26 July 2012  – On time for mandatory disclosure of IEQ and other matters

Is it time for the air we breathe to come out of the closet and declare itself? Is five-star air? Or just one or two stars?

Investa, in its work on indoor comfort says we have to dress for sustainability success. Let’s live with a few degrees hotter or cooler than some dictated ideal temperature and we can save a huge amount on the power bill and carbon emissions.

But it’s not just about energy.

Gunter Pauli, when he visited Sydney not long ago, told an Arup presentation that we were all probably breathing in pH of 5 or even 4 in typical office building (pH of 1 is pure acid) because of all the chemicals needed to treat the air for all the germs it collects on its travel through hundreds of lungs, over and over.  He will not be involved in creating a building with a pH of less than 8, he says.

“So you breath acid air and you drink acid water [because of the fluoride] and you wonder why there are so many tumors and cancers”, he said.]

But it’s not just about health.

There are “lots of studies” that show we spend more money inside shopping centres with better indoor air, Lynne Blundell finds in her feature piece this issue.

And there are lots of studies starting to show a link with productivity, and this, finally, links the quality of a building not to just capital values and income but to the most expensive component of a business: its people.

Tenant reps get it Jones Lang LaSalle said more than a year ago that research put fresh air was right at the top of tenant lists when they were searching for new space.

The noise in the industry is that it’s probably time for NABERS to step up and start mandating mandatory disclosure of indoor air quality.

The tool for NABERS IEQ is there but it needs simplification. And if the health and productivity of the biggest asset is important: maybe mandatory disclosure.

After all, we work in a market-driven economy that strives for market-based solutions.

What we constantly hear is that the market wants a level playing field. What could be a more level playing field that full and frank disclosure of what your asset is really worth to its owners and its occupants.

Building products
Full and frank disclosure is also starting to be in greater demand for building products.

The Green Building Council’s life cycle assessment of building materials green paper is out now for comment and it will add to the understanding of the highly complex world of building materials and how to assess their life cycle impact.

If it feels like the green building industry has opened a never ending can of worms then you’re probably right. But that’s a good thing.

One person enjoying the added attention on building products is David Baggs who runs green products assessment outfit, Ecospecifier.

The group has recently signed up office interiors company Schiavello under its formal certification process, it has certified Interface flooring products and signed up new agents in Malaysia, South America and India.

What this means, Baggs says, is that he now has “people on the ground talking to manufacturers in those counties and we have an active program running to get Green Tags recognised in Vietnam and New Zealand”.

“We basically now have over 500 products certified and another 350 under certification.”

But with the challenging economic climate about, what’s the mood on green products like?

Baggs says business is tougher than it’s been in the past but the trajectory is still positive.

“From a manufacturer’s point of view the perceptions are there’s been a wind back on green issues.

“But from a corporate level and major property and retail trusts we don’t see any backing off at all.
“If anything it’s getting deeper particularly now that GBC is introducing their interiors tool and now that they’ve released their paper on life cycle assessment of materials in Green Star.”

As an indicator of how complex this issue is becoming, see Lynne Blundell’s article last week on the Healthy Buildings Conference 2012, https://thefifthestate.com.au/archives/36687 just in case.  It contains alarming details of the impact some materials have on indoor air quality – and potentially, human health –  that last well into the life of the building. Such as:

  • Re-emission of VOCs absorbed onto carpet and ceiling tiles occurs long after the new-office odours have gone.
  • A number of mortars and screeds have been shown to emit significant amounts of toxic VOCs following curing, originating from product additives.

Workshops on more efficient products
Arups’ Eric Serret, who has generally been busy with commissioning services in new buildings and on making sure fitouts such as at the now fast filling 1 Bligh Street, Sydney, are compatible with the base building aspirations, has also turned his focus recently to building products.

This has been as part of a series of workshops that Arup has held with product manufacturers to assess opportunities in the $10 billion Clean Energy Futures Fund on investment in research and development of new green products.

Among the products focused on in the workshops are double glazing systems, new façade materials, lighting and hot water systems, which he says are moving away from centralised systems.

As an example of what is in the wings, Quantum Eco Hot Water Heat Pumps recently told The Fifth Estate its products could save 75 per cent on residential hot water bills and 67 per cent in supermarkets even though they use electricity, because they are so efficient.

The company says its heat pump systems have been installed in a number of McDonald’s restaurants and that Woolworths has placed the company on its specified listed for all new construction.

Here’s how the company says these systems work: First  they take heat from the ambient and using an  “environmentally friendly refrigerant” in the evaporator, which is compressed, causing the gas’s temperature to be raised and the hot gas is then passed through copper tubes wrapped around the outside of the water tank, the company says. Heat from the tubes is then transferred to the water inside the tank.

“Once the heat from the compressed gas has been transferred to the water in the tank, the gas becomes a liquid again, and then passes through an expansion device (TX valve) and back to the evaporator. The cycle is repeated until the water in the storage tank reaches 60 ?C.

“The Quantum heat pump’s efficiency stems from the fact that it requires only minimal electricity to operate. It works in temperatures from as low as -10°C up to 40+°C without the need for boosting, and at the same time reduces your carbon footprint.”

Just a small insight into the technology that the industry deals with and needs to get its head around.