Building Readiness Guidelines

Revised 5.0 Draft Building Readiness Guidelines for New School Buildings: Environmental Health and Safety Aspects

December 14, 2015

(The original document, 5.0 Draft Building Readiness Guidelines for New School Buildings was prepared for the Nova Scotia Department of Education by the Healthy Schools Construction Committee, November 20, 2002. Using 2010 updates, this version was prepared for consideration by K. Robinson and P. Cox as representatives of the original HSCC.)


There is tremendous pressure to open schools once they have reached substantial completion, a point where they are contractually finished but often still being worked on. This situation has led to students and staff reporting marked health and learning difficulties from the gassing off of new building materials, equipment, furniture, paints, and more. The direct and indirect costs of this situation have included assessment and remedial work, and medical, insurance, and productivity losses for affected building occupants. By making sure that new and renovated school buildings are ready for occupancy, the risk of these short term and long term costs can be reduced.

The Elements of Occupational Review:

The legally recognized provincial standards for Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) for workers are the ACGIH Standards. However these industrial standards may not be adequate for the protection of the developing bodies of children. To achieve more appropriate guideline we are using a combination of controls and standards, including:

  1. Source control in several forms (including elimination, substitution, and dilution),
  2. Traditional commissioning processes (including performance testing and with some adjustments),
  3. Observations and recommendations of an evaluation team, and
  4. Testing according to Health Canada’s Exposure Guidelines for Residential Indoor Air Quality and ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) principles.

**This document also includes elements of Indoor Environment Quality such as noise and lighting, vibration, and electric and magnetic fields.

**The broad approach to preoccupancy guidelines also includes

  • Warranty period follow-up,
  • A user’s manual,
  • Management and occupant training, and
  • A general preventive maintenance plan, including
  • Maintenance logs,
  • Occupant health and satisfaction surveys,
  • IAQ reports and complaints follow-up,  
  • Scheduled filter replacement,
  • Equipment maintenance,
  • Annual inspection of radon removal systems,
  • Long-term availability of the following documents; building operating instructions, as-built drawings and specifications, routine environmental audits including level (limited scope for frequent audits and comprehensive scope for less frequent audits), and frequency.
  • and more.

 (1) Source Control as covered in the document Healthy School Design and Construction is central to achieving a healthy building on opening day as well as for years to come.

A Flush Out Procedure with building heat on for a minimum of six to eight weeks – but possibly longer if the Guideline levels are not reached – and continued flushing at 100% fresh air (maximum fresh air damper settings, recognizing heating or cooling limitations) around the clock for at least one year after opening.

(2) Evaluation Team:

A preoccupancy assessment is best done by a multi-disciplinary team, hereafter called the “committee,” including an experienced facilities professional from the school board or Department of Education who would add a holistic viewpoint that relates to the intended use and operations issues that could impact the occupants.

This committee would be formed by the Department of Education, but would be a non-technical group. That is, the architects, Dept. of Transportation and Public Works (TPW/TIR), lead HVAC person etc. would be present to answer questions, but not serving on the committee itself.

This committee would be formed early in the process to overview the healthy schools aspects of the project, oversee the elements of the Building Readiness Guidelines throughout and evaluate and advise the Department of Education on the success of the elements.

At the end of the project their role would be to review the commissioning and performance tests, and the IAQ evaluation (according to this document), and walk through the building and grounds before recommending readiness to the Department of Education.

As mentioned, this readiness recommendation would include the TPW/TIR readiness decisions, but would be a separate recommendation specifically on whether the building is ready in terms of occupant health risks.

This evaluation team’s participation as an advisory committee needs to be included in contracts and agreements to ensure the committee has access to information as the project develops, although authority for decisions remains with the Department of Education.

Note: (ASHRAE 62-1999, Appendix C suggests “the air can be considered acceptably free of annoying contaminants if 80% of a panel of at least 20 untrained observers deems the air to be not objectionable under representative conditions of use and occupancy. An observer should enter the space in the manner of a normal visitor and should render a judgement of acceptability within 15 seconds. Each observer should make the evaluation independently of other observers and without influence from a panel leader. Users of this method are cautioned that the method is only a test for odours. Many harmful contaminants will not be detected by this test. Carbon Monoxide and radon are two examples of odourless contaminants.” P.17)

(3) Commissioning and performance testing:

An expanded commissioning process would begin early in the development of the building from

the planning stages through to the usual commissioning phase.

It would include review of:

  • Ventilation regarding Ventilation Requirements from ASHRAE 62-1999 – air quality for human occupancy.
  • An Air Balancing Report
  • TPW/TIR’s already-detailed existing process
  • Acoustics, lighting, vibration, and electrical and magnetic fields

 (4) IEQ (Indoor Environment Quality) testing:

Testing has value despite inherent limitations. (1) It is applicable only to the exact location and time where testing was done, (2) It is only as accurate as the equipment and technician’s interpretation, (low levels that have produced symptoms are sometimes not picked up by testing equipment), (3) There is a risk that the numbers will be given attention not afforded to other evidence that could provide obvious clues, and (4) Testing can be costly and time consuming.

If a building fails the IEQ tests, then the decision to postpone occupancy and continue aggressive flush-out is clear. If a building passes the IEQ tests, it falls to the evaluation team to proceed as outlined in this document.

The following is a suggested wording for specifications and contracts, however we recommend the Department’s lawyers review and adjust it as the situation requires:

 An Air Quality Report will be prepared by an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Environmental Consultant, to be specified by the Department of Education, and reporting directly to the Department of Education, and meeting the guidelines specified in this document. Unless there is reason to indicate other tests are needed, the recommended levels specified in this guide will be applied:

Before Occupation:

  1. TVOCs: (Note: TVOC as a useful measurement is under review because the toxicity of the VOCs in a TVOC number can vary greatly. A low level measurement of a toxic chemical can do harm not caused by a high level of a less toxic chemical.

Also, the human nose and occupant symptoms can be a better indicator of the presence of inappropriate odours and chemicals.)

If TVOC measurements are taken for a useful reason, such as part of the gymnasium floor finish protocol, TVOC testing should be done in real time.

Current Health Canada’s Exposure Guidelines for Residential Indoor Air Quality (HC Res.) (Health Canada’s 1995 standard for TVOCs was 5mg/m3 or 1.2 ppm.)

  1. Formaldehyde: 0.10 ppm for 1 hour exposure, action level and .04ppm action level for 8 hour exposure (2007). Plus combination limit of three main aldehydes. See formula page 8 of HC Res.)
  1. Particulate: Dust in ducts/air handling units is first priority. Use current NADCA method.

Respirable dust ALTER (acceptable long term exposure range) < 40ug/m3 and ASTER (acceptable short term exposure range) < 100ug/m3 one-hour average, or better. (HC Res. 1995)

  1. Ozone: Control: smoke pencil to confirm negative air and that air is going out.

ASHRAE 100ug/m3 or .05ppm (copiers, fax, printer areas when in operation)

  1. Radon: (1) Test before system is in operation, and (2) when in operation. 200Bq/m3 recommended as an average concentration in normal living area. (HC 2007)
  1. Ambient/transferred noise: See #7 Noise/acoustics below from Education Acoustics: An Overview of Issues and Recommendations. Enviro-Health Consulting Limited, April 10, 2007.
  1. Magnetic fields and Electric fields: Review current information.
  1. Nitrogen Dioxide: ALTER < 100ug/m3 or < 0.05ppm detection limit and ASTER <480ug/m3 or <0.25ppm one hour average. (HC Res. 1995) (With fuel burning systems.)
  1. Sulphur Dioxide: ALTER < 50ug/m3 or 0.019ppm, ASTER < 1000ug/m3 or <0.38ppm five-minute average. (HC Res. 1995) (With fuel burning systems.)
  1. Mould: for baseline, indoor, and outdoor comparison. (See Health Canada Guidelines)
  1. Lighting: According to NS Design Requirements Manual DC350.
  1. If use of other toxic materials such as isocyanates are unavoidable, test for presence.

During Occupation:

  1. CO2: baseline 850ppm (HC Office)

ASHRAE: an indoor to outdoor concentration differential not greater than about 700ppm. (When school is in use, take outdoor readings to compare.) Below 1000ppm IAQ is good. Between1000 to 2500ppm the IAQ may be acceptable. Over 2500ppm is unacceptable. (T. Nathanson, Public Works Canada)

  1. CO: 2.0ppm action level. (From Jacques Whitford Ltd. summary of current standards for IAQ, p.1, Final Report Post-Occupation Indoor Air Quality Testing – Western HRM High School, March 24, 2007.) Do not exceed 9ppm (ASHRAE) (Also measure when busses and cars are picking up and dropping off students.) (HC Res. calls for 11ppm over 8 hours.)
  1. Temperature: 22-24.5 degrees C in winter to 22-25 degrees C in summer (From Jacques Whitford Ltd. summary of current standards for IAQ, p.1, Final Report Post-Occupation Indoor Air Quality Testing – Western HRM High School, March 24, 2007.)
  1. Relative Humidity: 35% in winter, 50% in summer. (From Jacques Whitford Ltd. summary of current standards for IAQ, p.1, Final Report Post-Occupation Indoor Air Quality Testing – Western HRM High School, March 24, 2007.)
  1. Air Change Rate (undetermined. Ref DC350)
  1. Vibration (undetermined. Ref DC350)
  1. Noise/acoustics:

Ambient Noise: The current method employed by the Department of Transportation and Public Works for determining the ambient or background noise in new schools is satisfactory as described in the Western HRM High School, September 22, 2006 post occupational testing report:


Due to conditions special to learning environments, we recommend using the following acoustic parameters. 

  Gymnasium Music Room Classroom
 – Reverberation Time 1.0 seconds 0.5-1.0 seconds 0.6 – 0.7 seconds
 – Noise Criteria NC 40 NC 30 NC 35


(Education Acoustics: An Overview of Issues and Recommendations. Enviro-Health Consulting Limited, April 10, 2007.)

 The above would be the minimum acceptable level of testing and reporting. The report would go to the Department of Education, TPW, the school board, and the school.



Alberta Government Standards. Personal communication, Prof.Tang Lee, June 2001.

ASHRAE 62-1999 standard: Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality.

Education Acoustics: An Overview of Issues and Recommendations. Enviro-Health Consulting Limited, April 10, 2007.

Exposure Guidelines for Residential Indoor Air Quality.  Health Canada, 1995

Guideline for Managing Indoor air Quality in Office Buildings, Occupational Health and Safety, Canadian Safety Association, 1994.

Health Canada’s Mould Guidelines:

Healthy School Design and Construction, Robinson ed. HSCC, 2003

Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools, IAQ Coordinator’s Guide.  US EPA

Indoor Air Quality Primer, Dr. Dagmar Schmidt Etkin, Cutter Information Corporation, 1995.

Indoor Air Quality Handbook.  Spengler, Samet, McCarthy (eds.), McGraw-Hill, 2001

Jacques Whitford Ltd. summary of current standards for IAQ, p.1, Final Report Post-Occupation Indoor Air Quality Testing – Western HRM High School, March 24, 2007.

Metro Hospitals Committee on Environmental Management, McLaughlin, McCurdy, Stevens, and McNamara.  May 1995.

NADCA, Verification of Mechanical Cleaning.

School Indoor Air Quality Best Management Practices Manual. Washington State Dept of Health, 1995.

Tedd Nathanson, Public Works Canada, personal communication.

Texas Health and Safety Code, Chapter 385, Subchapter A, B, C: School Building Assessment Program, and D: Department Certification Program.

Toronto Board of Education communication, J. Witherspoon, 1996.

VOC Compounds in Indoor Environments by Dagmar Schmidt-Etkin, Cutter Information Corporation.