Indoor Air Quality in Schools

Indoor Air Quality in Schools

While Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) has been around for some time, the pandemic really began to raise concerns about emergency preparedness, testing the role of facility management services in keeping buildings safe for students and best practices moving forward.

“It used to be that temperature and humidity were our biggest concerns,” said Pete Cantone, Pandemic Solutions, LLC. “But we’re now becoming more and more aware of the impact of viruses, airborne pathogens, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and contaminants on a submicron level, which speaks volumes about what we have to do ensure a facility’s indoor air quality.”

Cantone explained that a lot of learning has been going on over the last couple of years regarding indoor air quality.

“First off, you can't improve anything if you don't know what is happening. The first step is getting an understanding of what the air looks like by conducting testing for a wide range of data,” he said.

Cantone explained that facility management teams play an important role in indoor air quality management by performing preventative maintenance on HVAC systems, cleaning air ducts, and upgrading filters – making sure the basic stuff is done first.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), failure to prevent or respond promptly to IAQ problems can increase long- and short-term health effects for students and staff, such as:

  • Coughing
  • Eye irritation
  • Headaches
  • Allergic reactions
  • Aggravate asthma and/or other respiratory illness.
  • In rare cases, contribute to life-threatening conditions such as Legionnaire’s disease or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Cantone has observed that in many schools, control of humidity and ventilation can be challenging in aging buildings. Cantone noted that schools should consider the use of central HVAC systems, portable air purifiers, and unit ventilators – depending on budget and labor availability. He said that the number of air changes per hour is an important factor in supporting indoor air quality. He suggested checking with ASHRAE for standards and best practices in school facilities management.

“Upgrades should be sustainable for the long-haul. Simply opening windows does not necessarily solve the problem, although oxygen-producing plants can have some benefit,” said Cantone.

In the higher education facility environment, Byron Woods, College of the Sequoias, is taking serious measures to work on fresh air intake and filtration at his campus.

Woods explained that all buildings at College of the Sequoias receive a minimum of 15% fresh outside air. Nearly all AC units feature economizers, allowing the facilities staff to manually control the volume of outside air being introduced to the space. The economizers are designed to allow the unit to supply 100% of outside air when the outside temperature is below the inside set points. This translates to both energy and cost savings, as well as an increased amount of fresh cool air in campus buildings.

Regarding filtration, all campus HVAC systems feature air purifying equipment designed to kill any viruses, bacteria, or mold. Woods and his team are also using UV Lighting with chiller system. All AC package units feature iWave technology (bionic ionizers), which were installed in 2019. This is the same concept as UV lighting, but lasts much longer, according to Woods.

New controls were installed to allow their energy management system to monitor operations and alert their staff when the unit stops functioning.

All HVAC equipment has standard media filtration that is replaced by their staff on a quarterly basis.

“College of the Sequoias is leading most institutional organizations in California’s Central Valley when it comes to HVAC technology and indoor air quality. This could not be achieved without the proactive efforts of our maintenance staff,” said Woods.

For more information about College of the Sequoias and how their facility management team is looking at adopting to pandemic-driven conditions on campus, read Facility Voices.

We’re planning to tackle other facility management topics and would love to hear your suggestions about subjects you’d like to see addressed.  Send your story ideas to

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