When aiming for LEED certification with commercial building projects, ensuring good indoor air quality for building occupants is always a high priority. It’s important to employ an effective ventilation strategy and use mold- and moisture-resistant building products with low volatile organic compound content. Though this lays a strong foundation for good IAQ, VOCs can be emitted into interior air over time by a variety of sources that occupants bring into their office space, such as furniture, carpeting and some cleaners and air fresheners. This was a concern of real estate investment and development firm Gerding Edlen as it prepared to remodel a historic warehouse in the gentrifying Pearl District of Portland, Ore., to LEED Platinum specifications.

Built in 1927, the four-story, 184,000 square-foot concrete warehouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and was owned by Oregon department store chain Meier & Frank for several years before Gerding Edlen bought it in 2006. Remodeling, however, didn’t begin until a tenant was found in 2010.

Portland-based architectural firm GBD Architects then redesigned the warehouse to convert it into an up-to-date LEED Platinum office building. Under LEED Platinum specifications, it was imperative that the building provide optimal IAQ after completion. Other sustainable features installed throughout the building include a photovoltaic roof that can supply about 12.5 percent of the building’s energy, a 186,000-gallon cistern that will harvest rainwater for use in toilets and landscaping, LED lighting and plenty of natural light brought in through skylights and new windows.

“We are a very green company, and on the LEED projects we pursue, the goal is to be VOC-free,” says Paul Kisling,

“We are a very green company, and on the LEED projects we pursue, the goal is to be VOC-free,” says Paul Kisling, senior project manager for Gerding Edlen’s Portland branch. “Most of today’s furniture, carpet and building product manufacturers have significantly lowered the VOC content of their products, but it’s still there. And, with the chemicals found in some cleaners and air fresheners, there’s always going to be potential for exposure.”

Gerding Edlen found its solution for air quality using AirRenew gypsum board, a product that absorbs VOCs, such as formaldehyde and other aldehydes, from indoor air. Once captured, the VOCs are converted into inert compounds that safely remain within the board. Adding further IAQ benefits, the product is also engineered to provide enhanced protection against moisture and mold. And, it is manufactured with up to 99 percent total recycled content. With these performance features, it can contribute to LEED credits in a few different areas and can still be installed and finished like standard gypsum board.

“We thought it would be a good product to use, since you never know how many VOCs are going to find their way into a building after it’s completed. It’s somewhat of an insurance policy against VOCs,” Kisling says.

Once the retrofit design and specifications were complete, Gerding Edlen hired the Portland branch of Skanska USA as general contractor for the core and shell of the building. Howard S. Wright Construction Co., of Portland, was later chosen as general contractor of the interior build-out portion of the project. Skanska USA and its team gutted the interior of the building, updated it to current building code requirements, added insulation and installed new energy-efficient windows. The showpieces of the project, however, were the addition of a large atrium with two skylights cut from the center of the building and a fifth floor with a 23,000 square-foot, wood-frame penthouse. The fifth floor utilized 11,800 square feet of moisture-resistant GlasRoc Exterior Sheathing, which diligently protected the interior finishes from Portland’s often wet weather.

“We made sure to get the moisture-resistant exterior sheathing for the weather protection it offered,” says Ryan Richards, project manager for Skanska USA. “We’d had to remove part of the roof early in the project for the atrium, so with frequent rains, water intrusion was a constant problem for us. The moisture-proof sheathing allowed us to keep the interior dry enough to get the gypsum board installed and eliminated concerns about mold problems.”

Skanska hired Fred Shearer & Sons Inc., of Beaverton, Ore., one of the longest-running wall and ceiling contractors in the Northwest, for interior wall installation throughout the building. Working with a crew of eight to 12, the contractor installed 168,500 square feet of AirRenew throughout the walls of the building shell and core, 23,000 square feet of shaftliner in the elevator shafts and 5,500 square feet of moisture-proof Diamondback Tilebacker in the restrooms and employee locker rooms.”

Richards was also impressed with the VOC-scavenging gypsum board.

“Everything went well with the AirRenew board,” he says. “The product arrived on time and Fred Shearer & Sons were able to install it quickly. I’m looking forward to getting the carpet installed so we can see how well this board performs.”

Crews from Skanska USA and Howard S. Wright are currently putting finishing touches on the building, which is expected to be completed in April. Gerding Edlen has been very pleased with the project’s results so far and its adherence to safe operations.

“Everything has run on-time and on-budget, and everyone has been very safety-conscious, which is important because the tenant stressed the need for on-the-job safety,” Kisling says. “Fortunately, Skanska USA is a good partner in regard to safety procedures, and we have not had any lost time incidents on this job.”

Skanska USA has been pleased with the hard work of its construction team and the excellent teamwork between subcontractors.

“Logistically, it was a challenging project but everybody checked in and worked very well with each other,” Richards says. “Good communication helped the job to run a lot more smoothly. It’s been a good project for everybody, and it’s been a pleasure working with Gerding Edlen.”

“I think everybody’s happy with the results of the project so far,” Kisling adds. “That building had been vacant for some time, so it was one property that everyone in the neighborhood was happy to see being redeveloped. It’s going to be a beautiful building and a nice addition to the neighborhood.”