or call (770) 933-0638 and ask for AQS Building Consulting. Also visit the AQS Aerias IAQ Resource Center to learn more about VOCs, particulates and other indoor pollutants. Aerias may be accessed from the AQS Web site or at For a listing of products that are certified to emit low levels of VOCs, visit the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute at

US Environmental Protection Agency. Energy cost and IAQ performance of ventilation systems and controls. Indoor Environments Division. Office of Radiation and Indoor Air Office of Air and Radiation. Washington, D.C. January 2000. Available online at

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