Preparing Your District: The ABCs of Optimizing Indoor Air Quality
As a school administrator, you are already well aware there are no easy answers regarding the best way to re-open schools. While there is heavy focus on the importance of masking and surface cleaning, even more important is addressing your schools’ indoor air quality (IAQ) to meet appropriate and ever-evolving guidelines.
Why this matters : Your re-opening preparations should include ensuring your heating, cooling and ventilation (HVAC) system is working the way it is designed to perform. The system needs to address comfort, safety and efficiency.
It is important to realize the transmission and mitigation of COVID-19 in buildings has not yet been tested and confirmed, and there are still many unknowns about the spread of the coronavirus. Based on recent research, as well as guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), HVAC systems can help with overall IAQ by filtering air, improving ventilation, and managing airflows. Read more about airborne transmission findings.
Taking a three-pronged approach to optimizing your schools’ IAQ can help provide comfort to teachers, staff and parents, and build confidence in your schools’ re-opening. This approach includes:
· Aligning with guidelines from leading experts
· Optimizing building IAQ based on data-driven assessments
· Collaborating with experienced partners who have proven expertise in enhancing building IAQ
Aligning with Health and Industry Expert Guidelines
When optimizing your school’s environment, you can ensure your approach is on track by following guidelines provided by ASHRAE® (formerly the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers). Note that ASHRAE aligns its guidelines with those issued by the CDC.
For background, ASHRAE is a global industry society advancing HVAC systems research and education for buildings systems, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, refrigeration and sustainability for more than 100 years.
Data-driven Path to Optimizing Building IAQ
While the pandemic is shining the spotlight on IAQ, studies have shown that addressing IAQ concerns has long been of major importance in schools as well as other built environments. Previous research found nearly half of the nation’s school buildings reported problems [i] related to IAQ.
ASHRAE’s current HVAC-related recommendations, designed to optimize building environments, generally focus on the following four key areas of addressing IAQ:
1. Dilute: Proper ventilation ensures that plenty of fresh, outdoor air comes into the building to dilute the buildup of indoor contaminants and help reduce the total volume of particles in the air. Adjusting building ventilation is one tool that can inﬂuence IAQ.
2. Exhaust: Getting exhaust air out eﬃciently is equally important—especially air from kitchens, restrooms and combustion systems
3. Contain: Maintaining indoor humidity levels within the ASHRAE-recommended range maximizes the comfort of building occupants and reduces the risk of microbial growth
4. Clean: Of increasing concern is the HVAC system’s ability to reduce microorganisms, such as mold, bacteria and viruses. While filters are one cleaning technology that are often used in both commercial buildings and homes, they are not the only option. Additionally, cleaning technologies should be approached as part of a holistic plan to address IAQ needs now and long-term — rather than as an “ideal-solution widget.”
Undertaking an IAQ assessment on your building will address the four key areas above and help identify and prioritize the most critical updates using a fact-based, data-driven analysis of your building’s air quality.
The assessment should provide you with the following:
· A report of documented findings with strategic recommendations to improve overall IAQ
· Guidance on system updates or improvements to address critical issues
· Options for turn-key implementation of recommendations with Documented results once complete
Collaborating with Experienced Partners
During this time of rapid change, it can be tempting to rush to a solution. Gain third-party credibility by collaborating with an expert who uses a holistic approach to optimizing IAQ. They can help direct your efforts and ensure that you complete your project on time and on budget.
Here are key capabilities to look for in selecting your partner:
Responsive to you – you need a consultant now; look for a ready-now expert.
Responsive to the changing environment – your consulting team should stay abreast of the quickly moving research, news and options so you do not have to. Are they watching for any updates on ASHRAE guidelines? Can they help you filter out less-than-credible news?
Experienced and knowledgeable – while the world is focused on IAQ for a “moment” so to speak, find an industry-leading organization that has focused on it for a significant period of time and can take a holistic approach to the current challenges.
Helps solve funding issue – although you understand how critical it is to optimize the school environment, you also need to find a way to pay for any improvements. Look for a partner who can help you identify financing solutions to get it done –– so that you can focus on the job at hand.
Enhances credibility with key stakeholders – look for a consulting team who can help you address concerns with parents, teachers and staff that you have a process in place to prepare for building re-entry.
By taking a strategic, thoughtful approach to the IAQ improvement process, you can pave the way for a re-entry that addresses the concerns of your learning community.
As a long-standing educational partner with 30 years of IAQ experience and focused expertise, Hunton Services is ready now to assist you with reopening campaigns. Click here or call 713-643-8336 as a first step to finding a solution for your educational facility.
[i] United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2014 National Center for Education Study