The pandemic brought to light all of the air quality deficiencies in the educational systems. According to statistics from the U.S. General Accountability Office, at least one-third of that population has heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that need to be replaced. And if we fail to do so, we will continue to compromise the health of all the people who live in those spaces.
Poor air quality is not only conducive to the spread of the virus indoors, but it can also cause other symptoms such as asthma, fatigue, irritation, or headache.
So, what can we do about this problem? Here are four new strategies that all school leaders should follow:
1: Installing sensors to actively monitor IAQ factors
IAQ sensors monitor particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOC), CO2, temperature and humidity. Studies indicate that ideal indoor relative humidity should range from 40% to 60% to help reduce the spread of airborne pathogens. Depending on the season, the temperature should range from 68.5 to 80.5 degrees Fahrenheit (cooler in the winter, warmer in the summer).
2: Placing portable HEPA air purifiers in high-traffic areas.
HEPA filter air purifiers capture particles as small as 0.3 microns, providing a practical and economical option for schools. Using them helps eliminate the need for infrastructure retrofits, as they operate independently of HVAC systems. They are highly functional in buildings lacking ventilation or heating systems.
3: Maximizing ventilation of occupied rooms
Recent research found that the incidence of COVID-19 was 35% lower in schools that improved ventilation by opening windows or doors or using fans, and even lower when those tactics were used in combination with mechanical filtration. Building managers can improve ventilation by starting HVAC operations before the earliest staff arrives and keeping it on after the last occupants go to bed. Fresh air intake should be increased as much as possible.
4: Using analytics to dynamically adjust IAQ.
Occupancy levels in schools often fluctuate in classrooms and common areas. Sensors and video analytics can help track and manage occupancy and adjust IAQ parameters dynamically based on how many people occupy a particular space at any given time. Advanced video analytics also help manage compliance with social distancing and masking guidelines.
Indoor air quality and energy efficiency can coexist
Just as building managers and owners seek to improve IAQ, many buildings may operate under the assumption that they will inevitably increase energy consumption even more in the long run. The proof of this is that commercial buildings consume more than 36% of the world's energy output, and produce at least 40% of CO2. However, air quality experts argue that reforming indoor air quality and meeting energy efficiency targets can be achieved simultaneously.
“There is a misconception that upgrades and retrofits like these are expensive and disruptive to occupants, and that’s simply not true,” said Wright. “Dynamic ventilation, for example, can be achieved in a building without a significant amount of mechanical change and depending upon building conditions could potentially create double-digit energy savings.”