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Improving Indoor Air Quality in Schools

Schoolchildren need a safe and healthy learning environment to succeed. Every school day, roughly 48 million kids go to school for 7-9 hours. That’s a lot of learning and plenty of time indoors close to teachers, staff, and other students. That exposure means air quality in schools needs to be a priority.

Changes to air quality guidelines for schools, plus increased awareness about the impact of indoor air quality on student success, show that school officials are learning an important lesson.

Air Quality in School Buildings Is a Cause for Concern 

Federal organizations like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide air quality guidance for schools. Both bodies recognize the unique challenges of protecting students and staff.

  • Funding – School budgets across the country are stretched thin. With a per-pupil budget of $13,494 in 2020, it’s difficult for individual buildings or districts to upgrade or replace HVAC equipment. Funding for these types of improvements usually comes from local, state, or federal grants or by passing a local millage.
  • Proximity – Even top-notch HVAC systems are hard-pressed to deliver clean, comfortable air due to tightly packed classrooms. The average class has four times as many occupants as the average office building, putting tremendous pressure on ventilation systems in schools to cycle in clean air.
  • Aging equipment – The average US school building is 42 years old and may rely on a mix of original and updated HVAC equipment. It’s not just the HVAC, either. School buildings are more likely to deteriorate, raising concerns about volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in paint, carpet, and furniture.
  • Location – Schools located near industrial, manufacturing, or other sources of air pollution are at greater risk of poor indoor air quality.

What Are the Causes of Air Pollution in Schools? 

Every school faces unique air quality concerns due to environmental factors. Schools built near industrial centers or on property formerly used for industrial or manufacturing purposes face higher risks. Other location-based issues include exposure to automotive exhaust fumes from busy roads or nearby freeways, seasonal wildfire smoke, and seasonal allergies.

Schools share common issues, too, including airborne viruses. While COVID-19 provided a sense of urgency around improving indoor air quality in schools and public spaces, there is substantial evidence that efficient ventilation lowers the prevalence of flu, asthma, and absenteeism. The research also shows improved reading and math scores.

Related: What Factors Affect Indoor Air Quality at Home?

How to Improve Air Quality in Schools 

Led by the EPA, indoor air quality for schools is getting increased awareness and much-needed financial support. The agency’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Action Kit includes guidance and information that facility managers can use to improve indoor air quality and energy efficiency at the same time.

Some of the recommendations include low-cost but effective ways to improve air quality by:

  • Increasing ventilation with open windows.
  • Monitoring local pollution levels.
  • Replacing air filters on a shorter schedule.
  • Using fans to increase airflow.
  • Monitor sick days and absenteeism to anticipate the spread of illness.

That may not be enough for most schools, however. A 2020 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that most US school buildings rely on out-of-date or broken HVAC systems. Deferred maintenance or replacement exacts a toll on students.

The good news is that federal funding may positively impact the years ahead, with the millions of dollars that were made available in the American Rescue Plan.

Breathing Safely at School (and Home) 

Between days at school and evenings at home, kids spend most of their time indoors. You can make small changes to improve your home’s indoor air quality with friendly, professional assistance from One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning.

We can identify effective ways to improve your home’s indoor air quality, so your family feels better and breathes easier! Book online or call (800) 893-3523 today!

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