Operating Safe and Healthy School Buildings During COVID-19

August 3, 2020
operating-safe-and-healthy-school-buildings-during-covid

We know schools are adapting HVAC system operations to protect the health and safety of their employees, staff, and students. The following is meant to provide helpful guidelines to school district facility managers, administrators, and maintenance technicians for operating HVAC systems to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

School facility HVAC systems vary widely in complexity, flexibility, age, and condition. Therefore, any improvements or modifications to equipment, systems, or operations must be thoroughly analyzed by a qualified professional to ensure they do not negatively impact the building environment. We recognize every school district is different. It may not be practical to implement some or all the recommendations, so school officials should consider cost, benefit, energy usage impact, and maintenance, etc. when evaluating each recommendation.

ventilation icon Ventilation Recommendation

Action 1: Disable Demand Control Ventilation(1)

Action 2: Increase outdoor air ventilation rates as much as possible to maximize dilution of the return air stream(1,2)
Investigate existing equipment functionality and capacities to identify the maximum amounts allowable to ensure temperature, humidity and building pressurization problems do not develop.

Action 3: Install localized exhaust systems for source control in high risk areas. Examples of high-risk areas include a nurse’s clinic or Special Needs Classroom(3)
This will require design engineering along with a potential for significant costs.  It may not be a viable option for many buildings.

1. ASHRAE Guidance for Building Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic (3/24/2020)
2. CDC - Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to COVID-19 (3/21/2020)
3. ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols (4/14/2020)

filtration icon Filtration Recommendation

Action 1: Change filters and clean coils, drain pans and the interior of air handling units according to manufacture’s instructions(1)
Utilize proper PPE.

Action 2: Install filters with increased efficiencies and enhanced particle filtration capability to the greatest extent possible, considering the limitation of the existing air handling equipment(2)
Investigate the capability of the existing air handling equipment to accept deeper filters along with the fan capacities to accommodate the increased static pressures.

Action 3: Install portable, free-standing high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters with integral fans (portable room air cleaners) in high risk areas(2)

Action 4: Seal edges of filter racks(3)
Consult the filter rack manufacturer’s recommendations for acceptable materials and methods to employ.

1. ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force - Checklist for School IAQ Operations (4/15/2020)
2. ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols (4/14/2020)
3. ASHRAE Guidance for Building Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic (3/24/2020)

 Bipolar Ionization Statement

Action 1: ASHRAE consulted with the CDC which provided the following statement regarding Bipolar Ionization:
"Relative to many other air cleaning or disinfection technologies, needlepoint bi-polar ionization has a less-documented track record in regard to cleaning/disinfecting large and fast volumes of moving air within heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. This is not to imply that the technology doesn’t work as advertised, only that in the absence of an established body of evidence reflecting proven efficacy under as-used conditions, the technology is still considered by many to be an 'emerging technology.' As with all emerging technologies, consumers are encouraged to exercise caution."(1)

If you have questions regarding bipolar ionization and its use as an emerging technology, please contact us.

1. ASHRAE Guidance for Building Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic (8/20/2020)

uv icon UVGI Statement

Action 1: While UV light (specifically UV-C) has been well studied in infection reduction, no definitive science is available regarding its effect on COVID-19(1)
Air cleaners such as UV-C disinfection devices may be considered to supplement ventilation and filtration. Technologies and specific equipment should be carefully evaluated to ensure they will effectively clean space air. Additionally, safety and maintenance issues must be addressed.

1. ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols (4/14/2020)

temperature icon Temperature Recommendation

Action 1: Maintain standard comfort conditions during occupied periods and standard setback/setup unoccupied space temperatures(1)

1. ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force - Checklist for School IAQ Operations (4/15/2020)

humidity icon Humidity Recommendation

Action 1: Maintain space relative humidity (RH) between 40% to 60%. Scientific literature generally reflects the most unfavorable survival for microorganisms when the RH is between 40% to 60%(1)
Consider the addition of humidification equipment only when reviewed by a design professional to verify minimum RH setpoints will not adversely impact building or occupants by contributing to condensation and possible biological growth.

1. ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols (4/14/2020)

controls icon Controls Recommendation

Action 1: Keep systems running longer hours to enhance the effects of increased ventilation and filtration(1)
Investigation is required to ensure that this measure will not cause relative humidity problems.

1. ASHRAE Guidance for Building Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic (3/24/2020)

Need help with your indoor air quality and not sure where to start?

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.


If you are a current customer of Performance Services, please login to the Customer Portal to report any issues or concerns.


Information and recommendations regarding COVID-19 are continually evolving, as are the science, technology, and procedures for combating the virus. Performance Services will take reasonable efforts to make recommendations consistent with accepted industry, scientific and/or governmental standards in place at the time of such recommendations. However, Performance Services disclaims any and all liability with respect to COVID-19, including, but not limited to, damages, costs and/or expenses related to any exposure to, contraction and/or spread of the virus.

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