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FAQs about Indoor Enviromental Quality

What is Indoor Environmental Quality?

Indoor Environmental Quality is the result of a conscious, collective effort to create and maintain safe, effective, and inspiring physical environments that support and enhance the instructional mission of the three colleges of the San Mateo County Community College District. This FAQ provides information regarding the use of chemicals in custodial services, the pride we take in ensuring superior indoor air quality, and facts about the effects of some typical interior architectural elements on indoor environmental quality, including resilient floors, carpets, paints, acoustic ceiling tiles, window treatments, and furniture. Together with the excellence in technology that Information Technology Services ensures, SMCCCD’s indoor environmental quality inspires and promotes instructional excellence.


How does the Facilities Department Proactively Assure Indoor Air Quality?

The Facilities Department’s staff of stationary engineers performs routine preventive maintenance tasks on heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) equipment; those tasks include daily systems verification screening to ensure equipment is operating within design parameters during building occupancy, replacing air filters that filter outside air contaminants before the air is circulated within our buildings, and ensuring that the equipment’s mechanical components are lubricated, calibrated, clean and operating smoothly, and that the equipment’s safety controls are functioning correctly. To learn more about the work of our maintenance engineers, please refer to Engineering Program.

Of course, our custodial staff uses professional means and methods to ensure that the indoor learning and working environment is kept clean. To find out more about custodial tasks and frequencies, please refer to Facilities Service Levels.

The capital construction program currently underway has prompted us to develop facilities design standards for HVAC equipment, paints, flooring materials, lighting and furniture based on a number of criteria, including indoor air quality. To find out more about this, read the FAQs below for each of these elements.

Finally, although certainly not least in importance, SMCCCD’s smoke free policy (no smoking within buildings or within 20 feet of windows, doors and air intakes) has had a positive impact on the quality of indoor air. This smoke free policy is applied to vehicles operated by the Facilities Department as well.


How does the Facilities Department Reactively Assure Indoor Air Quality?

The Facilities Department’s staff takes great pride in ensuring healthy indoor air quality. Over the past decade, approximately one dozen complaints related to indoor air quality have been submitted from faculty and staff. Complaint categories include: unpleasant odors, roofing asphalt smells, visual signs of moisture leaks or dirt, allergy aggravation, upper respiratory symptoms and construction dust. In each instance, due diligence was followed to investigate the issue and achieve resolution. In every instance, follow up air testing showed that indoor air contaminants were well below established exposure limits. In most of the incidents, an educational effort served to allay fears of an unhealthy learning and working environment.

In 2006, the Facilities Department adopted portions of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Tools for Schools Indoor Air Quality Program to ensure a timely and systematic response to indoor air quality complaints.

Of course we have also received numerous complaints of uncomfortable temperatures over the past decade. From 2002 to 2005, a web-based, state of the art digital environmental control system was installed that provides superior management of HVAC equipment (plus some non-HVAC equipment such as lighting, sewage pumps, vault condition sensors, etc.). At Cañada and Skyline Colleges, individual zone controls have been digitized as well. As a result of the improved controls system, the incidence of temperature-related complaints at our colleges has diminished dramatically. For more information about the digital zone thermostats and how to use them, please refer to FAQs About Temperature.


What can I do to Assure Indoor Air Quality?

As mentioned earlier, indoor environmental quality is a collective effort. These are the things you can do to ensure healthful indoor air quality:

  • Please comply with the smoke free policy: smoke only in designated smoking areas.
  • Some members of our community are sensitive to heavy perfumes and colognes, including fragrances in soaps; please be aware of these sensitivities when in and around your colleagues and the college community.
  • 16% of the air quality complaints we received over the past decade were found to be caused by rotting food odors! Please dispose of food waste promptly and properly to minimize mold and odors. Also, please store food properly.
  • Do not block air vents or grilles.
  • Clean up all water spills promptly, water and maintain office plants properly and report water leaks right away.
  • It is not a good idea to install carpets in high traffic areas, as carpets trap and concentrate contaminants tracked in from outdoors. In addition, carpet is not a good floor covering in high traffic areas for reasons of durability, aesthetics, and maintainability. For these reasons, please don’t ask us to install carpets in high traffic areas.
  • Notify the Facilities Department immediately if you suspect an IAQ problem.

How does Collins & Aikman carpet support Indoor Environmental Quality?

SMCCCD has standardized on Collins & Aikman carpet products because of its environmental benefits, its sophisticated appearance, as well as its favorable life cycle cost.

One of the most critical factors of indoor air quality is the selection of carpeting. Some carpets and adhesives can offgas for years, causing health risks, including headaches, allergies and respiratory problems. Carpets can also be breeding grounds for molds, bacteria and dust mites, which can cause severe allergic reactions. In addition, most carpets are made of synthetic fibers from petroleum sources, which are neither renewable nor biodegradable.

Collins & Aikman carpet products have a Powerbond® backing. This backing is resistant to fluids, which makes spot cleaning of spills easier and more effective. This backing allows the carpet to be applied to the floor using dry adhesives, thereby avoiding the offgasses associated with traditional wet adhesives. The carpet's cushion is produced without harmful CFC's or HCFC's.

Like Stratica flooring, Collins & Aikman’s manufacturing processes have achieved recognition for sustainability. C&A requires suppliers to eliminate carcinogens and toxins in the raw materials supplied, provide reusable packaging, and send all scrap to recycling centers. Office paper, plastic, aluminum, cardboard and yarn are recycled as part of an aggressive in-house recycling program. The company has initiated a self-imposed environmental audit program to remove impurities from their manufacturing facilities and their end product. Collins & Aikman has instituted a corporate reclamation program for Powerbond and other vinyl-back floor covering after its useful life. The carpet is collected and processed into other products, including parking stops and industrial flooring.

Collins & Aikman carpets improve SMCCCD’s indoor environmental quality by emitting nearly undetectable VOCs. In addition, special carbon-core filaments are embedded in the carpet fibers, which provide permanent static control. (Competing carpet products often only have a topical treatment for static control – which wears off over time.) Static control makes the carpeted environment more friendly for people as well as electronic equipment.

Each of our colleges has standardized on several Collins & Aikman carpet products that complement their overall architectural color and finish palettes. The products selected include large and small pattern, timeless and elegant carpets that will serve the colleges for many years to come.

Collins & Aikman carpet is warranted for a non-prorated period of twenty-five years against typical carpet failures, such as excessive wear, excessive static electricity, resiliency loss of the backing, delamination, edge ravel, and zippering.


How do our painted interior surfaces contribute to Indoor Environmental Quality?

Paint and sealers cover a large amount of surface in a building, and therefore have a significant impact on indoor air quality. There are two major types of paint products: petroleum solvent-based oil paints and water-based paints. Solvent-based paints contain large amounts of toxic chemicals and produce a great deal of hazardous vapors. Water-based paints are generally less hazardous to handle, but can still contain toxic ingredients. Water-based paints are the safest option for the people who handle them and the environment. For this reason, SMCCCD has standardized on latex (water based) paints for the indoor environment.

Latex paints have a less objectionable odor, which makes them good for repaints and painting in occupied areas, where solvent odor is an issue. They clean up with soap and water; there's no need to work with hazardous and/or flammable solvents, and no used solvent to dispose of afterwards. Latex paints dry faster, and can be recoated sooner; this makes them a good choice for painting in occupied areas, where someone might touch or brush up against the freshly painted surface. Latex paint binders hold up better in sun-exposed areas, because they're more resistant to UV (ultraviolet) radiation; alkyd and oil binders will absorb more of this radiation and break down more quickly. Latex paint films are less prone to yellowing over time, especially with white, light off-white and pastel colors. Latex paint films are more breathable; they allow small amounts of water vapor to pass through the film, so the chance of blistering is reduced. This is especially important when the surface being painted is slightly damp. Latex paint films have better gloss and color retention, so they'll keep a 'like-new' appearance longer. Latex paint films are more elastic, so they can expand and contract with the substrate better; this means they'll be less likely to crack and peel over time.

Each of our colleges has standardized on several paint colors that complement their overall architectural color and finish palettes. The colors selected include the basic timeless elegance of bone white, together with some exciting accent colors that will add interest to the indoor environment and serve the colleges for many years to come.


How do our acoustical ceiling panels contribute to Indoor Environmental Quality?

SMCCCD has standardized on USG Millennia ClimaPlus and Radar acoustical ceiling panels because of their environmental benefits in our learning environments as well as the company’s commitment to environmental manufacturing processes.

USG Millennia ClimaPlus and Radar ceiling panels are mineral fiber and wood fiber ceiling tiles containing recycled material. The recycled materials are primarily slag wool and cellulose fiber. Slag wool is made from a recycled waste product of steel production. Cellulose fiber is made from recycled newsprint. Millennia ClimaPlus ceiling panels have 80% recycled content. The panels have corn and wheat starches as binders, in lieu of petroleum-based chemical binders typically used in such panels. The ceiling suspension systems have 25% recycled steel content, and they can be recycled completely at the end of their lifecycle.

USG has used environmental control equipment since before the Clean Air Act was passed in 1969. Their plants consume clean fuel, such as natural gas or low-sulfur oil, wherever possible. Water treatment equipment in their plants recycles water, reducing effluent discharges to municipal treatment systems. They reuse heat from the drying process to provide hot water and to heat other parts of the plant.

The acoustical properties of our ceiling panels enhance our learning environments. Millennia’s noise reduction coefficient (NRC), a measure of how much noise or sound is absorbed when the sound waves strike the face of the ceiling panel, is .70. NRC ratings fall between .2 and .8, so our Millennia panels do a great job of attenuating acoustics in our classrooms.

The light reflectance (LR) properties of ceiling panels also enhance our learning environments by providing a surface that bounces available light (whether daylight or mechanical light). Millennia’s LR rating of .85, and Radar’s LR of .84 are very good (compared to similar products that range in LR values from .69 to .90). This means that the available light in our learning and working environments will softly reflect off our ceilings, lessening the need for more energy-consuming mechanical lighting as well as eliminating the additional heat load from light fixtures (which would then have to be mechanically cooled).


How do our window treatments contribute to Indoor Environmental Quality?

Window treatments serve multiple functions, including solar shading, glare reduction, thermal insulation, and provision of privacy. 

SMCCCD’s standard for window treatments is comprised of a number of components: roller shades, blackout curtains, and horizontal blinds.

Our standard roller shade is made by Mechoshade. These shades have a transparency to them, allowing a visual connection to our beautiful exterior environments, while still reducing eye strain associated with glare and providing privacy.  They reduce heat gain when it’s hot outside and heat loss when it’s cold, improving occupant comfort. Their flat surface and washable fabric are easy to clean, allowing for ease of maintenance and ensuring that dust is minimized in our indoor environments. Damaged fabric can be easily replaced by local staff over the coming decades, reducing the total cost of ownership. The roller shade’s level of transparency provides adequate light control to allow for visual projection in our classrooms that will have ever-increasing reliance on technology to support modern pedagogy.

Certain classrooms will also receive blackout curtains, for enhanced room darkening capability. Certain art and science classrooms require absolute room darkening to support instruction.

In few instances, horizontal blinds are the window treatment of choice. While the functionality and durability of horizontal blinds don’t meet our stringent criteria in most applications, in certain non-demanding installations their low cost makes them a viable solution.


How does the new furniture affect Indoor Environmental Quality?

SMCCCD’s commitment to comfortable, functional, durable and healthy interior environments includes well-considered furniture selection. In 2003 – 2004, extensive research was done to identify furniture manufacturers whose products are suitable for SMCCCD’s varied applications, whose manufacturing processes met our sustainability goals, and who would provide value-added services over and above simply selling their goods to us. Furniture fairs provided an extensive and inclusive process by which faculty, staff, students and administrators were able to assist in selection of standard furniture items. Those items that have been selected can be found atFurniture .

There is a great awareness of ergonomics in the working and learning environment. Ergonomics was an important criteria in selection of standard furniture items. Many standard furniture pieces have ergonomic features built in, such as manual crank height adjustability for working surfaces which allows for greater individual comfort, contributing to a healthier work environment. To supplement the ergonomic features of furniture, ergonomic tools – such as keyboard trays and monitor arms – are also available. SMCCCD’s standard ergo tools can be found at Ergonomic Tools .

We sought furniture manufacturers who are committed to environmental sustainability. The following specifications demonstrate that commitment. Of particular interest in terms of indoor air quality is the low VOC, water-based adhesives used in manufacturing:

  • Metal components of furniture contains an average of 30% recycled content, with 70% of that content being post-consumer recycled.
  • Major suppliers of wood products are committed to the Sustainable Forestry InitiativeSM program and works with landowners to ensure that any forestry activity is responsibly conducted to protect the ability of the landowner to continue to grow forests for future generations. The particleboard and medium density fiberboard manufacturing facilities have certified (per Scientific Certification Systems) that that products are composed of 100% recycled and recovered fiber, with at least 90% post-industrial recycled content and the balance recovered content, on a dry-fiber basis.
  • Although polypropylene consists of virgin material and does not currently contain any recycled material but is 100% recyclable.
  • The primary adhesive used to bond seat cushion foam to surfaces and bond layers of the worksurfaces is water-based, containing less than 0.4% volatile organic compounds.
  • Decorative Chromium electroplating system has been optimized to reduce air emissions, reduce the hazardous and solid waste, recover and reuse nickel, etc.
  • Powdercoating process lines use water-based cleaning systems prior to powder painting to clean parts as opposed to solvent-based cleaning systems. Powder coatings are baked on to the metal components, using natural gas fired ovens. Powder coatings contain negligible VOC and Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) contents. Add-on pollution control equipment is not necessary given the very low levels of pollutants.
  • Laminates contain approximately 10% waste paper by-product.

Finally, SMCCCD receives very favorable pricing from its furniture vendors, based on our volume. Additionally, the furniture vendors provide rebates, student scholarships, and provide other value-added services such as design and training.