January 2019 Print

President's Message

PRESIDENT: Diane Mitchell 

Happy New Year!

I hope that everyone had a glorious Christmas and were able to enjoy time with family and friends. As we head into 2019 I’d like to take some time to highlight the accomplishments the Northern Nevada Chapter has achieved over the course of the chapter year.  With the support of our outstanding members and an amazing group of board members and chairs, we have been able to do so much!

Chapter Meetings
September – Attendance: 30, Program Overall Evaluation Rating: 97
October – Attendance: 30, Program Overall Evaluation Rating: 77
November – Attendance: 32, Program Overall Evaluation Rating: 95



Annual Golf Tournament
This year Bryan Tilton once again took the lead and absolutely delivered. With his guidance, the dedication and support of all involved, this is what we were able to achieve:

15 Teams, 29 Hole Sponsors and over $8,000 in profit . . . Amazing!

Annual Wine Social and Inaugural Ugly Sweater Contest

What a fun event this was at a new location! Many thanks to Alec Lyons for coordinating much of the soiree and everyone who came together to make it a success! Although we were not able to hit our overall goal, we still donated $500 to the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation as well as overflow a bin for Toys for Tots! Congrats to Matt Brennan – Winner of the Contest by an overwhelming majority!


Other Notables

Student Activities

In September, Andrew Huie and I began our work for K-12/STEM Outreach on behalf of the Chapter by presenting to Depoali Middle school for their Career Day. We had a great time talking with 3 groups of kids about what we do and the importance of Engineering and HVAC in schools.

Giving back to our Community

In November after the devastating Camp Fire in Paradise, California, and upon discussion and approval of the Board of Governors it was agreed that we would be able to help by donating gift cards to those in needs. Dave Wyllie researched TMFPD as they were collecting donations and I was able to drop off (10) $50 Walmart gift cards for those impacted by this tragic fire.

* * * Save the Date * * *


  • Buzz Wright – Student Activities Regional Vice Chair – January 17th Meeting
  • Past Presidents Night (2/21) - Location TBD (CONFIRMED-Marites Calad, DRC will be joining us!)
  • ** Please contact Adrienne Thomle for Sponsoring this evening fabulous evening **
  • Day on the Hill (GAC) In conjunction with Las Vegas Chapter
  • Membership Promotions – March Meeting (3/21)
  • Sporting Clays Shoot – April 2019


These events are in the works:

  • Young Engineers in ASHRAE (YEA)
  • Women in ASHRAE (WIA)
  • Student Activities (SA)


Please feel free to contact me via email or phone if you have any questions, comments, concerns or ideas. I welcome your feedback and as always, thank you for all you do for ASHRAE and your continued support!


Diane Mitchell
2018-19 Northern Nevada ASHRAE Chapter President
P: 775-284-1240


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President Elect Report

President Elect / Programs Chair - Adrienne Thomle

Thursday, January 17, 2018
The meeting will be held at the Twisted Fork
Cocktails at 5:30, Dinner at 6:00
Twisted Fork
1191 Steamboat Pkwy. Reno, Nevada 89521

Register at:

Advanced registration $30, week of event $35, day of or at the door $40, student registration is $15.


  David Dougan - President, EBTRON, Inc


 “Improving CO2 Demand Control Ventilation Using Airflow Measurement”

Topic Description


David Dougan has over 30 years of experience with EBTRON, Inc., a leading manufacturer of airflow measurement technology. Dougan has been the President of EBTRON since 1993 with prior experience as the Director of Product Development for the Company. Throughout his tenure, Dougan has been an integral part of the design and development of products that have broken ground in the industry. Dougan has authored and published numerous papers on airflow measurement and control that have been featured in renowned publications such as the ASHRAE Journal. His expertise in the measurement and control of airflow rates for acceptable indoor air quality and building pressurization has landed him a role as a sought-after guest speaker for Lunch n’ Learns, LEED - accredited seminars, and major events for professional industry organizations.

Meeting Schedule: 

ASHRAE Meeting Dates for 2018-19





Monthly Theme




Dr. Nadia Sabeh

Dr. Greenhouse

HVAC Design Considerations for Indoor Plant Cultivation Facilities

Welcome Back

Atlantis Resort Casino



Craig Swift

Yashawa America

The Future of VFD Application

Membership Promotion


Atlantis Resort Casino



Rick Kabele

West Coast Code Consultants

Recent Code Changes

Research Promotion

Government Activities

Twisted Fork



David Dougan


Improving CO2 Demand Control Ventilation Using Airflow Measurement

Student Activities

Twisted Fork



Garett Hartwell


Noise Issues in HVAC Systems

Past President's Night/History

Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel



Karen McGinley

NV Energy

Commercial Energy Efficiency Incentives

Membership Promotion

Atlantis Resort Casino



Adrienne Thomle

Ormat Geo-thermal

Tour or Speaker (depending on weather)





Bob Sorensen

RF MacDonald

How Not to Design a Steam System


Atlantis Resort Casino




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Membership Promotions Chair Report


Happy New Year!

As we say good bye (and possibly good riddance!) to 2018 I would like to thank all the members of the Northern Nevada Chapter for helping to make it such a GREAT Chapter and spreading the word about the value in membership. I am happy to report that we have added a total of 8 new members this year!  That is OUTSTANDING and I hope to keep the momentum through 2019 ~ March will be another Membership Promotions meeting . . . think about who you know that could benefit by joining ASHRAE and bring them to the meeting!

Please take a moment to welcome the following NEW Chapter Members:

Cameron Bender – Bender Engineering

Caitlin Burke – CR Engineering

Cameron McGifford – CR Engineering

Matt Sandoval – S & S Mechanical

Congrats to Cameron, Caitlin, Cameron and Matt for taking the plunge! I am very happy that you are part of the chapter and look forward to seeing you soon.  Also – shout out to Chris Rounds/CR Engineering for the continued commitment to ASHRAE!

Here are some quick links to information and membership materials:





Thank you for supporting YOUR Northern Nevada ASHRAE Chapter!


Diane Mitchell
2018-19 Northern Nevada ASHRAE Chapter
Membership Promotions Chair


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Treasurer's Report


As of January 2, 2019 the chapter account balance is (deleted by editor - we are solvent). 



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Research Promotion Chair Report


The Chapter has raised $2,000 towards the goal of $5,600, accomplished the Full Circle status as well as the 30% PAOE deadline and we are currently at over 35% of Goal – Thank you to all who have contributed to Research Promotion – we couldn’t have done it without your support!


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Historian's Report

Historian: Dean Borges

Hi Everyone,

Northern Nevada Chapter held its third Chapter meeting for 2018-19 on November 15th at Twisted Fork restaurant for a dinner event. President Diane Mitchell welcomed and introduced everyone.

A presentation on Evolution of the Uniform Mechanical Code, 2012 to 2018” by Mr. Rick Kabele of Building Safety Associates, LLC. A nice summary of the many recent changes in design requirements.

Also, a review of the recent plans of the Government Activities Committee by Dave Wylie, Chair, which has a group planning a draft letter to be sent to the Legislative members of the 80th Session of the Legislature.

Finally, a thank you presentation of last years RP donations and a call for donations to meet the 2018-19 goal by Sandor Duran, Chair.

Everyone enjoyed the discussion and Q&A period.  

Enjoy the photo’s of the Northern Nevada MP featured meeting on following pages.

Best regards,

  Dean S. Borges, Historian, 2018-19                      


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Government Activities Chair Report

GAC Chair - Dave Wyllie

The Chapter is planning to participate in a  Day on the Hill activity  during the upcoming 2019 Nevada Legislative Session.  During this event we, along with members from the Southern Nevada chapter, will be meeting with Legislators to discuss issues that are of importance to ASHRAE members.  We need volunteers to make this a successful endeavor, and ask that you consider participating.  The event is tentatively planned for April 24th.  Please let me know if you are interested, at [email protected]  Training will be provided by ASHRAE the day before or morning of the activitiy.


Standard 90.2-2018 -- Energy Efficient Design of Low-Rise Residential Buildings (ANSI Approved)

This standard provides minimum requirements for the energy-efficient design of residential buildings, including new dwelling units, new portions of dwelling units and their systems, and new systems and equipment in existing dwelling units.

The new 2018 revision of Standard 90.2 outlines cost-effective residential building energy performance measures that are at least 50% more efficient than those defined by the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

Nevada Energy Code Collaborative

I am also reporting on the fourth quarter meeting of the Nevada Energy Code Collaborative.  The meeting was held on November 27th , these meetings are attended by several stakeholders in the energy codes for the state, and are run by Jim Meyers of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP).  Minutes/highlights given here.

Report from 2018 AIA National Conference- Trends, increased discussions in the design community
Jennifer Turchin with Coda Group provided some highlights from the 2018 national AIA conference held in New York City earlier this year. She shared what she learned from the sessions she attended and also what was on the session schedule to see new trends or discussion areas.

Disaster Response and design – build better, energy vulnerabilities, renewables and infrastructure.
Net Zero – large topic looking at net zero on a community scale.  How do buildings fit into community needs. Integration with power grid and system integration for whole communities
Energy Performance – how national green building programs are not demonstrating actual performance data. The focus on the 2030 Challenge and energy modeling. Also focus on envelope including fenestration e.g. living walls, dynamic glazing
BIM Modeling – 3D technology and how to integrate with energy modeling. Also discussion around THERM (LBNL) tool for envelope design.
The 2019 AIA conference will be held in Las Vegas. Jennifer said there are opportunities to volunteer for the conference and receive a complimentary registration. Contact Ashley Gould at
[email protected]
to inquire about the volunteer opportunities. (See below in upcoming events)

Latest Code Adoptions
Adoption of the 2018 IECC/ASHRAE 90.1?2016 across Nevada
Jim Meyers reported on the adoptions in the state which include; Las Vegas, Clark County, Henderson and Sparks. Reno and Washoe County are in process and readings for the councils have started.
Les Lazareck shared the adoptions in southern Nevada.

Industry Energy Code Training Opportunities

Les discussed trainings from 2018 and opportunities for future trainings.  Note that the 2019 EduCode Institute will not have any energy code sessions. The next opportunity for
EduCode will be with the 2020 Institute.

During the summer there were training sessions for the 2018 IECC with 80-90 participants for both the residential and commercial sessions.

February 18, 2019 - Sustainable Symposium to be held at UNLV.

Opportunities for additional training. There were bids submitted to NV Energy to provide training to the building sector over the next three years.

Informal Training Needs Survey

Jim discussed the findings from a brief survey SWEEP sent to building officials who have recently adopted the 2018 IECC. The goal was to better understand their needs, perception, and thoughts on supporting building department staff and building industry to smoothly transition to the 2018 IECC and 90.1-2016.

There were four questions addressing the building officials’ perspective for energy code trainings.
What needs are there for 2018 IECC training. Items included;
     o REScheck, COMcheck, plan review and understanding performance compliance
Best time for building department staff to participate
    o Periodic half day sessions, early start times are best – before 8:00 am is acceptable, if half day trainings the sessions need to end before lunch allowing participants to get a full half day of
work completed, and one hour sessions are good
General or specific training
   o Occasional general training, but specific trainings should follow.
Other drivers to participation
   o No specific preference is webinar or live in person training
   o And offering ICC CEUs would not be a factor if not available.

Participating in development of 2021 IECC and IRC

Jim provided a brief presentation on how people can participate in the development of the 2021 IECC and IRC.  Code change proposals are due January 9th. The first code committee hearings will be held in Albuquerque in late April 2019 with the final public comment hearings held in Clark County in October 2019.

Anyone can participate in the code development process, but people must sign up with ICC for a cdpAccess registration. (CDP – code development process). There is no cost to obtain a registration for the ICC website nor any cost to submit proposals. Proposals are submitted online before January 9
. All proposals will be
available for review by March 4, 2019.

Les mentioned he is working with building officials in Southern Nevada with most meetings being held in North Las Vegas on potential proposals for the 2021 codes.  Access to the ICC code development platform is at
. Registration is quick and simple.

Utility and Legislative Report

Tom Polikalas – Legislative report – Tom mentioned there will be one bill on the renewable policy standard.  Looking at 50% floor for renewable from utility providers. Community solar was passed in 2017 but vetoed by Governor Sandoval. This will resurface in the 2019 legislature. There will also be legislation that supports EV

There is a likely piece of legislation coming up that was heard on good authority. There is currently no bill draft at this time. It would tradeoff energy efficiency with solar on-site energy. This proposal was discussed in Northern Nevada over the past few months. The Northern Nevada code officials felt it was not in the best
interest at this time to make the change.

Les asked if the proposal came from the homebuilders or other organization(s). It was mentioned there is one national builder who has been working on the identical change across the county. Its assumed it’s the same builder because they construct homes in Northern Nevada.

Upcoming Events
January 7, 2019 Last day to submit code change proposals for 2021 IECC and IRC
February 18, 2019 Green Builder Media’s Sustainability Symposium 2019: The Desert Shall Bloom to be held
at the Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall on the UNLV campus.
February 19-21, 2019 International Builders Show (IBS), Las Vegas, NV
February 25-27, 2019 RESNET National Conference, New Orleans, LA
March 11-15, 2019 EduCode 2019, Las Vegas, NV
April 11-12, 2019 Rocky Mountain Green (USGBC Conference), Denver, CO
June 6-8, 2019 AIA National Conference, Las Vegas, NV
Volunteer for AIA ‘19 Conference for 10 hours and receive free registration to the conference. Volunteering for fewer hours allows discounts on the registration fee. More information about volunteering email Ashley Gould at
[email protected].


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Sustainability Chair Report

Sustainability Chair - Haley Anderton-Folmer

See information below about the University of Nevada, Reno’s Online Renewable Energy Program.

Renewable Energy Program at the University of Nevada, Reno

About the Program

Designed for professionals in the energy industry, including administrators, engineers, business entrepreneurs, and others impacted by new policies and practices relating to renewable energy, the online Graduate Certificate in Renewable Energy (GREC) covers energy technologies, energy markets and business, and energy policy.

Certificate Requirements

The four course (12-credit) certificate program allows you flexibility in your specific coursework while providing a breadth of understanding in different aspects of renewable energy. Selecting four courses from the ten-course certificate curriculum gives you the opportunity to take courses suited to your interest areas.

The courses are designed and taught by top faculty from the University of Nevada, Reno and other research institutions. Courses are designed to facilitate participation in online discussions, case-study analysis, and problem-based learning. The online format accommodates the schedule of working professionals and also allows you to benefit from diverse geographic perspectives of your classmates.

This program is approved for VA Education Benefits. Benefits need to be set up through the UNR Veteran Services Office. Contact Terina Caserto, [email protected], 775-682-805.

Courses may qualify as professional development hours for Professional Engineers (PE) licensed by the State of Nevada and as professional development education for teachers.

The online renewable energy courses offered in this upcoming Spring 2019 semester are:

  • ENGR 400/600 Alternative Energy Fundamentals
  • ENGR 440/640 Principles of Sustainability for Business Application 
  • ENGR 470/670 Geologic Fundamentals of Geothermal Energy 


Admissions requirements

The program is open for application to all students who hold an undergraduate degree in engineering, business management, liberal arts or a related field. If you are not currently enrolled in a graduate degree program, you must complete a graduate certificate application in addition to your application to the Graduate Renewable Energy Certificate Program.

The program is funded in part by Nevada Renewable Energy Consortium / DOE (DE-EE0000272), NV Energy, and Extended Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.


For more information please contact Jill Wallace, Ph.D., program coordinator, at [email protected] or call (775) 682-7774. Appointments (in person or online) with Dr. Wallace can be scheduled by phone or email.



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Technical Article

BSI-017: Blame It On Star Trek—Solving IAQ Problems

MARCH 25, 2009

Civilians seem to think that we have the technology to go into a space, do a test, and determine what is in the air. As simple as that sounds we can’t do it. We don’t have the technology.1 You cannot go into a space and ask a simple question such as what is in the air? There could be a million things in the air–literally. You have to ask a much more narrow question such as is “this” in the air? Or is “that” in the air? The trick is to know what to ask. For that you need a hypothesis.2

To be certain about what is in the air you have to ask about everything. That of course is impractical because of the gazillion things that you could test for. When someone says we tested the air and there was nothing in the air they are being less than forthcoming. What they are really saying is that we didn’t find what we tested for within the limits of accuracy of the test procedure we used. That is a whole lot different than saying there is nothing in the air. The only people who like air testing are people who make money doing air testing.

Saying you should never start with air testing gets you nowhere with civilians. I never win this argument. There is always some “expert” that comes in and does a bunch of air tests. I am the one usually stuck with having to explain what they mean. More precisely, I have to explain what they don’t mean.

Let’s start with some of the tests that are run and what they mean. Then we will get into other tests and what they don’t mean.

I don’t have a problem with measuring CO2—it is sometimes, not always, a pretty good surrogate for ventilation rates. I prefer to determine ventilation rates more directly, but I am a geek. What hypothesis are you testing with a CO2   test? Is the ventilation rate too low or too high according to ASHRAE Standard 62.1?

I also don’t have a problem with measuring temperature and relative humidity—I can tell a lot from measuring temperature and relative humidity. Again what is the hypothesis? Do I have a part load humidity control problem that could lead to mold?

At this point I typically stop with the testing. Why? Almost everything else is pretty much a waste of time. The most popular waste of time are tests for volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”).

VOC testing. I love the name. It sounds so technical, so Star Trek-ish. How does it work? You suck on air for about a minute and draw the air through magic powder (the sorbent) and send it off to a lab. The idea is that the powder absorbs “stuff” in the air. You then desorb the “stuff” and run it through a mass spectrometer/gas chromatograph to get a spectral “fingerprint.”3 You then compare the spectra of the “stuff” to a “library” of available spectra.

Think about this for a minute. You sample for about a minute. Is it a representative minute? Where do you sample for this minute? Let’s say you can deal with all of this minute stuff or you feel you can make something up that sounds semi-believable to get others to ignore the issues with this minute stuff. Now what?

Here is where it gets out of control. What is in the “library”? Depends on the lab. Folks tend to look at the “most common 40 spectra” which typically means the most common 40 in the lab library.4 So the typical voc test looks to see if those specific 40 things are in the air.

If your “stuffs” spectra are not in the labs top 40, too bad, you are out of luck. Maybe it’s close to one of the top 40? Does the lab say that it is close? Ah, it depends. If it is not close to your top 40 do you look farther? How do you look? Do you even know you should look? Sorry, looking further is not going to happen unless you pay, and pay and pay. You can ask NASA.5 But why look even in the first place? Or why look this way? More about that later.

So lets say that some of your “stuff” matches some of the “top 40.” What are the odds? High. Why? Well, if you selected the EPA’s BASE list as your comparison “stuff” you are going to find stuff because the whole point of that study was to look for stuff that you are likely to find.

Now you get to ask the question civilians ask all the time. Are the levels too high or too low? ou pretty much have nothing to go on. We don’t have acceptable or unacceptable levels for most of the stuff. Can BASE help us out? Nope, the study just said what the levels were, not whether they were too high or too low. Is BASE even representative? Sure, ask an easy question. Some folks say that it is, some folks say that it is not. What do I say? It was probably representative then, it is probably not representative now.

Oh, we have some Threshold Limit Values (TLV’s) for some occupational stuff. But that is occupational stuff. If you are factory worker and you are working with a particular chemical that we know a great deal about NIOSH probably has an exposure limit for that particular chemical. But, TLV’s only apply in factories (i.e. “occupational exposure”); they do not apply in office buildings and certainly not in houses.

I am an order of magnitude kind of a guy and I sometimes divide the occupational numbers by “ten” when pressed for an opinion for office and residential exposure. But this is an arbitrary guess on my part. There is no health data that I have to go on. Why not divide by a “hundred”? Some folks do. Are they more “right” than me? They seem to think so. The point is that we are “making this stuff up.” All of us.

So lets say you test for some VOCs and you get a “hit.” Lets even say that it is a pretty well known VOC that has a TLV associated with it. And lets say you divide the TLV by “ten” or a “hundred” or whatever strikes your fancy and your top 40 hit is above your own particular arbitrary “action level.” Now what? Where did it come from? Isn’t that the fundamental question?

The VOC test report from the expensive lab has big words that mean absolutely nothing because you don’t know where the stuff is coming from. How helpful is that? So what is the typical recommendation from one of these reports? Increase the ventilation rate. That will reduce the concentration. Aaragghh. Dilution is not the only solution to indoor pollution. We can’t ignore the effect of ventilation rates on energy and part load humidity. We can’t just turn up the crank and ventilate like crazy. Whatever happened to “source” control?  Here is the rub. Source control only works if you know the source. Duh.

I have a completely different approach to this problem. Now there’s a surprise. In my experience contaminants are usually associated with materials breaking down. The breakdown products are typically gases and particulates that can get into the air. The most common “damage functions” are water, heat, ultra-violet radiation and ozone.6 Let’s put this information to use.

What is the hottest, wettest, most exposed to UV and ozone component of a building? The roof. Picture a sunny day in July, mid afternoon, and you are standing on a black EPDM membrane. What temperature is the membrane? Oh, 170 degrees F, give or take 10 degrees. Take a deep breath. What do you smell? The roof.  You are smelling the VOCs that are being emitted as the roof breaks down due to the damage functions previously mentioned. Now, bend down and rub your hand over the surface of the room membrane. Little pieces of it come off. When these particles get into the air with the VOCs you have more contaminants. That is why it is always a good idea to put your buildings fresh air intake up on the roof so you can suck all of these VOCs and particulates right into the building and inject them into the breathing zone of the occupied space.

How hot do walls get? Depends on the cladding and the orientation; anywhere from 100 degrees F to 130 degrees F. Let’s install a dropped ceiling return plenum that is not isolated from the exterior walls so that we can suck these wall VOCs right into the building. You get the picture. Do walls get wet? Are they exposed to UV? Same pathway.

Now, lets play with Arrhenius. Every 10 degrees C doubles the off-gassing rate. Increase humidity and UV exposure and the same happens. It’s all exponential, it’s synergistic and it’s all bad. So things that are both hot and wet are really, really bad. Add UV and ozone and someone is going to have a very bad day.

So, most indoor air quality investigations for me start with looking for the wet spot, the hot spot, the spot that sees UV and ozone and asking if the “spot” is connected to the breathing zone of the occupants with a flow path and air pressure relationship—they do not start with VOC testing.7

Let’s look at a simple example of this approach at work. A retail space had odor complaints—a jewelry store on Newbury Street in Boston (Photograph 1). If you have ever had to deal with odor complaints you know how difficult they can become. People describe smells differently and certainly imprecisely. So, off I go to Newbury Street thinking hot, wet, UV and ozone. Well, I wasn’t thinking ozone; I was thinking hot, wet and UV.

Photograph 1: Jewelry Store on Newbury Street—No odor problems in neighboring retail spaces above, below or on either side.

Ozone only becomes a consideration if the first damage functions are off the table.

Inside the space there was a very, very faint odor that seemed to be both everywhere and nowhere. It kind of smelled like body odor, but that was my description. My female co-investigator had different adjectives. The store staff had even more different descriptors. The female staff had different views from the male staff.  Typical. It was looking like it was going to be a long day. We all became adapted pretty quickly and then no one could smell anything.

It was pretty clear from looking at the space that we were not dealing with a water problem or UV. Nothing was wet, no humidity issues, no plumbing leaks and no solar aperture (no UV). This quick and dirty review took all of 15 minutes. So what is left? Hot spots.

The retail space had lots of display cabinets (Photograph 2) each with a light (Photograph 3). The individual lights generated heat—enough to warm each case compartment to about 140 degrees—a bunch of hot spots by anyone’s standard. So now I have a hypothesis. I bet the lights are generating enough heat to cause the cabinetry to smell. The cabinetry was some kind of “was-wood-once” composite with a “who-knows-what” finish.

Photograph 2: Retail Space—Long, narrow space with lots of display cabinets and lots of jewelry. Hold on to your wallet.

Photograph 3: Display Cabinets—Each cabinet “compartment” has a display light. The individual lights generate heat—enough to warm each case compartment to about 140 degrees. The working hypothesis is that the lights generate enough heat to cause the cabinetry to smell. The cabinetry is some kind of “was-wood- once” composite with a “who-knows-what” finish.

Time to test the hypothesis. Being a Canadian I never go anywhere without beer coolers and duct tape—it really is a cultural thing. This allows me to construct a portable environmental chamber in the parking lot in the rear of the store (Photograph 4). The environmental chamber has a “trouble light” inside of it to create heat. A portion of the cabinetry was disassembled in placed into the chamber and heated to around 140 degrees. This got the cabinetry to “stink.” We were able to recreate the reported odor inside the chamber (Photograph 5).

Photograph 4: Portable Site Constructed Environmental Chamber—Duct tape holds together some foam coolers containing a light bulb attached to an extension cord. Disassembled cabinetry is placed inside the chamber and heated to the operating temperature of the cabinets.

Photograph 5: Portable Human Mass Spectrometer—“Honey, does it smell in there the same as in there?” “Um, can you ignore the smell of the heated duct tape and foam cooler while you are sniffing?” Try getting a mass spectrometer to do what a human female can do: cancel out odors and describe them accurately at a parts per billion sensitivity—of course it might be easier to live with a mass spectrometer.

Now what? Source control. Getting rid of the cabinets would work but would be expensive. Rewiring the lights and replacing with LED’s would work but would also be expensive (besides, at the time, this technology was not available to us). The solution we chose was to depressurize the cabinetry relative to the retail space using an exhaust fan vented to the outside. We drilled holes in the individual display “chambers” connecting them to one another creating a single “pressure field.” Each bank of cabinets got its own fan.

We regularly store hazardous chemicals in laboratories in cabinets maintained under a negative pressure—we used the same approach here. After all, jewelry is hazardous to the pocket book.

How did we know the approach worked? The odor problems disappeared. But we never identified the specific “thing” that caused the odor. So? Who cares? The problem is gone. Well, it could have been bad stuff that caused health problems. Sheesh. How are you going to prove that? Ok, just for fun, let’s go down that road a little bit.

Let’s say that my client had this uncontrollable desire to spend more money to prove or disprove a health problem how would I have helped him in his cause? I would have sent a sample of the cabinetry to a lab and got the lab to heat the sample to drive off some VOCs and then do a mass-spec on the VOCs that were driven off. I would then collect an air sample in the retail space and do a mass-spec on the air sample. I would then compare the two spectra’s. The question to ask is a very basic one: is this the same as this? That is very different from “what is this?” I would then try to stop. What we will have done to this point is nothing more than a more expensive version of my beer cooler environmental chamber test.

Of course my client, wanting to spend more money is going to want to know the answer to “what is this?” Now what? Go to NASA and any other database available and try to find a match. Good luck. Let’s say you are now lucky and you get a match. What are the odds that NIOSH has a TLV associated with it? Hah. If so, divide by 10 or a 100 and try to find someone to say it is dangerous or not dangerous. If there is no TLV the approach also pretty much the same: try to find someone to say that it is dangerous or not dangerous. And for those of you who are still interested in playing this game: Good luck getting past Daubert.8


Joe’s Hard Lessons Learned and Short Incomplete List of Things To Do To Stay Out of Trouble


If it smells bad it is probably bad.

If it smells at all it is probably bad.

Not everything that is bad smells.

Not everything smells when you decide to smell it.

Vent combustion sources.

Don’t suck on the ground—especially if you poison the ground.

Don’t do stupid things in your building.

Construct a tight enclosure to keep bad things out and good things in.

Keep things from getting wet, hot or exposed to UV— those that do—isolate them from the occupants.

Control indoor humidity.

Don’t build your building out of stinky things.

Don’t put stinky things in your building.

If you have to have stinky things or stinky places in your building, suck on them.

Bathrooms and kitchens are stinky, so are elevator shafts and trash chutes.

Keep things clean. A messy space is an unhealthy space.

Bugs and critters like food and water. Deny them the food and water. Be cruel.

Filter for people not just for equipment.

Ventilate for people, not for the building—source control will handle the building.


  1. This is not the Six Million Dollar Man—where is Lee Majors when you need him?
  2. Hypothesis is engineering code language for “guess.”
  3. The fingerprint analogy now sucks in the CSI CSI is the current societal source of science information since Star Trek went off the air. It’s certainly not the educational system. We no longer teach anything useful in school like science or basic physics. But we do teach the kids how to feel good about themselves while they are unable to function in the modern world.
  4. According to whom? Usually whatever 40 spectra the lab has handy, or 30 or.. That really annoys me— the list is usually completely arbitrary and capricious. Now, some folks are a little bit more logical and look at the 40 VOCs that were sampled by the EPA in their BASE study a decade ago to at least look at some kind of a benchmark. That sounds pretty reasonable. Except for the next part. Who decided on the stuff the EPA tested for? Well, the best I can figure the EPA tested for stuff you would expect to find. So they looked for stuff that they expected to find and, yes, you guessed it, they found it. What about stuff that you wouldn’t expect to find? Nobody looked. With respect to air testing you have to already know what you are looking for before you find it. Because if you don’t already know, the odds of finding something useful are against you.
  5. NASA has the most comprehensive spectra data set of When they first started sealing folks in aluminum capsules on the top of rockets NASA found that stuff off-gassed from the stuff inside the space capsules and affected the ability of the astronauts to function. The astronauts got “stoned” on the VOCs. NASA tested everything that went into a space capsule for off gassing and over time developed an impressive database of “stuff.” NASA discovered “source control” before anyone else. Dilution was not the solution to indoor pollution in the vacuum of outer space. Standard 62 committees take note – sometimes it is rocket science.
  6. When we design buildings for “sensitive clients” we typically put material samples in a bell jar and put them outside in the sun for a couple of days and let the clients “sniff” them. We repeat the process with a little bit of water in the jar. If they don’t bother the client, they go in the building. Much better than trying to get anything useful from a MSDS sheet.
  7. Actually, they start with me playing the odds. In my almost three decades of doing this I typically find that 50 percent of building complaints are because the building space is too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry or way too under-ventilated. These “first” 50 percent-ers are pretty easy to check out. The next 20 percent are humidity or moisture problems. And the 15 percent after that are due to stupid maintenance or cleaning practices. So 85 percent of building complaints typically are due to comfort, under-ventilation, poor maintenance and cleaning practices, and moisture problems. None of these issues require any type of sophisticated testing or analysis to diagnose or resolve. The last 15 percent have no obvious pattern and can be a real pain to deal with. I start on the last 15 percent after I have taken the other 85 percent off the table. One of the places to start dealing with issues in the last 15 percent category is the wet spot, hot spot, the spot that see UV and ozone approach.
  8. US Supreme Court opinion, Daubert v. Merrell Dow (1993), the “junk science” test for the admissibility of “scientific evidence.”














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