Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Facility managers: Get proactive with IAQ

September 19, 2010

Mold, asthma and bioterrorism are taking center stage in the news media; public attention to indoor air quality (IAQ) is at an all-time high.

Whereas in the past, building occupants  chief indoor environmental concerns revolved around issues of temperature and light, tenants now demand clean, healthy indoor air.

Maintaining a building for acceptable indoor air presents challenges, regardless of whether your facility is old or new.

Putting out the proverbial fires
In addition to their routine schedules for maintenance, facility managers are constantly called upon to address new problems as they arise; some in the profession liken their careers to firefighting.

Facilities people must always be prepared to douse the flames on sudden flare-ups: A broken elevator, clogged plumbing, insect infestation, and other emergencies.

Managers often find themselves in a reactive state.

However, in comparison to other building-related problems, when it comes to indoor air quality, experience has shown it is far less expensive and troublesome to be proactive than reactive.

By the time a facility manager reacts to a genuine IAQ complaint, in many cases a faulty mechanical or structural element of the building has deteriorated to the point where it will cost tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours of lost worker productivity to resolve.

By taking proactive steps to monitor moisture, structural and mechanical integrity, and occupant experiences, those responsible for building management can prevent IAQ problems  and occupant complaints.

Mold rears its ugly head
Moisture problems need immediate attention. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises that water damage that is not corrected within 48 to 72 hours is likely to result in a mold problem. Regardless of the source, any water intrusion deserves firefighter-fast reaction.

It is not enough to dry up what water you can see; you must also make sure water behind walls and under flooring or fixtures is completely dried and, in many cases, this will require the expertise of a professional water restoration company.

Light at the end of the tunnel
Even professionals with good training and experience in running a facility need specialized education when in comes to developing and implementing proactive IAQ programs; there are a number of excellent IAQ training classes available from industry non-profit organizations. (See Where to go for IAQ help,  sidebar.)

Facility managers have also found that by sharing information, they work to solve similar problems. For example, two years ago, Michael Casanova, a facilities manager for Lee County, FL, was appointed IAQ Division director. Recognizing that the problems at his facilities were common throughout the county, he organized a group, the Florida Inter-County IAQ Council, and began holding half-day meetings.

Today, the Council has more than 100 members, all of whom are public servants working for state or municipal organizations in Florida.

These kinds of grassroots efforts are among the most effective ways of fostering a proactive IAQ mindset among facilities professionals.

Start at the top
Convincing upper management to allow facilities personnel to obtain advanced IAQ training, and thereby implement a proactive IAQ program, is a matter of economics.

In any given week, you can Google!™ the words "mold" and "school" and read about a public education facility that was closed down for mold inspection or remediation.

The costs to the school districts in such cases can be astronomical. Proactive IAQ management can prevent many of these situations.

Glenn Fellman serves as executive director to both the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) and the Indoor Environmental Standards Organization (IESO). He is also publisher of Indoor Environment Connections newspaper. Contact him by e-mail at