LEED IAQ Testing – Major Changes to Credit Awards More Points for Testing

by William Wade, Jr., C.I.H.

bfoster_e_a003080451At the end of June 2015, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED) Version 4 (v.4) from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) will go into effect for all projects, although projects can already pursue this new version. Many of the existing credits have been modified and it is important for project teams looking to obtain LEED certification to have a complete understanding of the changes made to the credits. This article looks at the modifications made to this LEED credit, now called the Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) – Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Assessment Credit, which verifies acceptable IAQ in newly constructed or renovated buildings by either flushing the building with outdoor air or conducting baseline IAQ testing after construction and prior to occupancy.

LEED v.4 IAQ Assessment Overview

The goal of LEED v.4 IAQ Assessment remains to verify acceptable IAQ in the building after construction and during occupancy. The construction process introduces a number of potential contaminants into the indoor environment, which if not avoided or properly controlled could negatively impact occupant comfort, health, and productivity. As in previous versions of LEED, this credit offers two options, building flush-out or IAQ testing, to verify acceptable IAQ after construction is complete.

Key Changes to the LEED IAQ Assessment Credit

Four key modifications were made in LEED v.4. The most significant modification involves the number of points awarded to verify IAQ. Under v.4, two points are now awarded for IAQ testing, and only one point is awarded for building flush-out. The two options may not be combined, whereas previously a hybrid approach could be used. A second noteworthy change is that several new measurements have been added to the IAQ testing option. In previous versions of LEED, baseline IAQ testing was required for total volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In v.4, expanded testing for specific VOC chemicals will be required in addition to the test for total VOCs. Changes were also made to the number of sampling locations required for testing, which are determined by the size of the building, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) distribution, and the uniformity of space types. Further, additional testing for ozone and fine particles (PM2.5) are required for buildings located in areas of the country that do not meet US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regional air quality goals.

Evaluating the Options

How will the modifications made to the LEED v.4 IAQ Assessment impact the decision to pursue IAQ testing vs. building flush-out? While each construction project has unique characteristics that may influence which option should be used, the scales are tipping in favor of IAQ testing. Under LEED v.4, IAQ testing now earns a project two credits compared with only one from building flush-out. A single point can often be the difference in which level of certification a project achieves.

There are many other advantages to IAQ testing as opposed to building flush-out. One of the main reasons IAQ testing is often selected by project teams is because the testing can be performed during the brief window of time between construction completion and occupancy. Having the IAQ sampling completed within one to two days is significantly preferable to the one to two weeks (or more) needed to complete a building flush-out. For many buildings the time required to complete the flush-out process is prohibitive.

Another critical advantage of the IAQ testing is that the test results provide objective data that can be used for documentation and communication purposes. By getting a baseline metric of pre-occupancy IAQ conditions, the owner has scientifically sound data that proves the success of the multiple measures used to enhance IAQ in LEED buildings. This is an effective tool to communicate project success and the acceptability of IAQ in the new facility with occupants and other stakeholders. With building flush-out, essentially the building is purged with outdoor air and the assumption is made that the indoor air quality is acceptable. This does not provide any measurable air quality data that can be used as a baseline or referenced by building managers in the future.

IAQ testing can be performed in a timely manner, provides hard data, and earns an extra point, so it is becoming the more attractive option. The expanded sampling program required in v.4 makes it imperative for project teams to enlist a qualified expert to develop and conduct the testing program. The additional testing for specific VOCs, ozone parameters and PM2.5 that are required under the revised credit make the testing program more complex. Depending on the contaminant being tested, the USGBC specifies whether American Standard for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard methods, EPA compendium methods, or International Organization for Standardization (ISO) methods should be used. An experienced company will design the testing program to help ensure that the correct methodology is used, that all the testing parameters are met, and that laboratories analyzing the samples are properly accredited for the methods used. A strong understanding of built environments and the construction process is necessary in order to determine the number of samples needed and when and where they should be collected. Additionally, the testing company must now be knowledgeable about regional air quality conditions and EPA regulatory compliance to determine what additional measurements are required.  Using a qualified consultant significantly optimizes the chances of obtaining the two points for IAQ testing.

Knowledge of the Credit, Indoor Environments, and Construction are Critical

Having a full understanding of the modifications made to the LEED IAQ Assessment Credit in v.4 is imperative in determining the most appropriate approach for your specific project. While the IAQ testing option is attractive because two points will now be awarded, the new testing requirements require diligent application and that a compliant sampling program be implemented. To ensure that the additional points for IAQ sampling are earned and to avoid additional costs from re-testing, be certain to work with a qualified expert to develop and execute the IAQ testing program.

William Wade, Senior Scientist at EH&E, manages indoor environmental quality programs for USGBC LEED projects for EH&E’s clients in commercial real estate, healthcare, research and academia. Will has designed and implemented hundreds of sampling programs for the assessment of a wide range of indoor and outdoor air quality parameters. For additional information, contact Will at wwade@eheinc.com.