For Building Owners and Facility Managers BUILDING AIR QUALITY
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STRANGE STORIES OF CHASING ODORS What’s That Smell?
Of all the work I do with indoor air quality (IAQ), chasing odors tends to lead to some of the strangest stories. It’s not my favorite part of my job, but when a client calls with an odor problem, I’m not going to leave them hanging. Recently I had two specific incidences that highlight the strange nature of chasing odors. Interior Decorating GoneWrong When tenants in a new building began reporting a bad odor in the elevator lobby and reception area of the third floor, the building’s general contractor hired me to help. The tenants and building manager thought the odor was coming from the HVAC system, but if that were the case, the odor would have spread across a large portion of the floor. Since the building was only three months old, I initially suspected the glues, dyes, or some other materials used in the construction process could have been creating the odor. However, when I reviewed the material safety sheet, I couldn’t find anything that would cause the problem. The same chemicals and materials had been used on the other floors, but only the third floor had the odor. Trying to work through the whole thing in my mind, I took another look at the area. In the reception area, there were two chairs and a round coffee table. This brand-new furniture had been purchased by a tenant, and I suggested it be relocated. “Humor me,”I said.“I’ll do more research, but in the meantime, move those chairs and the coffee table into an empty office and see what goes on in there.”
This really got to me. The tenants got it in their heads that it was just the original two chairs and round coffee table that had the odor. So when they brought in new furniture — probably from the same supplier — and the odor came back, they couldn’t solve the problem on their own. They failed to see the simple solution that a bunch of furniture might just smell bad.
Here’s an odor story that ’s a real first in my career.
I told the guy to have the tenant move the new furniture again and see what happens.
They moved the furniture on a Thursday. The following week, the guy from the GC called to tell me the odor was no longer in the elevator or reception area. When I asked where it had gone, he reported that the odor had followed the furniture into the empty office. I didn’t pat myself on the back too much because the source had been pretty low-hanging fruit, in my opinion. continuing education class with another IAQ investigator. This guy tells me that he just read my furniture report. When I asked why he read it, he told me the tenant had hired him because the odor came back. I was surprised until he mentioned that the tenant moved some different furniture to the third-floor reception area. Sounds like the end of the story, right? Well, jump ahead to 10 days later, and I found myself in a
IAQ isn’t rocket science unless you need it to be. Most of the time, common sense is all you need when chasing odors.
The Human Factor Here’s an odor story that’s a real first in my career.
A couple months ago, a small group of tenants in an office building began complaining about a vomit-like smell around their desks. The building manager immediately brought in carpet cleaners on a Friday afternoon and checked the A/C system and the ceiling tiles for the source of the smell. They found nothing, but on Monday morning, the smell was gone. Then on Tuesday, the odor was back. That’s when the building manager called me. Sure enough, when I walked over to the desks of the tenants who had been complaining, there was a light vomit smell in the air. When I got on my hands and knees, it became clear the smell was coming from the carpet, despite the carpets being cleaned less than a week prior. There was
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Cover article continued ... one woman’s desk in particular where the smell was extremely strong. I’ll call this woman Janet. Since it wasn’t the ceiling or A/C system, I began to suspect it might have been a tenant-caused issue. I looked around the area and noted one desk with some foodstuff— it was possible some spilled olive oil was the source. I also couldn’t rule out that Janet might have been bringing something in on her shoes. When I wrote my report, I recommended cleaning the carpets again, moving the people who had been complaining to another area, and seeing if the odor returned. I didn’t know the source, but if it was a tenant-caused issue, the odor might move with the occupants. Later, I found out that the building owner gave my report to the tenant, who then gave it to their HR manager. HR decided the best approach was to move their staff and then hide a camera in that area and see what was up. Not to sound like clickbait, but what they found surprised even me. The camera got footage of the man who sat next to Janet spraying some sort of compound on the floor around her desk. That was the source of the odors! HR scheduled a meeting to talk about the issue with him, When dealing with a foul odor in your building, the first step is to hire a professional to identify the source of the odor and eliminate it. This usually solves your odor issue. However, there are some situations in which unpleasant odors linger long after the offending substance is gone. When looking for a solution to this problem, many building owners or property managers have turned to ozone (O3) generators. When oxygen (O2) atoms are exposed to electricity, the atoms break apart and create an unstable bond we call ozone. In order to return to a more stable compound, ozone atoms bind to other compounds in the surrounding air. Boasted as an “all-natural” solution to odor problems, manufacturers who build ozone generators insist their product can eliminate odors caused by everything from mold to cleaning products. They claim that by bonding to the molecules of chemical odors in the air, ozone destroys those odors. This isn’t technically true. Matter cannot be destroyed, only changed. When unstable ozone atoms bond with other molecules, it causes a chemical reaction and creates something new. Sometimes this reaction does eliminate the odor, but it can also create a new chemical compound that is even more harmful than the odor. Take formaldehyde (CH2O) for example. Long-term exposure to formaldehyde can cause skin and eye irritation as well as flu-like symptoms or asthma. Considering this is a common chemical found in cleaning supplies, air fresheners, detergent, and pressed wood products, there’s a good chance formaldehyde is already in your building. However, you don’t want to buy an ozone generator to address the problem. Research
How This Emotion Is Doing You Harm
Anger is a common emotion. It’s natural, and it’s a part of how you respond to certain circumstances in your environment. It’s how you express extreme displeasure. However, new research suggests chronic anger can be detrimental to your health. Essentially, it comes down to this: If you are stressed, tense, easily irritable, angry, and “snippy” all the time, you may be doing serious harm to your well-being. Studies have already shown a link between anger and the heart. People who showed signs of feeling anger on a regular basis experienced higher rates of heart disease. The first studies on the impact of anger came out in the 1950s and have since been confirmed: Chronic anger physically harms the heart. Why? When you get angry or upset, your brain triggers the release of specific hormones, including cortisol and norepinephrine. These hormones are responsible for triggering the “fight or flight” response. When these hormones enter the bloodstream, your heart rate increases and arteries constrict. This helps to more effectively pump blood to the arms and legs for a fight or a flight. The problem is that when a person is constantly angry or upset, these hormones course through the body more frequently, stressing the arteries and internal organs. As a person ages, this stress can become more damaging. One study that appeared in the Psychology and Aging Journal looked into this phenomenon. Researchers found that there is a link between frequently experiencing anger and increased inflammation and chronic illness for people ages 80 and older. This equated to more instances of heart disease and dementia. The study also looked at other emotions, including sadness, which has also been linked to heart disease and other inflammatory diseases. Through a number of tests involving 200 participants ages 59–93, the researchers concluded anger was far more detrimental to a person’s health than sadness. Ultimately, if you regularly experience rage and frustration, properly dealing with your anger is one of the best things you can do for your health. Every person’s situation is different, and it comes down to getting to the bottom of what makes you angry so you can work through it, whether you work through it alone or with a mental health professional. Take the steps to prioritize your mental and physical health, and your efforts will pay off tenfold in the long run
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Resource of the Month: TSA Pre
How to Actually Enjoy Your Next Business Trip
published in the journal Environmental Science Technology found that not only is ozone ineffective in removing
Air travel is one of the greatest achievements in human history. Unfortunately, like many great achievements, we figured out a way to make even flying through the sky a terrible experience. From cramped seats to underwhelming airline food, there are plenty of reasons to dread going to the airport. In the United States, one of the most tedious parts of airline travel is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Travelers inch along with their shoes in one hand while digging for liquids in their carry-on with the other. TSA screening is a major reason travelers miss their flights. And when you’re one of the 488 million Americans who travel for business every year, missing your flight isn’t an option. This is why many business professionals are taking advantage of TSA Pre . Available on both domestic and international flights, travelers who qualify can use TSA Pre to breeze through the screening process. Travelers in the TSA Pre security line aren’t required to remove their shoes, belt, or jacket, and electronics and liquids can remain in carry- on luggage. These lines are shorter and quicker. On average, travelers spend just five minutes in the TSA Pre line. Compare this to the 80 minutes most people spend in the standard security line, and the benefits are obvious. There is a time investment required in order to apply for TSA Pre . Travelers must fill out an application, undergo a background check, interview at an appointment center, and pay a fee. Those who qualify are given a known traveler number. By providing this number when booking a flight, travelers with TSA Pre can start enjoying a smooth airport experience on their very next trip. If you only travel once a year on your family’s annual ski vacation, TSA Pre might not be worth the trouble. But if you or someone on your team regularly travels for conferences, meetings, continuing education courses, or other important events, being able to skip the long security lines can be a life saver. Learn more about applying for TSA Pre at TSA.gov/tsa-precheck .
formaldehyde, but its use can actually increase the levels of formaldehyde in an environment.
While the claim that ozone is naturally occurring is technically true, this doesn’t mean ozone is safe. Asbestos is a natural substance, but you certainly don’t want to bring it into your building. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns prolonged exposure to ozone can lead to respiratory problems, asthma symptoms, chest pain, throat irritation, irritated lung tissue, and a greater risk of lung disease. There is a time and a place for ozone: For example, you can use it after cleaning a building’s air ducts. But ozone generators should never be used in occupied environments. If you need to use an ozone generator, make sure the ozone has enough time to fade from the environment before people are allowed in. At least six hours is recommended. Ozone should never be used to cover odors regularly. If you find yourself in a situation where ozone is the best solution to address an odor, practice great care. Under no circumstances should you allow the generator to be turned on in an occupied environment. The potential liability is too great to justify putting people in danger because a room smelled a bit musty.
and he abruptly quit the day before the meeting. The tenant didn’t knowwhat the compound was because they couldn’t find the bottle, but the odor and the problem disappeared after that. There are a lot of things building owners and property managers can do to maintain IAQ in their buildings, but one thing they can’t control is whether the people who work together will get along. It appears this man really didn’t like sitting next to Janet and was trying to make her quit.
In all my years of chasing odors, I’d never run into a problem quite like this before.
There are two key points building owners and property managers can take away from my experiences.
First, don’t make IAQ harder than it has to be. If there’s low-hanging fruit, that’s probably the source of the problem.
Second, never underestimate the levels of human pettiness.
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Follow Your Nose
Anger May Be Harming Your Heart
The Worst Way to Deal With Odors
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A Reading List for Real Success
BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE ULTRA SUCCESSFUL What does every successful person have in common? They read. Avid reading is a key characteristic of the ultra successful because, through great ideas, you can learn how to achieve your full potential. If you want to be more successful in business and in life, you should definitely add these great books to your reading list. From 1903–1908, renowned German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote letters to a young, aspiring poet. These candid thoughts from one of the greatest artistic minds offer insights on life, love, and how to fully experience the world we live in. Each letter is a valuable reminder that we should never underestimate our own artistic spirit. Build a Millionaire’s Library
‘Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales From theWorld ofWall Street’by John Brooks Who read it? Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Famously loaned to Bill Gates by Warren Buffett himself, “Business Adventures”was written and originally published shortly after the stock market crash of 1962. In this book, John Brooks recorded the successes and failures of 12 major companies of the era, including Ford, Xerox, and General Electric. ‘Letters to aYoung Poet’by Rainer Maria Rilke Who read it? Jen Rubio, co-founder and president of Away
‘It’s Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles Froma Life at Starbucks’by Howard Behar Who read it? Katrina Lake, founder and CEO of Stitch Fix Starbucks is known for its quick coffee and seasonally controversial cups, but that’s not what turned the company into a world- conquering success. In “It’s Not About the Coffee,” Howard Behar highlights the importance of company culture and the role business leaders play in helping their team members reach their full potential.
‘Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in theWay of True Inspiration’by Ed CatmullWith AmyWallace Who read it? Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, is responsible for some of the most successful animated movies in the history of cinema. “Creativity, Inc.” explores the creative process behind such films and how this process can be replicated in any industry. Forbes has suggested that Catmull’s book “just might be the best business book ever written.”
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