Why Six Air Exchanges Are Not Enough To Protect Students Against COVID-19
Learn why schools should consider progressive HVAC infrastructure and proactive air quality technologies.
With students spending between 19-30 hours per week in the classroom interacting with one another, creating a safe environment with clean, purified air is crucial to their health and wellness.
Schools across the U.S. have been making adjustments to achieve the new standards laid out in the recent Clean Air in Buildings Challenge introduced by the Biden administration. But, despite the readily available resources and technology, many schools have not made the necessary upgrades to their infrastructure to improve air quality or have done so in the most efficient way.
The issue is often due in part to budgetary constraints, while many schools are trying to meet the minimum recommendations but are not using available technology options effectively. The current recommendations, in combination with budget constraints, make meeting the recommended standards not unattainable.
Instead of using established approaches or adapting current technology, schools will benefit from looking at new technology that will allow them to achieve better results while saving money and reducing carbon emissions.
The answer is to think beyond the minimum requirements and instead give the problem a creative, innovative approach. With the right solutions, we can achieve the level of air purification needed for a safe learning environment while at the same time reducing energy costs and setting students up for a better future.
Are Six Air Changes Per Hour Really Sufficient?
"Air changes per hour" or ACPH is the number of times within an hour that the total air volume within a room or space is completely replaced. The air change rate can be used as a rule of thumb within ventilation design, but this metric is not often used as an official basis of design or calculation. While the CDC doesn't issue specific guidance on air changes per hour, many states have recommendations ranging between two and six air changes per hour.
According to this data from the CDC, if your classroom had six air exchanges per hour, it would take approximately 46 minutes to remove 99% of airborne contaminants from the air of an empty room. Since the CDC has also advised that it only takes 15 minutes of exposure to contract the coronavirus, it's clear that six air exchanges per hour are not going to be enough.
To achieve Covid-19 viral mitigation control at the recommended standard of the CDC, you would need at least 20 air exchanges per hour. Twenty air exchanges per hour are not feasible with the HVAC systems currently in place at your school.
To protect staff and students from the virus, we need to consider the technology best suited to this goal. Air changes per hour can be a helpful metric to pay attention to, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
Other measurements to improve air quality will better serve the goal of limiting the spread of infections and are more financially practical within our school environments.
Switching To MERV 13 Makes Electricity Usage Skyrocket
Many schools have been told to upgrade the air filters within their existing HVAC systems to meet these air quality standards.
Air filters are ranked according to their Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). This describes how effectively the filter captures aerosols, such as the ones that transmit the COVID-19 virus. The higher the MERV rating on the filter, the smaller the aerosols it will trap within it.
Most schools currently operate with a MERV 8 filter and have been encouraged to upgrade to a MERV 13 filter, which will capture more particles. But, upgrading the filter might end up downgrading the entire system overall.
Switching to a MERV 13 filter can increase energy costs by as much as 30-50%.
It is much harder for air to flow through a MERV 13 filter because the filter is dense. This additional level of filtration places extra strain on the fan and can reduce airflow, requiring the system to work much more harder and consume more energy.
There are also several other problems that can arise from using filters that are too thick. For example, you might find that it takes longer to achieve the desired temperature or humidity within the building. You might even find that there is a potential reduction in outdoor air exchange due to the reduced airflow or even pressure drops throughout your system.
With funding for education already strained and many schools struggling to meet expenses, your school's last need is an inflated energy bill. So, whether you're constructing a new school or using ESSR funds to improve air quality within an existing school, switching from a MERV 8 to a MERV 13 filter might be a very costly (and counterproductive) move.
The Impact on Net-Zero Carbon Goals
Improving air quality aims to achieve a healthy and safe learning environment and reduce the infection rate. But this doesn't need to be done at such a considerable expense for school budgets and the environment.
As discussed above, upgrading from a MERV 8 to a MERV 13 filter is not only an inefficient way to solve the air quality issue but will also result in significantly higher energy costs.
If your school (like many others throughout the country) is working towards a net-zero energy goal, this will be the opposite of what you want.
Having a net-zero school is not just good for the budget. It will also benefit your community in meaningful ways. When a school district reduces its energy costs, that means more money becomes available to devote to the education of the future generation. Plus, the school itself sets an inspiring example for students and gives them a chance to learn about clean energy solutions.
In fact, one day, schools that are built efficiently have the potential to produce even more energy than they use. This would allow them to profit from the clean energy they generate, which would boost the educational institution's financial stability and help protect the planet.
How will we get there? Relying on traditional HVAC technology won't cut it. In order to create healthy, thriving learning environments with net-zero energy design, we will need to think outside the box and use cutting-edge technology.
Seek More Progressive HVAC Designs
It's time for schools to demand that their architectural firms and designers be more progressive when it comes to their HVAC designs. It is possible to achieve a high level of air quality in a way that is affordable and allows schools to reach net-zero carbon targets. But it won't be achieved by doing things the way we've always done them.
The old technologies currently being used are not only less effective at purifying the air, they cost more and result in more environmental damage.
Why Spend More When You Can Do It Better For Less?
People should start looking at other technologies to complement their legacy HVAC systems and air technologies to improve their indoor air quality. HVAC systems were never meant to be viral mitigation tools, and the recommended solution is insufficient for creating safe indoor air quality.
The good news is that progressive technologies already exist that will purify the air to a high standard while saving money and reducing excessive energy usage. From UV Light to Bipolar Ionization to ActivePure Technology, there are many alternatives to standard filtration that can help make your air cleaner.
The leading progressive air purification technology is ActivePure Technology. ActivePure can proactively reduce aerosols in the air by creating oxidizing molecules that eliminate viruses, bacteria, odors, and volatile organic compounds on surfaces and in the air. ActivePure is proven to reduce up to 99.99% of pathogens, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
ActivePure is not passive air filtration. Therefore, its effectiveness doesn't depend on air circulation, filter efficiency, or air changes per hour. Instead, it actively attacks the contaminants on a molecular level and delivers a measurable improvement in air quality in as little as three minutes.
ActivePure induct units are available, which can be installed directly into commercial HVAC systems. There are no fans and no moving parts, so they are safe and quiet and require minimal cleaning or maintenance.
With a proactive air quality technology such as ActivePure, schools will be able to better sanitize the air while using less electricity and saving money. These long-term benefits go well beyond COVID-19 protection, as these innovations will make school buildings safer, healthier, and more sustainable for an entire generation of students and staff.
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