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November 2011: Let’s Clear the Air

November 2011: Let’s Clear the Air

By Bob Webb, CEO Myers & Chapman

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) during construction has improved a great deal over the last few years as building owners, contractors, tenants, and others have worked together to address this important matter.  By its nature, construction could cause the air in, and near, the work to become unhealthy from things like sheetrock dust, off-gassing from paints and adhesives, exhaust from equipment, etc.  There is a better way, and thankfully Myers & Chapman and other contractors are now working hard to make it better.

Better IAQ during construction is one of the key sustainable construction practices and healthier air in new building construction is critical to:

  • All workers involved in the construction; and
  • Those that ultimately occupy the new space.

In addition, healthy air during renovations, additions and upfits to existing buildings is also critical to:

  • Tenants and guests in the adjoining spaces; and
  • Equipment (i.e. computers, testing equipment, etc.) sensitive to airborne contaminants.

Barry Watkins, Director of Construction Safety with Carolinas Healthcare System (CHS), points out that, “Healthy IAQ during construction is particularly critical in and around medical facilities and thus it is a high priority for all CHS projects.” He adds, “In a broad sense, we must isolate construction areas from building occupants around the construction zone as well as provide healthy air within the construction zone.  To accomplish these objectives, airborne contaminants generated by construction must be isolated within construction zones, captured, and removed from the work environment.”

Key steps to achieving healthy IAQ during construction include:

  • Keep all areas clean
  • Keep floors clean; daily clean-up, sweep with dust down, etc.
  • Make sure Shop Vacs have a MERV 8 (or higher) filter (HEPA ONLY in occupied healthcare settings)
  • Clean any dirt off steel framing after it is in place
  • Wipe down the areas between construction and non-construction spaces
  • Minimize dust-generating work inside structures
  • Do all cutting and similar work outside if possible
  • Use collection bags on cutting tools
  • Use orbital vacuum or wet sanding where possible
  • Run air scrubbers to remove any airborne pollutants

    Run air scrubbers to remove any airborne pollutants.

  • Take special care with the HVAC system components
  • All ends of duct work are to be sealed when they arrive on the project site
  • Duct work is to be kept sealed during construction
  • The system is not to be turned on until as late as possible in the construction process
  • If HVAC systems must be started prior to the final completion, then a MERV 13 filter is to be used on the system

    Air ducts should be kept sealed during construction.

  • Create and maintain negative pressure in construction areas so that construction air cannot migrate into other areas of the building
  • Minimize or eliminate all off-gasing from Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
  • All paints, adhesives, wall coverings, carpets, etc. need to have minimal or no VOCs
  • Have all doors, trim and casework finished offsite.
  • No smoking in or near closed or confined construction areas
  • Make sure that all equipment fumes are exhausted out of the construction space and the exhausts are not near building air intakes
  • Use walk-off mats, booties and/or shoe cleaners between construction and non-construction areas
  • Cover demolition debris carts when transferring debris through occupied/clean spaces
  • Wipe down carts before entering occupied/clean spaces

The old saying, “A clean project is a successful project” is more true now than when we first started using it, and now it is an integral part of sustainable construction practices.  Attention to the items listed above results in a clean project and provides better IAQ during construction and after occupancy.  It is expected on all of our projects.