Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Protocol for the Evaluation of Sick Buildings

While the building practices that are being used in the contemporary environment are continuously improving, thanks is large part to a the “Green” movement and a socially-charged desire to improve sustainability, there exist a substantial part of our existing infrastructure that has yet to be addressed and improved as in pertains to non-toxic buildings and living conditions.

Many non-industrial buildings have yet to be evaluated to establish overall toxicity levels, VOC emissions and the associated adverse health effects. The article: Building Pathology, Investigation of Sick Buildings – VOC Emissions, that was published in Indoor and Built Environments (2010) by Chuck Wah Francis Yu and Jeong Tai Kim, outlines an important investigation methodology that is being used in the UK that analyzes the level of toxicity, as it pertains to VOC emissions, for new building, completed dwellings and refurbished buildings. This methodology exposes a litany of VOCs that are related each phase of building that pose health threats to the occupants of these dwellings. Yu et al. Describes an analysis protocol that involves the investigation of four major factors that contribute to the toxic living environment. This multi-disciplinary, comprehensive analysis seeks to use a scientific approach to determining the cause and effect of building and refurbishment “failures”, as they describe, that lead to adverse or potentially adverse health effects.

This first of these factors is described as the “historic building pathology”. For each pre-existing structure, or new buildings, building management is surveyed on building concerns such as materials used in the build or refurbishments, ventilation or lighting. The second factor is an investigation of the deterioration of existing building materials that could emit VOCs such as molding plywood and degrading carpet backing. The third part of the protocol is an analysis of the emission of indoor air pollutants or microbial matters that may result from solvents, pesticides and the like. Finally, a comprehensive questionnaire analyzing human factors such as activities and perceptions.

The article later describes an exhaustive list of steps and factors to address for each key phase of the analysis protocol. Obviously, the size and age of the existing building, the number and nature of each refurbishment and the type of building that is being analyzed (apartments, business office, school, hospital) each play a significant role in the time-expenditure required to analyze the building and to provide more toxic-free building alternatives to limit or eliminate VOCs. The important take-away message is that this type of analysis on “sick buildings” can be applied to any size or class of building. This method is applicable, to a diminished level of detail, to the every-day family who would like to analyze their current dwelling or are considering refurbishing their home. The table provided below, as published in Building Pathology, Investigation of Sick Buildings – VOC Emissions, is a useful source that may inform individuals about possible sources of VOC exposure when building or refurbishing their homes.

Citation: Table 2 was taken directly from: Yu,C. Kim, J. Building Pathology, Investigation of Sick Buildings – VOC Emissions. Indoor and Build Environment. February 2010, vol. 19, no. 1, 30-39

While the everyday home owner may not have an intimate knowledge of the adverse health effects of the VOC's listed above, this table may provide some knowledge as to how particular VOC emission present in the home, what their aromas may be an where they originate from.  In a perfect world, this protocol, or one similar and equally comprehensive, can be used to examine existing structures of all types and generate assessments of the overall toxicity so that viable, less-toxic alternatives can be used to create a healthier living and working conditions. 

Source: Yu,C. Kim, J. Building Pathology, Invesitagation of Sick Buildings – VOC Emissions.

Indoor and Build Environment. February 2010, vol. 19, no. 1, 30-39

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