4 Steps to Maintaining Indoor Air Quality in Schools
September 2020 UPDATE: We have updated our Best Practices for Indoor Air Quality in School Buildings in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please see that resource for the most updated information about healthy school buildings.
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is an important factor of an indoor environment, particularly in school buildings. Students spend most of their awake time inside school buildings, so it's essential to monitor and maintain IAQ at schools. In fact, according to recent research from Harvard University, IAQ has a direct impact on students' ability to learn and can affect absenteeism, student health, and student and staff productivity. Failure to maintain indoor air quality can result in:
- Increased asthma and other respiratory health issues for students
- Headaches and inability for students to focus
- Allergic reactions to dust and indoor pollutants
- Mold and mildew growth
- Increase in absenteeism related to asthma and other respiratory health problems
- Decreased productivity of students and staff
- Reduce efficiency of a building's energy equipment
Students can succeed only if they are learning in an optimal environment, one with excellent IAQ. Luckily, there are a few easy steps you can take today to improve your school's IAQ and make it easier to accomplish a school's mission: student success!
1. Measure the IAQ at Your School
It's important to understand what the current IAQ at your school is by scheduling regular walk-through assessments. These assessments should look at the following areas in your building and rate them according to how well they are maintained. Issues can then be identified and resolved.
- Ground level
- General conditions (temperature, humidity, etc.)
- Bathrooms and plumbing
- Maintenance supplies
- Combustion appliances
Feeling a little overwhelmed at all the possible issues that could arise? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has multiple resources dedicated to assessing and managing IAQ in schools. One of the most useful tools they offer is the School IAQ Assessment Mobile App. You can download the app at the Apple iTunes App Store or the Google Play Store.
Additionally, they offer an IAQ for Schools Action Kit that is designed specifically for IAQ coordinators at school and district levels. The kit has information on IAQ, how to develop an IAQ management plan, and how to resolve most IAQ issues with minimal cost.
2. Create an Action Plan
After you've assessed your IAQ, create a plan to address each IAQ issue you identified during your walkthrough. Some of these issues may be simple fixes while others can be more involved. Below are simple, quick ways to increase IAQ:
- Eliminate common air pollutants in classrooms such as pets, couches and cushions, and scented air fresheners and candles
- Use Green Seal Certified cleaning products
- Eliminate aquariums and water features impacting humidity levels
- Check unit ventilators for blocked air discharge and return dampers
- Replace dirty air filters
- Eliminate dust and dirt with regular cleaning and maintenance
Other times, it may be necessary to bring in a professional to address more serious IAQ issues such as:
- Major plumbing clogs, leaks, and stagnation issues
- Inefficient and outdated energy equipment and appliances
- Leaky or old roofs
- Inefficient and ineffective energy control systems
- Inadequate ventilation
- Pest invasion
- Building envelope issues such as inefficient windows and poor drainage
- Dangerous mold or mildew
- Poor lighting levels
- Poor humidity control
- Poor temperature control
Issues in any one of these areas can create problems for students and staff. This can even lead to staff taking measures into their own hands. For example, teachers and staff may use scented fragrances to cover up the smell of mold in a classroom. However, both the mold and the fragrance can negatively impact students' ability to learn. Therefore, bring in IAQ professionals to address major issues and assist your school in an action plan that fits your timeline and budget.
3. Understand Your Options for IAQ Improvement Projects
Once you’ve identified an IAQ Action Plan, you must understand what resources you need to involve in order to put your plan into place. Maybe you didn’t identify any major IAQ issues and just need to send a district-wide communication to staff to eliminate asthma triggers in the classroom. However, major IAQ issues will require a partnership with a professional firm and require School Board approval for spending. If that’s the case, you need to know what types of projects are best for improving IAQ.
If indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency are your goals, consider an energy savings performance contract with an optimal learning environment guarantee. This will ensure that an improved learning environment does not come at the cost of increased energy consumption. Energy savings performance contracts (or guaranteed energy savings contracts) are a contractual agreement between a qualified provider and public entity to reduce the energy and operating costs of a building through the implementation of energy conservation measures.
If your energy systems are up to date and you aren’t in need of renovations, but your IAQ is still suffering, consider an energy leadership program. Energy leadership programs are behavior-based programs designed to impact energy-related behavior to increase energy-efficiency and sustainability.
Before you present your plan to the School Board, do some research on which firm will offer the best value solution. Remember, improvements to the learning environment should never come at the expense of increased energy consumption. Performance Services’ goal is to design solutions for schools that guarantee both energy efficiency and an optimal learning environment. We also follow strict optimal learning environment standards for schools, addressing all indoor air quality issues.
4. Implement IAQ Action Plan and Measure Results
Once you’ve finalized your plan, it’s time to implement it! Whether you’re doing it yourself or partnering with a firm, be sure to track each improvement implemented. Once the project is over, reassess your IAQ to see if it made a difference. If you’re partnering with an energy services company to implement your plan, be sure they track each improvement and provide value through real measurement and verification of your energy savings and IAQ.
Ensuring optimal indoor air quality in schools is an essential role of school leaders as it directly impacts student health and performance. If you have further questions about this article or want a free IAQ assessment for your school, fill out the form below and a representative from our company will be in touch soon! 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.