Improving Indoor Air Quality in Schools

The global health pandemic has left many of us feeling scared, anxious, and maybe even a little frustrated. Between remembering your own and your children’s face masks every time you leave the house to stocking up on hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes, parents are running to keep up with safety protocols and health guidelines. While it may seem exhausting at times, keeping ourselves and our families safe has never been so important. 

The Dangers of an Airborne Virus

It goes without saying that an airborne virus is dangerous, but what is it about these types of viruses that causes so much devastation? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the principal method of COVID-19 transmissions is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying the virus. The droplets are created by breathing, speaking, sneezing, coughing, and even singing. Larger droplets fall out of the air within seconds, whereas smaller droplets and particles can remain suspended in the air for many minutes, up to hours in some cases. These droplets can also travel far from the initial source through air currents, making person-to-person virus transmission a serious concern. 

The Return to In-Person Learning

Near the beginning of the 2021 year, the Biden administration set its sights on returning to in-person schooling across the USA. While some might be nervous about in-person learning, this return to school doesn’t come without strict public health precautions. In-person learning can be done safely, but safety measures and precautions both within the school and throughout the community must be in place to ensure students, teachers, and families are protected. At the center of healthy schools is effective and efficient air ventilation. 

What is Meant by Air Ventilation

Put simply, air ventilation refers to the process where clean air is introduced into a space. The clean air that enters is either mixed in with the already present air or is used to displace the air in the space. There are a few definitions that will be helpful to better understanding air ventilation in the context of classrooms. The first is ‘ventilation rate’. Ventilation rate refers to the number of air changes per hour, or ACPH. A higher rate means better ventilation. When it comes to air filters, you will notice the term ‘MERV’. MERV means the minimum efficiency reporting value. An air filter’s MERV rating indicates how effective the filter is and the higher the number value, the more efficient the air filter. To put the numbers in perspective, most hospitals use filters with a MERV rating of 13-16. 

Increasing Air Ventilation in Classrooms

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) provides air ventilation standards across America. In response to COVID-19, ASHRAE has comprised a document of recommendations to reduce airborne infectious aerosol exposure. In addition to following all public health guidelines (such as physical distancing and wearing masks), the ASHRAE further recommends all air filters and air cleaners achieve MERV 13 or better levels for air recirculated by HVAC system. This ensures all the air recirculated through the HVAC system is adequately filtered, greatly reducing the risk of airborne transmission.

In addition to physical distancing and the use of face coverings or masks, researchers are recommending increased air ventilation be a crucial step in preparing schools to operate safely. Prior to the global health pandemic, the recommended ventilation rate for a 1,000 square foot classroom with a 10 foot ceiling housing 35 people was 500 cubic feet per minute of outside air. This comes out to 13 cubic feet per minute per person. With COVID-19, many experts are recommending the most effective way to maintain a safe indoor environment is by reducing occupancy. Not only does this make physical distancing easier, but it also increases the amount of outside air provided per person. If you cut down the occupancy of a room to half, you are creating an environment where each person receives double the outside air. 

Keeping Schools Safe through HVAC Installation and Maintenance 

When it comes to maintaining HVAC systems, the ASHRAE has more recommendations on that front. Maintaining temperature and humidity design set points and equivalent clean air supply for design occupancy are two of the big recommendations for keeping buildings safe. In addition to these recommendations, it is also important for schools to make HVAC maintenance a priority. Without proper inspections and maintenance, an HVAC system can quickly lose its effectiveness. 

Ensuring every school has clean and well-filtered air is crucial to protecting families from COVID-19 transmission. No family should have to worry every time their children leave for school each morning. At AirTek, we understand the importance of air quality. We have been industry leaders in commercial air quality solutions for 24 years, completing over 95,000 duct cleaning projects throughout California. We have extensive experience servicing schools and campuses through complete air duct cleaning, HVAC cleaning, and more. From air ducts to coils, our team of trained and certified professionals are here to make sure your school is well-equipped to safely house students, teachers, and staff. 

Click here to learn more. 

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