In this ‘new world,’ the importance of improving indoor air quality in schools

As schools respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for safe and clean spaces is increasing.
By: | September 16, 2021
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Mike Wolf is the Director of Industry/Regulatory Relations at Greenheck.

Mike Wolf is the Director of Industry/Regulatory Relations at Greenheck.

While students across the country head back to school after nearly a year and a half at home, COVID-19 and the delta variant continue to be a health risk to in-person learning at schools and universities.

The time is now for education facilities to look at their HVAC systems. As most school-aged children will be among the last to get vaccinated, a strong and reliable ventilation system capable of providing safe clean air to classrooms will be a key component in preventing the spread of the virus.

Beyond the current threat of COVID-19, a properly designed and maintained ventilation system will remove VOCs, CO2, and pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. Classrooms, labs, auditoriums, and gymnasiums each have their own ventilation needs due to differences in use and occupancy. The environment our children learn and work in affects performance, both physically and mentally, which is why safe, healthy air is critical.

The federal government has recently appropriated over $190 billion taxpayer dollars (ESSER funds) among all 50 states to improve school facilities over the next several years, and additional funds may be available through the infrastructure bill being finalized by the senate and congress. Parents and school officials will need to engage in a conversation to ensure funds are invested toward improving classroom indoor air quality for our children.

Many education facilities today have HVAC systems in place that can be adjusted to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Some may need to be retrofitted while others may need entirely new equipment. The end goal is to have properly installed and operating HVAC systems that bring in safe, clean air from the outside.

As we move into the 2021-2022 school year, proper ventilation is a key strategy for maintaining safe, healthy, collaborative, in-person learning environments.

Revamping a school’s HVAC system will not happen overnight. Schools and university administrators must prioritize creating safe, healthy indoor environments by installing air products and systems that increase ventilation (exhaust used air and bring in clean, outside air), and maintain relative humidity levels between 40% and 60%, and filters with a rating of MERV 13 or higher. Educational facilities can also implement additive technologies endorsed by the CDC or American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ Epidemic Task Force to help mitigate the spread of airborne diseases.


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While educators and students will still need to follow CDC guidance and practice proper preventative measures, air products and systems will be key in creating safe learning environments – ones where our children can thrive. Proper ventilation, coupled with other preventive measures, can help reduce the likelihood of spreading COVID-19. Wearing a mask and maintaining good ventilation can help keep virus particles from entering the air, reduce the number of airborne virus particles and ultimately create safe, healthy air environments for all.

Over the next few years, schools and universities will need to properly budget and allocate funds to the redesign and retrofit of buildings and facilities. Administrators will be looking for technologies that are both energy and cost efficient, especially as schools have differentiated economic needs.

Patience will be important; we now live in an ever-evolving world. It will take time for schools and universities to implement all the necessary changes and protocols to their learning environments. It will be important that administrators continually evaluate current public health data and community conditions to ensure safe, healthy air for all inhabitants.

Mike Wolf, P.E. is the Director of Industry/Regulatory Relations at Greenheck, a manufacturer of air movement, control and conditioning equipment based in Schofield, WI. He is a professional engineer and ASHRAE member with 35 years of experience in the ventilation industry. The author can be contacted at mike.wolf@greenheck.com.

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