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School IAQ
(Photo: Adobe Stock / nellas)
By Jacob Feldman 

According to the CDC, nearly 60 million school days are lost annually due to the cold and flu season. These respiratory infections are highly contagious, and crowded school settings and poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can facilitate their rapid spread. The absenteeism caused by these infections affects students’ academic performance, leading to gaps in education and creating challenges for teachers trying to maintain a consistent curriculum.

Cleaning and disinfecting are part of a broad approach to preventing infectious diseases in schools, but school administrators need to consider the effect of poor IAQ also while mitigating the transmission of viruses in schools.

Clean air in schools is not only essential for addressing respiratory concerns, but also has broader benefits for overall health and learning. The American Lung Association emphasizes that healthier indoor air can benefit both students and staff. A clean and well-ventilated environment supports cognitive function, concentration and the general well-being of everyone in the school community.

Improving School IAQ With Proper Ventilation

Improving school IAQ is crucial in reducing the risk of exposure to infectious diseases, which can spread through airborne particles and aerosols. Implementing IAQ enhancements, along with other preventative strategies, contributes to a healthier environment for students by minimizing exposure to contaminants.

Research indicates that proper ventilation is a key preventative strategy for combating the spread of viruses in indoor settings while ensuring healthy IAQ in classrooms.

To optimize school IAQ, several key measures can be implemented in building ventilation systems. School HVAC systems should at least be able to deliver an outdoor air ventilation rate in accordance with the latest ASHRAE standards for classrooms, which translates to approximately five to 10 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of outdoor air per person.

Schools can also improve ventilation by setting the HVAC system fan to the “on” position rather than on “auto.” This will operate the fan continuously, even when heating or air conditioning is not required.

There are various methods through which existing HVAC systems can be upgraded to improve indoor air quality. Systems can be retrofitted with air economizers, heat and energy recovery ventilation, demand-controlled ventilation, and building automation systems.

Retrofitting is a more cost-efficient option compared to complete replacement for enhancing the efficiency and functionality of an HVAC system.

Filtering Pathogens

HVAC filters are engineered to remove pollutants or contaminants from the air as it circulates through them. Their function helps reduce airborne contaminants, including particles carrying viruses. For filters to effectively eliminate viruses from the air, they must have the capability to filter small airborne particles. ASHRAE suggests using MERV 13 filters for larger facilities.

For added protection and if compatible, upgrading the HVAC system with Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization will assist greatly in eliminating particulates from the air. It works in conjunction with filters and releases a dense concentration of positive and negative ions through the ventilation system, which attach to pathogens, increasing their size for easier filtration.

Upgrade Inefficient HVAC Equipment

Upgrading to more efficient HVAC systems may be the better solution for improving IAQ to avoid the chronic illness and absenteeism that occurs during cold and flu season. Single-room units offer several advantages over traditional rooftop HVAC systems in a school setting.

Single-room unit HVAC systems typically incorporate advanced air filtration and purification technologies which are highly effective at removing airborne contaminants, including viruses and bacteria. By continuously filtering and purifying the air within each room, these systems help to minimize the spread of illnesses and allergens.

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The installation and maintenance of single-room HVAC units are often simpler and more cost-effective than rooftop systems, making them a practical choice for schools looking to upgrade their HVAC infrastructure.

Classrooms are often packed with children, so if space is a concern, installing units designed with a small footprint would provide the least disruption. 

Improved School IAQ Increases Student Health And Safety

As K-12 schools navigate the challenges of providing a safe and conducive learning environment, the need for improved IAQ should not be undervalued. HVAC systems outfitted with precision ventilation and high-efficiency filtration form the foundation for combating cold and flu season and promoting overall well-being. The nationwide statistics on student illness and absenteeism underscore the urgency of prioritizing IAQ in educational settings.

Jacob Feldman is vice president and general manager for the IAQ division of Modine Manufacturing Company. Modine is a global company headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin, with operations in North America, South America, Europe and Asia.

Facility Executive Magazine