Improving Indoor Air Quality In Your School District

Air changes, ventilation, and air purifiers are building blocks for improving air quality schools during COVID-19.

School has resumed despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, school districts need to improve air filtration in schools and implement COVID prevention measures, like increasing indoor ventilation to keep kids safe. Even before the COVID pandemic started, school districts began spending increasingly more money on improving air quality in their buildings. Air purifiers and improved air filtration can help achieve improved indoor air quality (IAQ). This article will help school districts better understand common air quality concerns and provide tips for IAQ improvements in your school district.

The Need for Improving Air Quality in Schools

Throughout the United States, air quality concerns are prevalent and synonymous amongst school districts of all sizes. With aging buildings and inadequate HVAC infrastructure, poor air quality contributes to the degradation of these learning environments. According to a national survey conducted in 2014 by The National Center for Educations Statistics, the average school building in the U.S. was built in 1959. The survey also noted that nearly one-fourth of these schools have at least one building that was in need of extensive repair or replacement. About half reported problems related to indoor air quality. This suggests that many school children are going to school in dated buildings, many of which were not properly maintained and contain insufficient ventilation systems. 

For school-aged children and older staff, poor air quality can have severe short and long-term health problems. Thereby, making the necessary indoor air quality improvements can help transform these aging facilities into healthy learning environments. Not only is the right action to take to ensure the safety of your school district's community. But it will also help alleviate the potential liability issues presented when viral outbreaks occur and shutdowns and imminent.

Indoor Air Quality and Air Exchanges Per Hour in Schools

To properly understand what is necessary for improving air quality in schools, it's essential to know exactly what indoor air quality is and how it's measured. Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a primary measure of how clean the air is. Building management must monitor indoor air quality to provide safe environments for workers, occupants, and students. Several metrics are associated with IAQ, including how indoor air is exchanged with outdoor air, also known as air exchanges per hour or ACH. 

ASHRAE and the EPA found that most residential homes should have an ACH "of 0.35 air changes per hour but not less than 15 cubic feet of air per minute (cfm) per person," but it should be 4 for industrial or commercial settings. This is most likely because these settings typically have more occupants, machines, and potential hazards present. 

Classrooms should have an even higher ACH. According to Atlantic Environmental Incorporated, classrooms should have a minimum of 6 ACH up to 20 ACH. However, recommendations would likely be on the higher side to protect against contaminants like SARS-CoV-2 particles, the virus that causes COVID-19, being present. Unfortunately, most schools are only at 2 ACH. School districts should be looking at these measures to improve air quality in schools, classroom settings, and school design during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Air Purifier Tips for Better Air in Schools

Luckily some tips can be easily implemented for improving air quality in schools. You can also follow along with the EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit.

#1: Perform an Air Quality, ACH, and HVAC Assessment

First, you want to begin by testing air quality, ACH, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. This will tell you how well your current system is performing so that you can better tackle poor IAQ. 

Using a unit ventilator or central air, test the outdoor ventilation system with a barometer and CO2 monitor. You'll need a capture hood for the barometer to capture the airflow. Measure the outside air flow rate (in CFM) coming into the building through the external air grille. Then do the same inside the classroom. You'll come to a percentage of outdoor air coming in using the following formula:

% outdoor air = outdoor airflow coming in, measured outdoors / total airflow coming in, measured inside the room

With this number, you can calculate ACH:

ACH = outdoor air flow coming in (ft3 per minute) * 60 (minutes per hour) classroom volume (ft3)

Once you better understand the current IAQ and ACH in your existing school buildings, you can set target goals. Begin by measuring your classroom dimension. Portable air purifiers will provide coverage by ACH and CFM, so measure cubic feet and square feet of the space so that you better understand how much coverage you need. With your classroom dimensions, you can set an appropriate target ventilation rate (ACH and CFM) and begin to make up for any deficits present. 

#2 Supplement Problem Areas With Air Purifiers

Air purifiers can be immediately implemented to provide swift action against mounting issues, including the spread of COVID-19. This form of air purifier can be used on its own, or it can supplement HVAC improvements. Most portable air purifiers offered through Sanalife can be used in any size space. These systems provide multiple stages of air filtration with both active and passive forms of air purifiers.

School Cafeteria COVID-19 Transmission

#3 Update Ventilation in Classrooms That Do Not Meet Target ACH

There are short- and long-term ways to improve ventilation in the classrooms that do not meet the ideal ACH. However, what is implemented will depend on the cost, long- and short-term changes in your school district, and how quickly it can / needs to be implemented. For example, school officials were told that the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads quickly in still air and that by opening a window, classrooms could increase ventilation significantly. 

But, opening a window is not always a workable, long-term solution. If you run schools on the west coast, students will be continually subjected to poor air quality and environmental conditions because of wildfires in the region. On the east coast, windows can not be opened due to winter weather conditions. Therefore, school officials need to consider alternate options like adding air purifier systems in each classroom and then updating the HVAC system as a long-term solution. 

Upgrading your HVAC induct with ActivePure is the best way to capitalize on increased ventilation and air purifiers. You should also ensure that your HVAC filter is MERV-13 or higher and is being regularly tested to ensure it is a high-efficiency filter.

Actions School Officials Can Take

The good news is that solutions exist for schools and school districts to quickly and cost-effectively achieve 4-6 ACH in classrooms. To maximize your budget and future-proof your school, look for permanent, long-term air cleaning solutions that will not only mitigate the COVID-19 risks today but have the staying power to reduce the risk of airborne viruses in your schools for years to come.

School officials need to arm themselves with knowledge about IAQ to prepare them better to help students by improving air quality in schools. With schools opening up during the COVID pandemic, school officials need to consider reallocating part of their budget to improve IAQ through air purifiers and improved ventilation systems. Money for these improvements can come from government grants to help offset the costs. 

Furthermore, school officials should promote district-wide IAQ management programs so that every school is getting access to the tools for improved IAQ. Provide all schools with IAQ resources that support the policies or plans being implemented. Read the School Official's IAQ Backgrounder and review the School Official's Checklist for more information. For your air purifier needs, contact Sanalife right away.

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