How to Pass LEED Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Testing


Healthy building certifications are in strong demand. The COVID-19 pandemic increased concern about indoor air quality, and environmental sustainability has never been more of an issue than it is today. Money spent to boost the environmental credentials of your building is an investment in the health of both your company and your people.

We’ve earlier listed and covered the most popular healthy building certifications, so in this article we will focus on just one topic: the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Assessment Credit. Our aim is to help you understand the credit and point out the biggest indoor air quality (IAQ) mistakes that cause air quality testing to fail. Your attention here will help increase your chances of passing the first time so you don’t have to go through the expense and delay of additional rounds of testing.

Depending on the version of LEED and rating system that a project is seeking LEED certification for, the IAQ credit has different names and testing specifics.
– LEED v4.1 or v4– “Indoor Air Quality Assessment” Credit (BD+C, ID+C) – Particulates (PM10, PM2.5), carbon monoxide, ozone, VOCs, formaldehyde
– LEED v4.1 — “Indoor Environmental Quality Performance” Credit (O+M) – Particulates (PM2.5), carbon monoxide, ozone, carbon dioxide, VOCs, formaldehyde
– LEED 2009– “Construction IAQ Management Plan” Credit (BD+C) – PM10, VOCs, carbon monoxide, 4-PCH

While the credit specifics can vary slightly (check the LEED Credit Library for specific information), the main purpose of the credit is to establish better quality indoor air in the building after construction and during occupancy to protect human health and wellbeing. To achieve the credit, projects have the option to flush-out the air in the building, or conduct air quality testing. Either option should be implemented after construction ends and the building has been completely cleaned.

If air quality testing is chosen, obtain the assistance of a qualified consultant with specialized knowledge of environmental testing to help develop and conduct the testing. Air quality pollutants are measured using direct-reading instruments or methods involving laboratory analysis, and compared to allowable thresholds established by LEED.

Testing should be conducted prior to occupancy, but during what would be considered normal occupied hours, and with the building ventilation system starting at the normal daily start time and operated at the minimum outside air flow rate for the occupied mode throughout the duration of the air testing. All interior finishes are to be installed, including but not limited to millwork, doors, paint, carpet and acoustic tiles. Movable furnishings such as workstations and partitions should be in place for the testing.

How to Avoid LEED Indoor Air Quality Testing Problems

Mistakes made along the path can delay your certification efforts and increase costs. The little things can throw IAQ sampling off and delay your efforts to gain LEED certification. Pay attention to the details.

We surveyed our indoor air quality experts to uncover tips for achieving the credit and identify the easily preventable reasons that delayed or complicated achievement of the LEED IAQ credit.

Here is a short list of the answers received:

  • Instruct building contractors about your LEED desire. Make sure they understand the importance of worksite cleanliness and air quality inside the building. Construction dust, sawdust particles, etc. should be cleaned up thoroughly.
  • Select building materials and furnishings with low VOC and formaldehyde content. Proper planning simplifies the work and prevents air quality issues down the line.
  • Schedule time for letting building materials and furnishings off-gas. You may not have enough time to conduct a full LEED flushout, but ventilating the building prior to testing can be a big help.
  • All painting and caulking activity should cease at least one week prior to testing. IAQ testing can fail due to touch-up painting performed immediately prior to testing.
  • Run your HVAC system on its highest setting (most ACH) at least 72 hours prior to testing. However, during testing the air handling system must be operated at the minimum outdoor airflow rate for the occupied mode throughout the test.
  • No unnecessary maintenance or cleaning efforts should be conducted for at least 24 hours prior to testing. For example, IAQ testing has failed due to floor buffing conducted prior to testing or simply due to janitorial staff pushing carts loaded with supplies past the sample area. Cleaning products typically contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Only those who must be in the area should be there during testing. IAQ testing can be affected by people walking by the sampling location during the sample period, as movement can stir up dust and cause particulate samples to fail, or contribute to VOCs in the air. Nobody present should wear or use perfume, cologne, hair spray, hand sanitizer, or any other chemically based product while in the sampling area.

While IAQ testing and green building certification aren’t required for any company or building, they can provide advantages that make the process worthwhile. Healthy building strategies not only improve occupant health, but they have been proven to improve occupant satisfaction, productivity, and financial outcomes. If you have tenants, certification can even allow you to attract people or companies who are deliberately seeking green-certified facilities. The important thing is that you continuously manage your building for health and establish a strategy to assure and document the safeguards you want in place. FACS can help you determine the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) criteria most important to your company, develop customized programs and procedures for identified focus areas, and regularly inspect to confirm your IEQ goals are maintained. We can also help you prepare for and perform LEED IAQ testing.

Healthy building focus areas FACS can assist with, whether or not you choose to pursue a building certification, include the following:

  • Indoor air quality assessment and testing
  • Water quality assessment and testing, including Legionella
  • HVAC system and overall ventilation assessments
  • Hazardous building materials inspection (asbestos, lead, PCBs)
  • Mold and moisture concerns
  • Indoor environmental quality issue response and prevention programs

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