indoor air quality

Improving the Indoor Environment

By Thomas A. Westerkamp  

Rising scrutiny of indoor environments' impact on health and safety has increased the pressure on managers. Developments in two areas in particular — paints and fire safety — have seen the most activity in recent years.

Paints and Coatings

Studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reveal that indoor air quality is three times more hazardous to health than outdoor air quality. Older paints continue to release toxins long after they are applied and dried, contributing to such problems. Environmental awareness has resulted in new regulations and new technological developments in paints.

These advances include all phases of paints, from strippers and primers to finishes. Developments include paints that offer low and no volatile organic compounds (VOC), resulting in more durable, more cost-effective paints that are better for the environment. Managers can find multiple benefits in their paint investments, including the following:

• easier application and cleanup, lowering job costs

• lower toxins that even benefit those with allergies and chemical sensitivity

• anti-microbial

• better performance characteristics

• low or no hazardous fumes

• can be applied in occupied rooms

• no groundwater or ozone contaminants

• easy cleanup with soap and water.

These new paints come in three categories: natural, low VOC, and no VOC. Natural paints are made from water, plant oils and resins, plants and minerals. Water-based natural paints are odorless, while oil-based paints have citrus- or essential-oil fragrance.

Zero-VOC paints include any paint with 5 grams per liter (g/l) or less VOCs. Finishes include flat primers, interior latex and enamels, as well as varnish replacements. Colorants or fungicides can increase VOCs, in the 10 g/l range, which is still very low.

Fire Safety

Statistics on the causes of fires rank arson, improper material storage, and failure to properly dispose of flammable material in a timely manner as the top three fire causes in commercial buildings.

Using these statistics, managers are looking for significant gains in crucial areas: improved door and window hardware, state-of-the-art locks and other security devices; ordering only as much materials as needed to minimize inventory costs; providing improved fireproof lockers for flammable materials; ensuring access to complete material safety data sheets; improved signage; and providing for well-designed and annually maintained fire and smoke dampers. These measures can reduce risk, cut material and insurance costs, and lower loss.

— Thomas A. Westerkamp



Contractors & Distributors

American Fire Sprinkler Association

Firestop Contractors International Association

Insulation Contractors of America

International Association of Professional Security Consultants

National Association of Fire Equipment Distributors

National Fire Sprinkler Association

National Insulation Association

Painting & Decorating Contractors of America

Security Hardware Distributors Association


Accessibility Equipment Manufacturers Association

American Architectural Manufacturers Association

Automatic Fire Alarm Association

Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA)

Composite Lumber Manufacturers Association

Door & Access Systems Manufacturers Association

Door Hardware Institute

International Firestop Council

International Sign Association

National Elevator Industry Inc.

North American Insulation Manufacturers Association

Resilient Floor Covering Institute




Codes, Regulations & Standards

Access Board

Acoustics Society of America

ASTM International

American Society of Healthcare Engineering

American Institute of Architects

International Code Council

The Joint Commission

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

National Institute of Building Sciences

Paints and Coatings Resource Center

Underwriters Laboratories

U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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  posted on 5/1/2008   Article Use Policy

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