Refreshing CARE: Assessing Indoor Environmental Quality

This spring, thanks to a $5 million grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, global humanitarian organization CARE launched an interior renovation of its downtown Atlanta office building, which has served as its global headquarters for the last 25 years.

Before knocking down walls, applying new layers of paint and replacing old furniture with new, CARE enlisted the help of Southface to get a better understanding of its building’s interior health, and ensure that its most prized resource — CARE staff — were working in an environment that promotes and maintains health.

One of the sensors placed in CARE’s office space.

Stacy Aldinger, CARE’s chief of staff, said the organization was introduced to Southface 10 years ago, when Southface supported a green building assessment at CARE’s offices.

“When we received [the] grant from the Woodruff Foundation to upgrade our space, we wanted to maximize the opportunity to make it greener, as that’s in line with our mission and values,” she said. “CARE was re-introduced to Southface through Grants to Green and a friend of CARE and Grants to Green, [Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance board chair] Steve Leeds.”

Before renovations got underway, Southface conducted an assessment and collected data on several indoor environmental quality variables within the CARE building. Southface monitored many things, including: pollutant levels, acoustics, thermal comfort, airflow, furnishings, lighting, odors, maintenance, layout, and feedback from people working within the building. This information helped to establish a point of reference for the building’s existing indoor environmental quality.

“The world has changed a lot since our last environmental assessment,” Aldinger said. “So we were eager to understand if our building has stayed healthy as it aged, and where some ‘tune-ups’ might be needed.”

Jenna Grygier, technical project manager on Southface’s Research & Education team, completed the indoor environmental quality portion of the assessment, and Cody David, senior technical project manager on the Research & Education team, conducted the energy and water assessment.

“CARE staff seems to be very interested in having a productive, healthy work environment – much more so than other organizations,” Grygier said.

CARE employees’ suggestions written on one of the comment boards throughout the office.

Throughout the building, comment boards were posted so employees could share their suggestions and feedback on what they like and dislike about their current workspace, and what they’d like to see more of through renovations.

Among the staff desires were more natural daylighting, increased air circulation, better control of heating and air conditioning, and in some areas, carpet that doesn’t trigger allergies.

To assess the building, Southface installed all-in-one package sensors developed by Senseware. Each package measured temperature, relative humidity, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, and total volatile organic compounds (TVOC). One Senseware package was installed on each of CARE’s five floors, and an additional sensor package was placed outside in the parking garage. Additionally, the team used an Airthings Wave to monitor Radon on the building’s first floor.

“Monitoring led us to the conclusion that low humidity levels may be causing some of the comfort and health issues that have been reported, such as sinus flare ups and eye irritation,” said Grygier. “This was surprising because typically, in our hot and humid climate zone, we are trying to mitigate high humidity levels.”

The Southface team also found that each floor had greatly varying levels of exhaust and supply ventilation, which could be the cause of some workers feeling their space had insufficient air flow. Grygier said that Southface’s HVAC and controls recommendations should alleviate this concern.

Another interesting finding that the team discovered was that of all of the floors in the building, the first floor level had the highest weekday average of particulate matter.

“We believe this is because the floor connects to the parking garage below, and particulate matter was able to penetrate into the next level through gaps and penetrations,” Grygier said. “We recommended air sealing as a solution for this.”

Once renovations at CARE are complete, Southface will repeat the evaluations to measure the impact of the recommended improvements.

“Thankfully, many of the improvements on the list fell under the category of ‘just do.’ For example, such as re-sealing cracks that connect the garage to our HVAC to ensure no garage exhaust fumes enter the building,” Aldinger said.

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