Every year, schools and families prepare to batten down the hatches for the impending cold and flu season. In the past 10 months, this has been compounded by COVID-19, raising additional concern and presenting a new set of challenges when it comes to keeping school staff and students healthy.
While there are many safety factors to consider, creating and maintaining a clean indoor environment is essential for schools offering some level of in-person learning. As a national provider of support services, including custodial and campus services, operations and maintenance, and grounds management, our teams at SSC Service Solutions have first-hand experience tackling these problems and have key learnings to help inform best practices for schools looking to improve and maintain indoor air quality.
Ensure current systems are operating properly.
At the surface this may seem like a no-brainer, but it is important to take time to ensure your school’s air and safety systems are operating correctly and efficiently. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has an informational list of steps that can help provide guidance and ensure proper top air quality standards. These include:
- Increase outdoor air ventilation
- Disable demand controlled ventilation within the building
- Open minimal outdoor air dampers
- Improve central air filtration to MERV-13
- Keep systems running over more hours
- Consider portable air cleaners with HEPA filters for rooms
- Consider UVGI (ultraviolet germicidal irradiation)
By following these recommendations, school administrations can identify what is and isn’t working with current indoor air quality strategies before committing to an upgrade. Regularly evaluating systems helps find inefficiencies and blind spots that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Be mindful of cost
With district budgets already feeling the sting from COVID-19, deciding where to invest in indoor air quality can be a challenge. In Iowa, school districts reported spending a combined $26 million on unexpected COVID-19 related expenses, including new technology, PPE and cleaning supplies. This does not leave room for the expenses associated with installing new air systems within a school district.
If a school does decide to commit to an upgrade, they will get the added comfort of knowing they are making an investment that benefits the long and short term health of their school’s indoor environment. Alongside the proper PPE and sanitization, this upgrade can create an impactful one-two punch against viruses. The benefits of these upgrades can also extend far beyond indoor air quality. As an example, SSC recently installed 137 HVAC units between two schools in South Carolina that not only maintain air quality, but also generate $18,500 in energy savings annually. This makes for substantial savings for a school over time, while also reducing its energy footprint.
Consider lower-cost solutions
Installing new HVAC units may not be a feasible option for every school. Considering other alternatives that increase safety while keeping costs lower may make more sense for some. One such technology to consider is Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization (NPBI).
This method uses electrodes made from carbon fiber to emit positive and negative ions from the HVAC system air flow. These ions then cling to tiny unfiltered particles in the air, rendering them ineffective. In a June 2020 study by Innovative Bioanalysis, this method saw a 99.4% kill rate of the SARS-Cov-2 virus after 30 minutes of exposure. NPBI is compact and can be installed into classroom air-conditioning units, with little disruption and no maintenance required.
As schools face the growing challenge of keeping staff and students safe, indoor air quality remains a building block for any safety strategy. Investments in this area not only combat COVID-19, but also provide a safety net for future viruses down the line. As technology progresses, and we learn more about COVID-19, SSC and others will continue to find effective and realistic ways to help our partners improve indoor air quality and maintain a healthier indoor environment for all.
David Payne is Vice President of Facilities Systems & Support for SSC. Paul Tisch is Regional Director of Operations – Maintenance for SSC at Texas A&M University.
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