For most educational institutions in the U.S., classes resume between the end of August and the middle of September. Though the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, most schools will completely return to in-person learning this fall. Providing students, faculty, and staff with a clean and safe indoor environment is imperative for increasing morale, productivity, and learning outcomes. However, after the past two years of uncertainty and labor shortages, many school administrators might find themselves scrambling to prepare their facilities for the new school year.
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is of particular concern for schools all over the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), approximately half of U.S. schools report having issues with IAQ. Heavily polluted interior air can cause and exacerbate health problems, such as coughing, sneezing, wheezing, headaches, nausea, and more. Impure air also aids in the spread of transmissible viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 (this is why air disinfection for coronavirus has become such a hot topic in recent years). In our recent blog, “Why You Should Know How Indoor Air Quality Affects Education Spaces,” we explore the many negative externalities related to poor IAQ.
Of course, knowing about the importance of IAQ is one thing – implementing an efficient strategy for improving IAQ in time for the new school year is another thing entirely. But with proper examination, careful prioritization, and expert help, you can vastly improve IAQ in your school for the benefit of all. Here’s how to coordinate education facility air quality services during the back-to-school season.
Ideally, you’ll want to take care of any and all IAQ improvements well in advance of the fall semester. With tight budgets and labor shortages, however, some of these efforts might bleed into the start of the school year. To speed up these efforts and minimize disruptions, facility managers must gain a clear picture of the building’s overall IAQ via thorough inspection. Doing so will create a roadmap, so to speak, signaling the most important tasks to accomplish, so no time is wasted.
Those who specialize in assessing IAQ will look for signs of mold and water damage, airborne contamination, CO and CO2, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), temperature and relative humidity readings, residue from pests and rodents, and more. Receiving this inspection over the summer break will reveal the optimal building maintenance protocols and IAQ adjustments, all while ensuring the education facility’s ongoing compliance with environmental regulations.
Many factors contribute to your school’s IAQ ratings, and ventilation is a big one. Ventilation refers to the flow of fresh air inside a building. Opening up windows and doors on a temperate day can keep your facility well-ventilated. However, outdoor air also features contaminants, such as pollen, mold spores, and pollutants – plus, outdoor fluctuations in temperature and humidity (which are all too common during the fall) can actually diminish your school’s IAQ when not properly controlled. In other words, you want to bring fresh air into your school, but only if it can be properly filtered for maximum purity.
High-Efficiency Particulate Absorbing (HEPA) filters are the gold standard for air filtration. These filters capture at least 99.97% of airborne particles of 0.3 microns or larger, which includes most dust, bacteria, viruses, mold spores, pollen, etc. If you want everyone in your school to breathe easier upon their return, it’s imperative to invest in HEPA filters and install them strategically.
Whereas air filters trap tiny particles before they enter a room, air purification systems destroy said contaminants. These systems can be deployed in a number of ways and locations. In-room systems can be easily moved from location to location and are ideal for smaller spaces.
Placing one of these inside a classroom and running them during the school day can significantly improve health and learning outcomes for everyone inside. Air purifiers can also be placed inside ceilings. These in-ceiling systems stay out of sight, making them less distracting than in-room systems while still trapping and killing harmful particles. Lastly, in-duct air purification systems are the most internalized of all, resting within air ducts to efficiently catch and kill viruses, bacteria, mold, and more. Proper installation and maintenance of in-duct systems improve HVAC efficiency and reduce costs, too.
Each form of air purification is better suited for specific situations, so it’s important to determine the best locations for these devices before the school year begins. This way, those in charge of facility management can easily coordinate with air purification installers to optimize IAQ in all rooms.
IAQ improvement isn’t a one-and-done project, but rather an ongoing exercise that requires careful monitoring year-round. Even if you manage to tackle all installations and repairs before the school year starts, you must continue to keep an eye on IAQ and all its aspects. High-quality IAQ monitoring devices track and analyze several key metrics, such as temperature, humidity, CO/CO2 levels, particulate matter, and more. Keeping track of this data will help you determine necessary adjustments to ventilation, filtration, and purification, as well as prioritize building cleaning efforts. By focusing on IAQ maintenance throughout the school year in this way, you’ll have less work to do during school breaks.
Managing IAQ can be a challenge in any setting, especially in schools where there are so many occupants, rooms, and deadlines. Those in charge of facility maintenance might lack the time and resources to adequately improve IAQ before school resumes or maintain IAQ throughout the year. This is where The Budd Group comes in. Our BreatheWell Program combines state-of-the-art IAQ monitoring with HVAC improvements and air filtration/purification installation where it matters most. To learn more about this program and our wide range of services, give us a call today at 800-221-8158!
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