Indoor air quality (IAQ) has continued to be a concern for many indoor spaces like homes, office buildings, shopping malls, and gymnasiums. Yet, the group with the largest challenges when it comes to improving air quality continues to be schools.
Primary, secondary, and university level classrooms and buildings are all impacted because poor indoor air can directly affect health, performance, and even absenteeism in students, faculty, and staff.
What are the effects of poor Indoor Air Quality?
With high CO2 levels in any indoor space, pollutants can often combine to cause negative personal health affects such as:
- Sick Building Syndrome
And, while managing indoor air quality in schools itself presents some unique challenges, several organizations have started to put standards in place to improve the health of occupants. Not to mention, even the most recent National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan encompasses, you guessed it, indoor air quality improvement.
How common is poor indoor air quality in schools?
While exact statistics are not known, The National Center for Education Statistics states, "There are almost 99,000 public K-12 school systems in the United States that hold poor air-conditioning systems or lack the needed ventilation to put their occupants in a "good" indoor air quality state".
With over 48 million children, faculty, and staff also attending these schools each year, indoor air quality (IAQ) guidelines and programs have never been more important. To date, over 50% of U.S. school buildings currently have reported issues pertaining to air quality and ventilation.
As more and more studies have continued to show the negative effects of poor indoor air quality, CO2Meter has put together the latest tools, standards, and programs to help guide our customers towards improving the air they and their children breathe.
For school buildings, universities, and educational facilities - below are the most recent standards and guidelines for schools to improve their indoor air quality:
What is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health?
Some of the very first standards as they surround indoor air quality (IAQ) were developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or "NIOSH" agency. This agency was created from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and is responsible for studying and creating recommendations for the prevention of injury and illness.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has developed a series of safety checklists for schools, including an indoor air quality self-inspection checklist. The program and checklists include detailed guidance documents, including checklists for inspections, maintenance, ventilation, and new school building renovations.
NIOSH Indoor Air Quality School Guidelines:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality index
One of the most searched resources for universities and schools is the "EPA Healthy Schools" tools and programs. The EPA is an independent agency of the United States federal government and generally encompasses environmental or jurisdictional air quality requirements.
The EPA is often looked to by schools and universities because it has an air quality index (AQI) resource available at AirNow.gov, that can be used for schools to properly access the indoor air, air filtration levels, and ensure optimal air quality for students.
EPA Indoor Air Quality Resources:
- Creating Healthy Indoor Environments in Schools
- School Advanced Ventilation Engineering Software (SAVES). Free software package for architects, engineers, and school officials to determine what type of ventilation equipment is best for both health and energy efficiency; the software also has financial assessment and indoor humidity modules.
ASHRAE School Indoor Air Quality Requirements
ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers, is a global professional society that sets standards for building performance. Of its standards it places high emphasis on educational buildings and ventilation requirements to improve indoor air quality for students, faculty, and staff.
In its requirements ASHARE states, "Classrooms should have a minimum ventilation rate of 15 cubic feet per minute per person". The Building Energy Efficiency Standard, also known as Title 24, has the same requirement for universities as well.
In addition to minimum ventilation rates, ASHRAE also recommends that school staff take the following actions to improve indoor air quality and ventilation:
1. Periodically test and adjust school HVAC equipment.
2. Ensure that building control systems and thermostats are programmed to operate ventilation fans one hour before school starts and continuously during the school day.
3. When possible, use filters with a minimum efficiency rating value, or MERV, of 13 or greater to remove small particles from the air. (Change filters every 3-4 months).
4. Install CO2 monitors in classrooms to continuously monitor CO2 levels and detect potential ventilation problems.
5. If needed, supplement filtration with portable air cleaners.
National Clean Air in Buildings Challenge
Of the many indoor air quality requirements and standards for university air monitoring, most recent, is the National Clean Air in Buildings Challenge. This challenge is a key component of the president's plan for both building owners and universities to improve their air quality - while reducing the spread of COVID-19.
This recent challenge was created in order to stress awareness for building owners and school officials to make air filtration improvements to help keep students and occupants safe. Because poor air quality can lead to several negative health effects such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, lack of focus, and respiratory ailments - the goal is to reduce the transfer of airborne particulates and improve healthier well-being.
The guide in collaboration with the Department of Energy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies - contains a specific set of requirements across four major groups:
- Create a clean indoor air action plan that assesses indoor air quality, plans for upgrades and improvements, and includes HVAC inspections and maintenance.
- Optimize fresh air ventilation by bringing in and circulating clean outdoor air indoors.
- Enhance air filtration and cleaning using the central HVAC system and in-room air cleaning and monitoring devices.
- Engage the building community by communicating with building occupants to increase awareness, commitment, and participation.
Additionally, beyond schools and universities, the Administration also plans to stress the importance of improved air quality in other indoor spaces as well such as restaurants, community buildings, shopping malls, and more. They plan to advance these additional areas for improving indoor air quality by:
- Supporting state and local governments school districts to make ventilation improvements and upgrades using American Rescue Plan (ARP) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds. ($122 billion for school systems)
- Building public awareness around ventilation and filtration improvements to reduce disease spread in buildings. The Administration will launch efforts to explain what good ventilation and air filtration look like as an important component of helping to reduce disease spread, and how buildings of any kind can pursue improvements to their ventilation and air filtration strategies.
- Highlighting actions taken by buildings to achieve clean, healthy air quality through a recognition program. While the Administration invites all buildings to take actions from the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, the Administration will also foster ways to recognize steps taken by buildings to improve indoor air quality and protect their communities.
State School Indoor Air Quality Standards and Guidelines
While there are many individual programs, requirements, and tools surrounding improved indoor air in schools particular standards have been set in place by specific state and local jurisdictions as well. Whether or not your state or locality have begun to put specific standards in place, we recognize that it will not be long before the majority of the states are following other set standards, and below, are specific examples of states where programs have started for indoor air quality (IAQ) guidelines.
- California: California Submittal Requirements for Schools
- Most recently CO2Meter's Aranet4 PRO Indoor Air Quality Monitor, was included in the AB-841 Grant for California K-12 schools to be installed in the schools in order to ensure a healthier environment and atmosphere while mitigating the potential for airborne illnesses
- Massachusetts: Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Response Protocol
- Pennsylvania: Penn State Indoor Air Quality Requirements
- South Carolina: Indoor Air Quality University Requirements
- Washington: School Indoor Air Quality Best Practice Manual
How to Improve your Indoor Air Quality?
While air pollution in schools can be linked to may sources (indoor/outdoor pollutants, poor air filtration, poor air flow, improper ventilation, temperature, carbon dioxide, or carbon monoxide) there are a number of ways in which you can improve the air. For starters, being able to monitor the indoor space whether it be a conference room, meeting hall, classroom, or lunch area - is vital. Accurate and repeatable measurements are an important tool as they can contain critical information on how airflow and air movement is being circulated.
For instance, with the use of an indoor air quality device such as the CO2, Temp, and RH Indoor Air Quality Monitor or Aranet4 Pro Indoor Air Quality Monitor you can gain fast, accurate, and simple measurements detailing the attributes of the air - in order to establish a baseline, know when to ventilate the space, and make improvements for your students.
Fortunately, the team at CO2Meter has long been recognized for their accurate and long-lasting technologies and superior service surrounding indoor air quality devices. Our team would be more than happy to discuss how to select the right indoor air quality (IAQ) device for your indoor space and ensure you have what you need to improve the air around you.
By understanding the essential elements of creating a safe and potential airborne illness free space, you will be on the right path to helping students perform greater and breathe cleaner.