Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air HVAC system in a school building

There is concern with COVID-19 and a desire to do everything practical to keep occupants safe. Current building codes were not developed, nor older buildings designed with the filtration and technologies recommended to minimize airborne viruses. In some cases, building HVAC systems may not be operating as effectively as they were designed because of mechanical issues with the existing systems.

Performance Services has placed great importance and focus on delivering optimal learning and working environments over the past 23 years. This is more important now due to infectious disease concerns. PSI has designed and delivered air quality solutions in hundreds of schools and municipal buildings, so we are well-positioned to assist in this time of need.

In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic and concerns over aerosol transmission, now is the time to assess the IAQ of your buildings. Please see our updated Recommendations for Improving HVAC Systems to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19 for guidelines and recommendations on how to promote a healthy indoor environment.

What is Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to the quality of the air found within buildings as it relates to the health and comfort of a building's occupants. It is a strong measure of the overall health of a building and essential to ensuring building occupants remain, safe, healthy, productive, and happy.

Causes of IAQ Problems

The primary contributor to poor IAQ is indoor pollution sources that release particles into the air. Poor ventilation, inefficient outside air systems, high temperatures, and high humidity levels are just a few examples that can compound this effect by not helping to dilute the indoor pollution with proper levels of outdoor air.

Many known factors can contribute to indoor environment issues, including these pollutants identified by the EPA

  • Fuel-burning combustion appliances
  • Tobacco products
  • Building materials and furnishings as diverse as deteriorated asbestos-containing insulation, newly installed flooring, upholstery or carpet, cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products
  • Products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies
  • Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices
  • Excess moisture
  • Outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides, outdoor air pollution

Additionally, there are many HVAC and building systems issues that can contribute to a poor indoor environment. These include:

  • Air ventilation
  • Air filtration
  • Outside air exchange
  • Humidity
  • Temperature
  • HVAC maintenance and controls

These factors are not contingent upon the active use of a building. It is critical to monitor IAQ levels for both occupied and unoccupied buildings. For example, buildings that are not in use but remain in constant occupied mode may result in high humidity and mold issues. For more information about HVAC recommendations for unoccupied buildings, check out our HVAC System Recommendations Checklist for Unoccupied Spaces.

Call to action button linking to an indoor air quality assessment request form

Effects of IAQ in Schools

There has been much past research conducted about air quality in schools and its impact on student’s health and performance in the classroom. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently researched and published the article, Schools for Health, about the connection among a variety of environmental factors that impact student health and cognitive performance. They looked at thermal comfort, IAQ, lighting, noise, and internal design elements and how they contribute to an optimal learning environment.

In addition, the variety of research conducted in recent years has discovered the following about the impact of school buildings on student health and performance:

  • An increase of 50-370% of respiratory illness in spaces with low ventilation rates (Lawrence Berkeley Labs, 2016)
  • Faster and more accurate responses to a cognitive function test at high ventilation rates (Bako-Biro, 2012)
  • Schools with balanced mechanical ventilation had lower CO2 concentrations and significantly higher test scores than schools with only natural ventilation (Toftum et al., 2015)

Measuring Indoor Air Quality

Conducting regular building walk-through assessments can help with identifying any potential pollutants that may be affecting building occupants. Assessing and rating the following locations can help identify issues that need mitigating: ground level, roof, attic, general conditions (temperature, humidity, etc.), plumbing, maintenance supplies, and combustion appliances. 

To assist schools with this process, we've compiled a checklist: 4 Steps to Maintaining Indoor Air Quality in Schools that includes actionable tips and recommendations.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

According to the EPA, there are three basic strategies for improvement:

  1. Source Control: Often the most effective method, this involves eliminating the individual sources of poor IAQ to reduce their emissions within buildings.
  2. Improved Ventilation: This requires lowering the concentration of pollutants by increasing the amount of outdoor air that is circulating within buildings.
  3. Air Cleaners: Air cleaners are designed to collect indoor air pollutants and filter them out.

After assessing your buildings, it's important to create an action plan to address any issues. 

In light of COVID-19 concerns and the changing environment and our expertise with creating optimal environments, we've compiled best practices for indoor air quality in school buildings, to help schools adapt their HVAC system operations to protect employees, students, and staff by improving building ventilation.

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Contact us for an onsite, no-obligation assessment. With over 20 years of experience creating optimal environments, we have the expertise to propose customized solutions for improving your HVAC systems. We provide turnkey design, installation, and verification services to ensure your operational goals are met.