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Insights from an expert: IEQ and back to school

July 27, 2021

Q. What are your key observations about IEQ & schools in 2020/2021?
A. I think many schools realized that their systems, particularly mechanical and HVAC systems, were not capable of handling the CDC- and ASHRAE-recommended modifications during the pandemic, such as increasing outdoor air. Especially in the Northeast, systems are not built to handle 100 percent outdoor air in the dead of winter. Therefore, it made schools consider more holistic and creative ways of preparing their classrooms for teachers and students, such as air cleaners or better controls strategies.

Overall, I think schools and communities are much more aware of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) than they ever were before, and I believe it will be a constant conversation moving forward.

Q. What were you most surprised about (include examples)? 
A. I was most surprised by how quickly communities engaged in the conversation about indoor air quality (IAQ). I would never have anticipated so many school committee members or teachers quoting ASHRAE standards or discussing different MERV filter levels. I’ve been very impressed by the dedication of the community to learn and adapt to that conversation.

It’s exciting to hear that people are starting to focus on and listen to the effects of the indoor air that we breathe in every day, as it’s a message that our industry has been preaching for years.

Studies show that people will retain more information and learn better when there is fresh and clean air in a space. These studies also indicate they will likelier be healthier with less spread of the common cold or flu.

I look forward to continuing these IAQ conversations with community members, facility directors, superintendents and anyone else who is interested.

Q. Where do you see the biggest opportunity for improvements come fall 2021?
A. As we enter into the 21/22 school year, I foresee the biggest opportunity will be major infrastructure upgrades to schools. Upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to better handle ventilation efficiently and effectively is a huge opportunity, especially with the most recent ESSER III funding release.

Two of the allowable uses of the ARP ESSER Funds – which can be used until 2024 - are:

  • repairing and improving school facilities to reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards
  • improving indoor air quality

The funding timeline gives schools ample time to plan and prepare to make these upgrades and allocate those funds towards long-term upgrades that will positively affect their schools for the next 20-25 years.

Q. What can schools start doing today to prepare for the upcoming school year? 
A. I would encourage schools to keep up to date on the newest CDC and ASHRAE recommendations for opening schools and to prepare for opening by completing the necessary equipment and system specific checks before the academic year begins. This means following HVAC equipment specifications for ventilation, upgrading filters to a higher MERV rating/checking filters (and planning for filter replacements), flushing spaces with fresh air in between occupied periods, maintenance on boilers and more.

Sometimes equipment can stay stagnant over the summertime, so there should be an additional focus on making sure equipment is operating properly, according to its intended design, when it’s started back up for the new school year.

In addition to the appropriate startup procedures, working with a Trane partner can help you identify how to keep temperature and humidity within the recommended ranges for your school..

You can achieve this by adding an advanced control system that intelligently helps your systems work together to keep you comfortable, safe and healthy. If you are able to upgrade your controls, you will directly impact IEQ in your spaces and help your building prepare for the new school year.

Q. What trends do you see for K12 in this upcoming school year?
A. Looking ahead, I foresee more ongoing conversations about how buildings are operated, including how HVAC systems are installed into new buildings and whether efficiency and ventilation have been addressed.  I believe that conversations about ventilation are here to stay and that we will see new designs and solutions to help schools optimize ventilation and begin the electrification process.

Morgan Perras

About the author
Morgan Perras, Energy Services Account Executive, Trane Technologies, Boston

As an energy services account executive for Trane, Morgan Perras helps create healthy and efficient spaces for customers.  Morgan joined Trane’s Graduate Training Program in 2018 and started as an energy services account manager later that same year. She is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Associate™., Morgan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Clemson University.