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Preliminary Design Phases, Part of Indoor Air Quality Design Tools for Schools


The typical design process for schools begins with programming and selection of the architectural-engineering team. It then proceeds through schematic design, design development, contract documents, construction, commissioning and occupancy. The sooner high performance goals — including those intended to ensure superior indoor air quality — are considered in the design process, the easier and less costly they are to incorporate.

Whether building a new school or renovating an existing structure, there are nine key elements to creating a high performance school:

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Integrated Design

Integrated design is the consideration and design of all building systems and components together. It draws from all disciplines involved in designing a building and reviews their recommendations as a whole. It recognizes that each discipline's recommendations have an impact on other aspects of the building project.  For example, HVAC systems are too often designed independently of lighting systems and lighting systems are designed without consideration of day-lighting opportunities. The architect, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, contractors and other team members each have their scope of work and often pursue it without adequate communication and interaction with other team members. This can result in oversized systems or systems that are optimized for non-typical conditions.

Even a small degree of integration provides some benefits. It allows professionals to take advantage of efficiencies that are not apparent when they are working in isolation. It can point out areas where trade-offs can be implemented to enhance resource efficiency. Design integration is also the best way to avoid redundancy or conflicts with aspects of the building project planned by others. This approach allows for optimization of both building performance and cost.

The earlier that integration is introduced in the design process, the greater the benefit. For a high performance school, project team collaboration and integration of design choices should begin no later than the programming phase. In addition, the project team is likely to be more broadly defined than in the past and may include energy analysts, materials consultants, lighting designers, life cycle cost consultants and commissioning agents.

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Designing for Superior Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Indoor air quality encompasses such factors as maintenance of acceptable temperature and relative humidity, control of airborne contaminants and distribution of adequate ventilation air. It requires deliberate care on the part of the entire project team. Achieving thermal comfort begins with good design and continues with proper building management and seeks to avoid uneven temperatures, radiant heat gains or losses (e.g., from window areas), draftiness, stuffiness, excessive dryness, or high relative humidity (that can promote growth of mold). Through careful selection of materials, designers can avoid introducing potential pollutant sources. Mechanical engineers and allied trades-people must select and install reliable ventilation systems that dilute the by-products of occupant activities and, to the greatest extent possible, supply fresh air on demand in the right quantities, in the right locations. During construction, air passageways need to be protected and mechanical systems must be balanced and commissioned to achieve optimal operation. Facility managers and custodial and maintenance staff also play a role in keeping areas clean while minimizing the use of irritating cleaning and maintenance supplies.

Even if all objectives are met, attaining an indoor air quality that's acceptable to all may be difficult, owing to the diversity of sources and contaminants in indoor air, occupant perceptions and individual susceptibility.

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Planning, Programming and Goal Setting

Building a school with indoor air quality that supports the school in its primary mission of educating children requires attention to indoor air quality issues from the very beginning of the process.

  Checklist Task
Establish superior indoor air quality as a design goal for the project in preliminary documents.
Include requirements for attention to indoor air quality in all appropriate phases of planning, design and construction:
  • Site evaluation and selection
  • Selection of the architectural and engineering design team
  • Conceptual (schematic) design phase
  • Design documents
  • Construction documents
  • Bid specifications
  • Construction administration
  • Occupancy

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School Site Selection and Evaluation

Selection of sites on which to build new schools is largely a local issue with no direct Federal role. It is also often controversial. Many issues related to the availability and cost of land, community values and a host of other factors come into play. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, schools are frequently being built on or close to existing sources of air, water and/or soil contamination. This contamination can impact the indoor air quality of the school and in extreme cases, even force the closure and abandonment of multi-million dollar facilities.

  Checklist Task
Prior to site acquisition, complete a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment using ASTM Standard Practice E1527-13.  A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment uses readily available information to identify potential liability and risk associated with environmental and public health considerations due to previous ownership and uses of a property. The Phase I assessment includes a review of the site history, a visual site inspection of the property and surrounding properties for potential sources of contamination and a review of Federal, State and local government records of sites or facilities where there has been a release of hazardous substances that may impact the site under consideration.
If preliminary assessment suggests significant potential sources of contamination, conduct a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment using ASTM Standard Practice E1903-11.
Ensure that soil contamination is cleaned up or avoid site. EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) has developed Draft Guidance for Evaluating the Vapor Intrusion to Indoor Air Pathway from Groundwater and Soils (Subsurface Vapor Intrusion Guidance).
Provide opportunities for participation in the school site acquisition process by school administrators and staff, parents, age-appropriate students and community members.

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Illustration showing Potential Sources of Air and Soil Contamination around School
Potential Sources in the above Illustration include:
  1. Orchards and croplands
  2. Agriculture, Livestock, Rendering plants
  3. Landfills, Incinerators
  4. Chemical and petroleum plants, Central steam plants, Processing and packaging plants, Wood, paper and pulp mills
  5. Commercial operations, Manufacturing, Dry cleaning and photo-processing
  6. Utilities, Sewage and water treatment
  7. Loading docks, Major highways, Parking and pickup areas

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Selection of the Architectural and Engineering Team

Selecting a design team that understands and embraces indoor air quality issues is a critical element of designing schools for superior indoor air quality.

  Checklist Task
Select a design team with necessary qualifications for designing a high performance school and include the requirement for a high performance school in the negotiated design services.
Ask prospective design teams to answer the following IAQ related questions:
  • What is the team's approach to delivering superior indoor air quality?
  • In previous projects how has the team addressed: controlling sources of contaminants in a building; providing adequate ventilation; and avoiding moisture accumulation?
  • What experience does the team have in specifying environmentally preferable materials and products in its projects?
  • Does the team have knowledge of how these materials and products can be procured, what delivery timelines can be expected and how they are installed?
  • Does the team have knowledge of how these materials and products perform over time?
  • Has the team ever specified environmentally responsible materials and products for schools?
  • Does the team specify high performance HVAC systems as standard practice?
  • What tools does the team use to analyze and optimize the performance of HVAC systems?
  • What high performance HVAC systems has the team put in place in previous projects (preferably schools)?
  • How much energy savings did these systems generate?
  • How have these systems performed over time?
  • Did these system provide a quiet, as well as comfortable, learning environment?
Request and check references to evaluate applicants' track record on addressing health and safety issues, meeting budgets and goals, working with the community and resolving materials selection and indoor air quality issues.
Communicate goals to designers. Goals included in the educational specifications and designer Request for Proposals should clearly communicate your design intentions.

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Schematic/Conceptual Design Phase

In this phase, decisions on the basic scale and layout of the facility are made and the project's overall scope and direction are established. Key questions that impact indoor air quality to be answered in this phase include:

  • Will the HVAC system being considered provide adequate ventilation and filtration to address outdoor particulate sources and how will the design team verify that these goals are being met?
  • Does the basic layout of the school keep operable windows and air intake vents away from sources of exhaust (such as cars and buses)?
  • Do the preliminary selected materials support superior indoor air quality by limiting VOCs and other off-gased pollutants?
  • Does the building design discourage the entry of pests through appropriate landscaping, secure areas for food storage, recycling and waste receptacles?
  • Will extreme roof or surface temperatures adversely affect the performance of the HVAC system (including air intakes and duct design)?
  • What types of materials — glazing, shading, insulation, air barriers, structural materials, etc. — are being considered?
  • What type of HVAC system is being considered for the school?
  • What measures will be used to control moisture from all potential sources?
  • Why is this system optimal from a comfort/energy performance standpoint?
  • Will teachers have control of classroom HVAC systems?
  • Is natural ventilation being considered? If so, are its potential impacts on HVAC performance being factored into the analysis process?
  • Will the acoustics or air flow of the system adversely affect the learning environment? Have drafts been eliminated?

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References and Resources

Several of the following links exit to non-federal government sites Exit

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