Designing for IEQ

Indoor environmental quality (IEQ) describes the conditions inside a facility. This includes indoor air quality (IAQ), but it also includes such elements as daylighting, acoustics, electromagnetic frequency levels, the ability to control heat and light, and more.

Not surprisingly, some facilities, including schools, have poor IEQ, which affect how occupants respond to the indoor environment. Because indoor environments are highly complex, notes the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, students and staff may be exposed to a variety of contaminants (in the form of gases and particles) from office machines, cleaning products, construction activities, carpet, furnishings, water-damaged building materials, microbial growth, insects, and outdoor pollutants. Other factors include indoor temperatures, relative humidity, and ventilation levels.

When students, teachers, and staff respond negatively to a facility’s poor IEQ, it is in the form of symptoms or health conditions, which are observed by the fact that occupants experience fewer symptoms and health conditions when they are not in the facility. The CDC confirms “research shows that building-related symptoms are associated with building characteristics, including dampness, cleanliness, and ventilation characteristics.”

Therefore, understanding the sources of indoor environmental contaminants and controlling them during construction through thoughtful IEQ details prevents or resolves building-related symptoms and health conditions. Translation: It results in better attendance, productivity, and comfort, and it results in better student performance.
Unfortunately, with tight budgets, school administrators may find it easier to focus on a project’s first cost than to determine the value of increased health, attendance, and performance. Fortunately, there is a way to take both challenges into account, whether you’re working on a new construction or renovation project. It is by using an integrated design process.

IEQ by Design
A traditional design process can be very fragmented, with the architect serving as the primary contact for both the owner and a series of sub-consultants, who are experts in their fields but are not afforded the opportunity to interact with each other. In this scenario, there is no way to gain leverage and thus increase the overall project value.

“An integrated design process breaks down those barriers by involving all stakeholders from the beginning,” says Ian Hadden, PE, LEED-AP BD+C, Energy/Sustainability Services manager for Fanning Howey Associates, Inc., which has offices throughout the United States. “Through thoughtful brainstorming and charrettes early in the design process, everyone is working together and having conversations with the client to reach a consensus. Together, the team is using energy modeling, daylight modeling, and acoustic modeling to get as optimum an IEQ as possible.”

It’s no surprise that a large table is needed to accommodate everyone who should be involved in the integrated design process: Owners, facility planners, designers, mechanical and electrical engineers, contractors, maintenance staff, students, and other building users. “Coordinating this team of stakeholders takes effort from the owner and design side,” says Van H. Gilbert, FAIA, president of Albuquerque, NM-based Van H. Gilbert Architect PC. “Once the team is established, we move forward by setting project goals. Each project has unique goals.”

What are integrated design teams coming up with these days to optimize IEQ? Hadden sees three things. First is an increased use of active chilled beam HVAC systems, which eliminate local fan noise for improved acoustics. (They also eliminate moving parts, which, in turn, reduces maintenance and repair.) Second is greater implementation of green cleaning strategies, which reduces chemicals in the internal environment. (It also reduces operational costs.) Third is an increased use of natural daylighting. “In addition to improving student achievement, when done properly, natural daylighting allows you to reduce utility costs,” he observes.

The integrated design team does most of its work during the design process. As the project moves into construction, there are fewer and fewer meetings. Often, team subcommittees meet to focus on specifics. And, of course, the team meets at the end of the project to ensure that everything that was planned was accomplished.

In today’s high-tech world, meetings aren’t always face-to-face — there’s Go To Meeting web conferencing, Skype video calling, old-fashioned telephone conferencing, and other options for getting the team together to make critical IEQ decisions.

Involving BIM
Building Information Modeling (BIM), a platform for generating and managing a digital representation of a facility’s physical and functional characteristics, is used to accommodate IEQ and design decisions at Van H. Gilbert. Gilbert points out the advantage: “The building itself is in the cloud, and all of our consultants can access the model at the same time and work on it virtually. The owners can access it to see how it’s coming together.”

“Ultimately, BIM allows the owners to be a much more integral part of the process,” says Andy Benson, AIA, LEED-AP, director of Business Development for Van H. Gilbert. “They have documentation throughout the process to make the school better in terms of facility management.”

There are many standards used as baselines to create optimum IEQ. Most are ANSI standards, although LEED, state codes, or international energy codes may be referenced as guidelines. “BIM allows us to work as an integrated design team to accurately measure the performance of our design against those standards,” says Gilbert. “I would say that our use of BIM has really helped us accurately predict building performance in all areas of IEQ.”

In moving forward with an integrated design process to optimize IEQ, Hadden warns that the biggest challenge to getting everyone on board is old habits. “We have gotten into the habit of, ‘Tell me what to do so I can do it once and be done with it,’” he says. “Or, ‘I figured out how to do it 10 years ago and it works, and that’s how I do things.’ We have to understand that it is important to have discussions for each project because, even if we end up with the same conclusion, the process is beneficial to everyone.” Specifically, if owners and users are involved in the charrette process so that they see and understand what kinds of evaluations go into the building, they have a greater appreciation for what the building does and how it works.

While the design side may gather the team, employ the use of BIM and technological tools, and encourage development of new habits, the most important player in the integrated design process is the owner.

“Ultimately, it is the owner who bring in users to work with the design team to achieve a high IEQ and a high-performance building that creates high-performing students,” says Hadden.