More than ever, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), HVAC, and disinfection services are top of mind as students, parents, and staff navigate the return to school. At the start of every new school year, many school buildings have been unoccupied for several months, and as the HVAC systems are powered back on–especially in the midst of the ongoing pandemic– it’s critical to explore the importance of IAQ and HVAC assessments.
Assessments Set the IAQ and HVAC Baseline
Schools and facilities alike should conduct thorough walk-throughs, complete with photo assessments of each building, and these should include all HVAC units and affiliated system components. Photo assessments create the baseline, maintenance plan, and priority lists for the school’s maintenance and facilities team, custodial crew, and other service contractors. HVAC assessments will also provide your teams and staff with the condition status of your heating and cooling components, which is important to have in the event of a later fire, flood, microbial event, or environmental impact on the building. Having a photo assessment in-hand prior to a catastrophic event will support insurance claims and warranty work.
Assemble the IAQ Team
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is an especially important consideration for schools because of the extended periods of time students, faculty, and staff spend in the building every day. School districts should have a dedicated IAQ team to monitor and maintain healthy IAQ levels. This team should be made up of facility managers, custodians, principals, superintendents, school board members, school nursing staff, teachers, parents, an HVAC expert or duct cleaning company, and an industrial hygienist. As many people as possible should attend the annual, or semi-annual walk-through, and one person should be dedicated to taking pictures and putting together the photo assessment.
On-site Walk-Through and Checklist
Plan walk-throughs first for buildings with known HVAC and air quality issues and common occupant complaints. Even if the complaints aren’t expressly identified as IAQ-related, look for complaints regarding allergies, dust, itchy eyes, coughing, and other similar concerns, as they can often be symptoms of HVAC and IAQ issues. The site walk-through should be planned and mapped out according to a specific checklist. To make this and all other steps easier for schools to implement, the EPA created their Indoor Air Quality Tools for School Program, which provides a full plan, checklist, and even a mobile app.
Creating the Plan and Prioritizing Maintenance
The walk-through should assess the problems that will need to be resolved, prioritizing health concerns and low-cost options first. Initial plans should include cleaning and oiling systems, filter changes, increased ventilation and coil cleaning. A good proactive maintenance plan will reduce utility costs and the need for expensive repairs and potential break-downs during heating and cooling seasons.
Measuring Maintenance ROI
Measuring the financial return on the investment in maintenance will take some time. Sometimes as much as a year to compare utility costs. But in a school, the return on IAQ and HVAC maintenance can be immediate. Consider measuring attendance – sick days by staff and students, nurse station visits, complaints from staff, students and parents on potential environmental impact on health, as these complaints can often result in bad press for the school, school district, board and staff.
If you have questions or concerns about the air quality in your school or facility, DUCTZ can help. Visit the DUCTZ locations page to find your local office. Having photo assessments of your HVAC systems, air handlers, rooftop units, ductwork and uni-vents can assist in identifying issues and your IAQ maintenance plan.
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