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School Reopening: Improving Ventilation in the Classroom

Posted on August 19, 2021
by Vinay Panday

With schools reopening across the country, how can we ensure the air quality is improved? Here are some solutions.

This year, many students who have spent a full year out of the classroom are heading back for the first time since schools closed in 2020. For many, this is a welcome change from the online learning they have done for over a year, but for many parents, faculty and administrators, there are major questions about how to keep people safe as they head back to class.

One of the major components considered for keeping people safe is the air quality in the buildings. As many schools were designed before ventilation requirements changed in the past year, more and more are faced with needing solutions to poor or inadequate ventilation throughout their buildings. But how does a school improve ventilation while staying fiscally responsible? How can they balance meeting new ventilation requirements with the resources they have available?

Here are a few important things to consider about ventilation in classrooms and schools, and how your school can improve its air quality and ventilation easily, quickly and for less money than you may think.

Opening Windows Isn’t Enough
There has been a saying going around for the past few months, that “opening windows is key to opening schools.” While there is plenty of evidence that open windows do improve overall ventilation, dramatically in many cases, it’s also true that simply opening a window will not solve the problem.

The first major problem with relying on open windows is that windows can’t always be open. Weather and even the windows themselves can prevent them from being open when students are present, meaning you cannot rely on open windows as an entire ventilation strategy.

The second issue with relying on open windows is that they can pose a security and safety issue. People can come in and out of classroom windows at any time, and they simply aren’t something we should encourage all schools to keep open all of the time.

In schools where open windows are possible, it can definitely be an added level of protection. The simple truth is, however, that open windows will not solve the underlying ventilation issues in classrooms across the country. Other HVAC system upgrades, however, can solve many of these issues.

The Three Rs of Ventilation
When it comes to schools and ventilation, it can be helpful to follow the three “Rs” of ventilation. These three concepts can help you think about your HVAC system and pinpoint potential areas that can use attention or improvement.

The first “R” is repair. The first thing that any school should do to improve its air quality is call in HVAC experts to assess and repair the existing ventilation system. Since many schools were either unoccupied or in a reduced capacity over the past while, chances that the system requires some attention, including potential repairs. HVAC experts can come in to repair anything that’s broken and perform regular maintenance to ensure that it is working at its absolute best. For many newer HVAC systems, this could be sufficient for meeting new requirements for ventilation.

The second “R” is remove. Removal is focused on getting rid of anything that is negatively impacting ventilation. This starts with cleaning the ducts and includes removing any outdated pieces or technologies that impede ventilation. An HVAC expert can come in to perform regular duct cleanings and disinfecting services to ensure that the school’s HVAC system isn’t simply spreading potential problems throughout the system. They can also remove and replace old filters to ensure the air is getting properly cleaned.

The third “R” is renovate. Renovation is about upgrading systems and renovating spaces to ensure maximum ventilation. Depending on the school’s age and architecture, renovating a classroom can be easy or difficult. Regardless, this step is for schools that do not meet ventilation requirements and must upgrade their building and HVAC systems to meet them.

The Potential of Portable Ventilation Solutions
For many schools that are looking to improve ventilation in their classrooms, the best option may be portable ventilation units. These specialized units are designed to be integrated into a local ventilation strategy and are often the most cost-effective way to improve a space’s ventilation.

Portable ventilation units can come in many shapes and sizes. They all essentially work as on-site filters, working to take air from the room, filter it and then push the air out of the room, usually outside. These units work similarly to units used in quarantine spaces in hospitals, ensuring that any air from that room is safely scrubbed and moved away before reentering the rest of the building. What’s more, these units can often be less expensive than large-scale ventilation upgrades. They can also offer localized solutions in schools that have portables and other buildings that may not fit seamlessly into the existing HVAC system.

The Importance of Consulting HVAC Experts About Ventilation
As many schools reopen to students for the first time in a long time, they are left wondering if the ventilation is sufficient. According to many guides and the EPA’s own approach to school ventilation upgrading and funding, the first thing any school needs to do is consult experienced HVAC experts. Only HVAC experts can help a school properly assess its HVAC system to ensure that it is meeting any new requirements. They can also inspect and repair the system to ensure it is working properly and perform regular maintenance and cleanings to keep it working its best.

Regardless of the school’s age or occupancy rate, improving ventilation is absolutely key to keeping people safe inside. Simply opening a window is no longer enough, especially as schools face new restrictions and regulations in regards to acceptable ventilation. Whether your school is old or new, be sure to connect with HVAC experts to ensure your ventilation is working properly. Many school boards are requiring HVAC consultation before approving any ventilation funding, making this is the best, most cost-effective, and safest way to keep your students, faculty, and staff all safe as schools reopen.

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