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IAQ in Schools: Problems and Solutions
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IAQ in Schools: Problems and Solutions

December 10, 2011


A 2006 national report, Greening America’s Schools, concluded that environmentally-friendly school buildings lead to lower operating costs, improved test scores, and enhanced student health. The report, produced by Capital E and co-sponsored by The American Institute of Architects (AIA), concluded that environmentally-friendly schools save an average of $100,000 each year. The study examined 30 green schools built between 2001 and 2006, and determined that the total financial benefits of green schools are 20 times greater than their initial cost difference.

The findings also indicate that there are tremendous benefits from energy efficient school design, not only from an economic standpoint, but also from far healthier environments through enhancements such as improved air quality. Among the study’s conclusions:

  • On average, green schools use 33% less energy.
  • A study concluded that better facilities could add three to four percentage points to a school’s standardized test scores.
  • Green schools typically have better indoor air quality (IAQ), which contributes to fewer sick days.

It’s clear – cleaner air in schools is a necessary component for students’ success. But cleaner, healthier air may not be as simple as A-B-C.

Typical IAQ Problems in Schools

Indoor air contaminants can originate within the school building or be drawn in from the outdoors.  If pollutant sources are not controlled, indoor air problems can develop even if the HVAC system is properly designed, operated, and maintained. 

Air contaminants consist of particles, dust, fibers, biological agents (e.g., bacteria, viruses, and mold), and gases or vapors. Sources of indoor air contamination include polluted outdoor air and underground sources (e.g., radon, pesticides, and leakage from underground storage tanks). 

Indoor air contamination can also be caused by a variety of indoor sources (e.g., equipment, furnishings, and housekeeping supplies). Indoor concentration levels of air pollutants can vary by time and location within the school building, or possibly a single classroom. Pollutants can be emitted from point sources, such as science storerooms, or from area sources, such as newly painted surfaces.

Pollutants can vary with time, such as only when floor stripping is done, or continuously such as fungi growing in the HVAC system. Indoor air often contains a variety of contaminants at concentrations that are well below any standards or guidelines for occupational exposure. It is often difficult to relate complaints of specific health effects to exposures to specific pollutant concentrations, especially since the exposures may be to low levels of pollutant mixtures. 

The Key to Cleaner, Healthier Air

The conventional approach to air quality in schools is to introduce fresh, outside air to dilute contaminants. The amount of outside air introduced to the indoor environment depends on the number of building occupants. Most schools’ HVAC systems are designed for 15 CFM per person. This can be costly, in terms of conditioning outside air.

Most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can damage their health but many do not know that indoor air pollution can also have significant health effects. EPA studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be 2-5 times, and occasionally 100 times, higher than outdoor levels.

These levels of indoor air pollutants are of particular concern since most people spend the majority of their time indoors. Indoor air quality contributes to a favorable learning environment for students, productivity for teachers and staff, and a sense of comfort, health, and well-being.

Failure to respond quickly and effectively to IAQ problems can lead to numerous adverse health, cost, and educational process consequences, as children may be especially susceptible to air pollution. The same concentration of pollutants can result in higher body burden in children than adults because children breathe a greater volume of air relative to their body weight.

Schools are also unique in their environment. The occupants of schools are close together, with the typical school having about four times as many occupants as office buildings for the same amount of floor space.

A variety of potential pollutant sources exist in schools, including art and science materials, industrial and vocational arts, and gymnasiums. In combination with natural ventilation, schools may use many heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), including unit ventilators and rooftop units. All require appropriate care and maintenance.


ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2010, which is the basis for many local mechanical codes, provides three alternative procedures for determining minimum outdoor airflow rates: the ventilation rate procedure, the natural ventilation procedure, and IAQ procedure. The first two are prescriptive methods that are easy to calculate.

The IAQ procedure is more complex and based on performance criteria. It allows HVAC system designers and operators to reduce outdoor air when it has been determined that the air inside the space is clean enough.

An air-conditioned classroom creates a gas chamber. Thus causing the major harm to the pupils and adversely affecting the whole learning process

  • Asthma 
  • Lower IQ 
  • Loss of concentration / Focus 
  • Viral & bacterial infection

The most commonly measured pollutants in air-conditioned classrooms are total volatile organic compounds (VOC), formaldehyde, and biological contaminants. VOCs are suspected as one of the main causes of SBS (Sick Building Syndrome).

The solution is Energy Recovery Ventilators

Energy Recovery Ventilator guarantees an optimal air quality to its users ensuring the healthiest possible oxygen rich breathing air. It provides a fresh-air feel of an open window, improves learning environment and reduces energy costs.

Replaces stale, polluted indoor air with fresher, healthier and oxygen rich outside air.

Ideal for tightly sealed new commercial buildings and modern homes.

Compact unit size allows it to be retrofitted with your existing air-conditioning system to enhance the indoor air quality.

How does the DRI Energy Recovery Ventilator work ?

The heart of the Energy Recovery Ventilator is the EcoFresh desiccant coated energy recovery wheel, which slowly rotates between its two sections. In one section, the stale, conditioned air is passed through the wheel and exhausted to the atmosphere . During this process, the wheel absorbs sensible and latent energy from the conditioned air, which is used to pre-condition the incoming Fresh Air in the other section, during the second half of its rotation cycle. Thus, you can have more Fresh Air at lower energy costs inside your conditioned space.


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