The Educator’s Guide to Healthier Air Quality
As we begin another school year, air quality and building safety remain major concerns. From kindergarten to graduate school, the National Center for Education Statistics counts more than 130,000 different school buildings across the United States – with the age and quality of the buildings ranging from pre-War “classics” with limited ventilation to newly built facilities that have state of the art quality controls. The majority of buildings fall somewhere in-between, often with a wide range of structures located within the same district.
Suffice it to say, with the rise of the COVID pandemic, the days of expecting teachers to simply open a few windows and hope for the best are officially over!
Now more than ever, schools must make health and safety—including indoor air quality—a priority. Indoor air quality heavily impacts the transmission of airborne diseases, and thus requires special emphasis. Relying on a new generation of inexpensive and easy to maintain sensors, smart building analytics have tremendous potential in this area.
Keep reading to learn how building sensors, combined with our powerful Delphi360™ platform, can be used as a key foundation for a healthy building strategy, and why they are essential to providing peace of mind for teachers, students, parents, and community stakeholders.
Smart Building Analytics For Indoor Air Quality:
Monitor, Measure, & Minimize Risk
Of course, there are many factors in planning for a safe return to school, including cleaning protocols, social distancing guidelines, testing, and more; indoor air quality (IAQ) is one of them. According to the CDC, COVID-19 is spread in part through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Those droplets containing the virus can travel, filling a room over the space of several hours and potentially infecting everyone who breathes the air.
Air droplets are invisible to the naked eye, which means you and your students can’t “see” whether or not a room is safe. Fortunately, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors—a core component of smart building analytics—can detect and measure certain characteristics of air quality that indicate if the environment presents a high or low risk for airborne virus transmission. While the scientific information around COVID-19 transmission continues to evolve, the following are important indicators as to the overall indoor air quality, and the extent to which it will support the spread of disease:
- Too high or too low humidity levels have been shown to support the spread of viruses. Some studies suggest that an indoor relative humidity level within a range of 40% to 60% is ideal.
- Temperature has also been shown to play a role in how long the droplets can survive. Higher temperatures seem to slow the spread.
- High CO2 levels indicate that not enough fresh air is being supplied, and that more ventilation is needed. Some studies have shown that improving ventilation significantly lowers the amount of time respiratory droplets stay airborne.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals emitted as gases from products such as cleaning agents, air fresheners, carpet and flooring material, etc.; they are one of the primary contributors to indoor pollution, and have been shown to have negative health effects on building occupants. Increased disinfecting of surfaces resulting from COVID-19 is likely to produce high levels of VOCs in the air.
As a school administrator or building manager, you need a way to know when your facility’s air becomes unsafe so you can address it quickly. You also need a way to provide peace of mind for occupants. Both are among the benefits of “smart” buildings.
As a school administrator or building manager, you need a way to know when your facility’s air becomes unsafe so you can address it quickly. You also need a way to provide peace of mind for teachers, students, parents, and community stakeholders.
Smart buildings incorporate indoor environmental quality (IEQ) monitoring equipment that can help you measure the indoor air quality (IAQ) characteristics listed above. Sensors placed strategically throughout your building take air samples at regular intervals and send that data to the cloud, where you can access it via building analytics software. It’s important to note that in addition to indoor air quality, our sensors also monitor other factors such as Occupancy, Lighting, Leak/flood detection, and Thermal Comfort.
As all of this data is continuously captured you get immediate, real-time access to the monitoring results in your customized dashboard within Delphi360, which turns the data into charts that always paint a picture of your building’s indoor air quality along with the overall indoor environmental quality. The dashboard can easily be shared with key stakeholders to provide peace of mind that the space they’re working in is safe and that you are doing everything you can to protect their health.
Delphi360 can also be set up to provide threshold alerts. If, for example, CO2 levels fall outside of a predetermined acceptable range, your monitoring equipment will alert you. From there you can take the appropriate action to resolve the situation immediately.
From Analytics To Action
Smart building analytics isn’t just about collecting data—driven by our powerful IotaSage AI, Delphi360 allows you to analyze that data over time and produce actionable insights you can use to improve.
There is no single prescribed method for improving indoor air quality. Instead, the approach required will depend on many different factors, including your individual building’s characteristics, occupancy levels, and the activities taking place within the building. For example:
- ASHRAE has found that heating, cooling, and ventilation systems can be used strategically to help reduce airborne exposures. But not all HVAC systems are sized correctly for the buildings they serve; some are under-or oversized. Air quality monitoring could reveal that some spaces within the building are not adequately ventilated even if you’re following guidelines around the number of people occupying a space. In that case, you may need to reduce the number of students in the area.
- Sometimes air quality issues are related to building activities. For example, if CO2 levels inside a school hallway rise when students switch classes, the solution may simply be to make sure your vents are running on high for each of those 10-minute periods throughout the day.
- Air quality issues associated with high-touch areas may require a solution as simple as disinfecting those surfaces more frequently to prevent the virus from re-entering the air.
- For some spaces where proper ventilation is a challenge, like a small office, installing an air purifier might be helpful to reduce airborne contaminants.
- Buildings with mechanical systems should be set to the maximum amount of outdoor air possible.
- Consider increasing filtration to a MERV 13 filter or better on recirculated air.
- Actively measure flow rates and address ways to increase how much outdoor air comes inside the building.
Reopen Safely With IotaComm Building Analytics Software
As you prepare for another challenging academic year, our state of the art sensors, combined with IotaComm’s Delphi360 analytics platform, can help you reopen your school building with confidence!
When you partner with us, you’ll get access to real-time air quality data using our state-of-the-art IoT sensors, which allow you to remotely monitor your building’s temperature, humidity, CO2, VOCs, and more. We’ll also help you decipher the data using our advanced building analytics software, which includes an easy-to-read dashboard of environmental conditions that’s accessible to you anytime, from anywhere. Finally, we’ll offer recommendations about ways you can mitigate risk and improve your building’s overall air quality.
Today, the benefits of smart buildings go well beyond operating and cost efficiencies—they now include human health and peace of mind.
If you’d like to learn more about how IotaComm’s IoT sensors and Delphi360 analytics dashboard solution can work for you, your teachers, and your students, please contact us—we’d love to help!
Please click here for a recent case study of how we helped Friends Seminary School safely reopen.