By Jason Gillis
Indoor air quality (IAQ) has dominated the news cycle for the past two years due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. Developing clean air inside schools became a top priority due to the airborne nature of COVID and other pathogens. While providing clean air is still pivotal, one area that has been overlooked is the importance of indoor environmental quality (IEQ).
For K-12 schools, IEQ plays a key role in the experience of both students and faculty, alike.
The primary goal of any school is to create an environment that promotes a healthy learning environment for students and an enjoyable workspace for employees. To reach these goals, IEQ should be a focal point for facility managers.
Mechanical HVAC units can help enhance IEQ within a school by focusing on two major factors: IAQ and noise reduction. The air students and faculty breathe contribute heavily to the environmental quality due to the need for clean, comfortable air. Noise contributes to the students’ ability to concentrate in a learning environment.
It is critical for facility managers and school leaders to create a strategy that promotes positive IEQ using HVAC solutions as the catalyst.
Reduce HVAC Noise
Imagine being a student right in the middle of a major test. You’re trying to concentrate on a tough question only to be distracted by a loud HVAC unit. This does not promote a comfortable learning atmosphere. Therefore, having the proper HVAC solution to help reduce noise is important to IEQ. To find the right solution to reduce HVAC noise, facility managers need to understand what affects sound within a classroom.
There are two main areas of focus when understanding how noise will affect a particular space: sound pressure and sound power. Sound pressure is the force of sound on a surface area and is predicated on the characteristics of the room. Sound power is the energy of sound per unit of time and is dependent on the sound source alone. With sound power, the construction of the room and the location of installation are less important. Understanding these two areas can help school leaders determine the proper location and HVAC solution for the school.
In addition to selecting the proper HVAC system, there are also upgrades that can be added to an existing unit to help reduce noise. Upgrading to an improved acoustic insulation with a barrier can help decrease noise, while a redesigned acoustic plenum will reduce noise by up to 7db.
Enhance Air Quality
While IAQ has been an important topic regarding the COVID pandemic, it is also a major factor in IEQ. Poor air quality can be detrimental to IEQ for both students and faculty. Mechanical HVAC units are best suited to improve IAQ for K-12 schools. These units have the capabilities to create fresh clean air while also enhancing comfort for students. There are three main areas pertaining to IAQ: ventilation, filtration, and dehumidification. Addressing each one of these areas will provide students and faculty with the air they need.
Bringing clean outdoor air into a facility is a must. HVAC units allow facility managers to control ventilation and determine how much outdoor air is pushed into an interior space. It is important to determine how much outside air is best for the interior space. While fresh, clean air is being pulled inside, the HVAC unit is also pushing old, contaminated air outdoors.
While bringing in fresh air is vital, filtering out pathogens within that air is just as important. This can be done by utilizing the proper MERV filters for your unit. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommends using MERV 13 filters for most applications, if compatible with the unit. This allows for more particulates to be filtered out of the air. Other options that can be added to HVAC systems to increase filtration include UV lights and needlepoint bipolar ionization solutions.
Humidity within a space plays a vital role in IAQ and IEQ as well. If relative humidity levels are too high or too low, the air can be uncomfortable to breathe for occupants. In addition, relative humidity can also contribute to the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew. The relative humidity inside a space should stay between 40% and 60% to ensure satisfaction from students and faculty.
Mechanical HVAC equipment can be the catalyst for improving IEQ inside a K-12 facility. When it is time for students to learn, creating a space that sustains and promotes a positive, healthy environment is paramount. Enhancing IAQ and reducing HVAC noise throughout the building will go a long way in developing positive IEQ. With fresh air to breathe and a quiet atmosphere to learn in, facility managers will be helping both students and faculty succeed inside the classroom and throughout the building.
Gillis is a regional sales manager at Modine Manufacturing Company. Having been with the company for over 18 years, he once served as its sales engineer. Modine specializes in thermal management systems and components, bringing highly engineered heating and cooling components, original equipment products, and systems to diversified global markets through its four complimentary segments: CIS; BHVAC; HDE; and Automotive.