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Insights from an expert: IEQ and back to school

August 11, 2021

Q. What are your key observations about IEQ & schools in 2020?
A. While the pandemic and the need to address it took all of us by surprise, schools were hit especially hard with little or no preparation or planning in place.

Focused on getting students back in school, many leaders are only now coming to understand the important role that indoor environmental quality (IEQ) plays in building wellness. IEQ addresses the quality of conditions inside a building; air quality, lighting, thermal conditions, acoustics, ergonomics/architecture — and their effects on occupants.

Unfortunately, rather than taking a methodical approach to assessing what their school buildings need to improve IEQ, we see many schools reactively buying products as they hit the market.

Q. What were you most surprised about?
A. Schools did a great job of pivoting and moving to distance learning and adjusting as the situation changed. Yet, from the start, I was generally surprised by the lack of emergency-preparedness planning at all levels. It was alarming how, in a crisis, districts had to quickly shut down multi-million-dollar facilities and were forced to render them useless throughout the pandemic. Moving forward, it will be good to see school leaders develop specific plans for re-opening in a crisis given the huge taxpayer investment that schools represent.

Q. Where do you see the biggest opportunity for improvements come fall 2021?A. I see the biggest opportunity for school improvements in improving air quality and overall building wellness for the long-term.

Q. What can schools start doing today to prepare for the upcoming school year?A. Schools can start making facilities and the spaces occupied by students a greater priority moving forward. They must prioritize the environment that students are in for extended hours and plan for the short- and long-term.

They need to employ safety protocols and, as mentioned earlier, draft plans for future disasters/acts of God like this. They need a solid understanding of how to control and maintain facilities to help make them safer for occupants.

Q. What trends do you see for K12 in this upcoming school year?
A. I see the need for schools to take a methodical approach to solutions. They need to start by assessing the needs of their K-12 schools – ideally working with an energy service company partner - and then selecting solutions that meet those needs. They need to employ due diligence or work with someone who does, researching and learning about the value and effectiveness of proposed solutions before purchasing them. 

I also see that they need to educate themselves on the key role that heating, ventilation and maintenance (HVAC) systems play in building wellness so that moving forward, they can give these systems the priority and ongoing maintenance they deserve.

Eric Sturm

About the author
Eric Sturm, Lead Applications Engineer

Eric joined Trane in 2006 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Platteville with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. Prior to joining the applications engineering team, he worked in the Customer Direct Services (C.D.S.) department as a marketing engineer and product manager for the TRACE™ 700 load design and energy simulation application. As a C.D.S. marketing engineer he supported and trained customers globally.

In his current role as an applications engineer, Eric’s areas of expertise include acoustics, airside systems, indoor agriculture, and indoor air quality. He is currently involved with ASHRAE as a representative on Members Council and member of the indoor agriculture and sound and vibration technical committees. Eric is the recipient of the ASHRAE Distinguished Service Award and Young Engineers in ASHRAE Award of Individual Excellence.