By Luke Carothers
One of the major topics of conversation within the AEC in the past six months has been indoor air quality, and the role that indoor air quality plays in someone’s overall health and happiness. With the outbreak of a global pandemic that is spread through the air, engineers are focused on ensuring their buildings have clean, fresh air.
Civil+Strucural Engineer sat down with industry expert Tommy Linstroth to better understand this trend and its impact on the industry. Linstroth is the founder and CEO of Green Badger, a software company that allows companies to manage and automate LEED documentation. Linstroth and Green Badger have hundreds of projects across the U.S. and Canada.
In the current conversation, indoor air quality takes center stage, and Linstroth believes that this is related to the idea that LEED has always had a “focus on the occupants of a building”. However, he also believes that in the early years of LEED, there was a much greater emphasis placed on efficiency rather than occupant health. Now, engineers are shifting to a more holistic approach to design and construction. This approach acknowledges that the “occupants of a building are more valuable than a utility bill”. It also hinges on the idea that in order for a building to be functional, the occupants must be happy, healthy, and productive.
The push for occupant health as the focus for design started before the outbreak of COVID-19. According to Linstroth, this drive towards air quality has also been championed by other ratings systems that have been developed to address health as well as efficiency. These rating systems, such as WELL and Fitwel, show that the industry is actively looking for solutions that more directly incorporate health into the design and construction of buildings.
Linstroth believes recent LEED updates approach the issue of providing clean, conditioned air from two sides. On one hand is the design side. Engineers must design a system that correctly regulates air coming into the building, ensuring that there is the correct amount of fresh air coming in. The system must also adequately air conditioned, filtered, and monitored to ensure there are no system failtures. In this situation, a failure in the mechanical system could cause the same stale air to be recirculated, which would negatively impact occupant health. On the other hand is the construction side. This means a focus on what materials— “from furniture to finishes”—are used on a project and how that affects inside air quality. Materials brought in from the outside experience outgassing, which Linstroth notes can impact the indoor air quality.
Beyond design and construction, there is also potential for reduced indoor air quality during the management of the building. Linstroth notes that, although all the practices and systems have been put in place, they count for little if there is poor operational management. He believes the solution is to establish operational practices that ensure the integrity of all systems including air quality.
Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.