Improving Indoor Air Quality in K-12 Schools in Rochester, New York
This article examines the importance of indoor air quality at K-12 schools in Rochester, NY, and offers some measures a school’s director of facilities or maintenance supervisor can take to improve IAQ.
- Why Improving Indoor Air Quality Matters in Schools
- The Benefits of Long-Life Air Filters
- How Improving Indoor Air Quality Saves Energy
- How Improving Indoor Air Quality Increases Labor Efficiency
- How High-Efficiency Air Filters Can Reduce Carbon Footprint
- The Role of the Director of Facilities in Improving Indoor Air Quality
- The Role of the Buildings & Grounds Superintendent in Improving Indoor Air Quality
- The Role of the Maintenance Supervisor in Improving Indoor Air Quality
- The Role of the School District Superintendent in Improving Indoor Air Quality
- How to Get Started with Improving Indoor Air Quality in Rochester Schools
- How to Measure the Success of Indoor Air Quality Improvements
Indoor air quality (IAQ) is important for the health and safety of students, teachers and staff at K-12 schools. Poor indoor air quality can lead to respiratory illnesses, allergies and other physical ailments. Therefore, it is essential that K-12 schools take steps to ensure that their indoor air quality meets the highest standards possible to provide a safe and healthy learning environment.
This article examines the importance of indoor air quality at K-12 schools in Rochester, New York, and recommends measures a school’s director of facilities, buildings & grounds superintendent, maintenance supervisor and school district superintendent can take to improve IAQ.
Providing clean indoor air at K-12 schools is important because young people in these age groups are developing physically and cognitively. According to the air filtration experts at Camfil, “We have long recognized the importance of proper ventilation and filtration in improving indoor air quality. This is especially crucial in schools, where millions of students spend a significant amount of their day. Unfortunately, a recent report by the Environmental Law Institute has shed light on the inadequate ventilation and filtration in many of these schools, and the unequal distribution of this burden, particularly in communities with low wealth, rural locations, and students of color.” Read the full story.
The Rochester City School District, located in Monroe County, New York, serves more than 26,000 students, of whom more than 85% are students of color, in 46 schools and 10 alternative programs. In charge of indoor air quality is the Educational Facilities department, which manages facility maintenance, design, security, planning, custodial operations, plant engineering and environmental safety. The Rochester City School District Educational Facilities team is responsible for over 7.3 million square feet of leased and owned space including 37 elementary school buildings, 14 secondary school buildings, the central office, the service center complex and several multipurpose facilities.
Why Improving Indoor Air Quality Matters in Schools
Insufficient indoor air quality in K-12 schools raises the potential for long-term health problems among students and staff. Polluted indoor air negatively affects the learning environment, student well-being and attendance. Likewise, it reduces teacher and staff productivity due to discomfort, sickness or absenteeism.
Poor air quality in K-12 schools can cause or worsen asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory infections, allergies, coughing, eye irritation, sinus congestion, sore throat, skin rash, dizziness and/or nausea. Breathing polluted air also can cause fatigue and headaches, which can interfere with a student’s ability to learn and concentrate.
Indoor air experts at Camfil note, “… a crucial factor in a student’s success is the air they breathe. Research has demonstrated the effects of air quality on several key aspects of cognition. … Sharp cognitive function is especially important for children, as it is necessary for developing critical thinking skills, absorbing information, and learning problem-solving.” Read the full story.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 1 in 13 school-age children has asthma, which is a leading cause of school absenteeism. Indoor exposure to airborne allergens common in K-12 schools trigger asthma symptoms.
Common air pollutants in schools include pollen, dust, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mold, carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2) and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5).
The Benefits of Long-Life Air Filters
Appropriate ventilation and air filtration are key to improving indoor air quality within K-12 school facilities. Building ventilation pulls in fresh air and pushes out dirty indoor air.
“Air filtration complements ventilation by capturing airborne contaminants through air filters. This process cleans the air before it is returned to the indoor environment. … It is important for facility operators to consult with an air filtration expert to make sure the building’s air filters are designed to capture large, small, nuisance and hazardous particles,” air filtration experts at Camfil explain. Read the full story.
Because a school facility has multiple HVAC units, each holding several air filters, cost is a concern, and facility personnel might be inclined to purchase the least expensive air filters that can handle the job. However, using standard air filters typically results in multiple change-outs because they clog quickly, restrict airflow and require more energy to move the air through the filter.
Standard air filters need to be replaced three or four times a year, and the price of these multiple change-outs adds up. A better way to reduce air filter cost is to select long-life filters that do not require frequent replacement.
These high-efficiency air filters might cost more upfront, but they run at peak efficiency longer and deliver a longer overall life. By requiring fewer change-outs, the total cost of air filter management with high-efficiency filters is generally far less than using lower-cost air filters.
How Improving Indoor Air Quality Saves Energy
K-12 school buildings that do not have access to natural ventilation may be more energy efficient, but these air-tight facilities can have diminished indoor air quality. In order to maintain good indoor air quality and achieve energy savings, it is imperative to optimize filtration to support mechanical ventilation.
According to air filter experts at R.P Fedder, “If you don’t change air filters, then the HVAC system will have to work harder to circulate air. This will lead to: Increased energy bills. The HVAC system will use more energy to circulate air through a dirty filter. Reduced efficiency: A dirty filter will reduce the efficiency of the HVAC system. Poor indoor air quality: A dirty filter will lead to poor indoor air quality.” Read the full story here.
Energy costs at a K-12 school facility are generally driven by fans, steam for heating, miscellaneous equipment, lighting, cooling and HVAC pumps. Adding it all up, approximately 65% of energy costs at the average school facility are directly related to the HVAC system.
“Camfil filters are able to maintain proper airflow and are made so that the HVAC system doesn’t have to work as hard to draw air through the ducts and vents. This means less energy is expended, resulting in monthly savings,” according to Camifil clean indoor air experts. Read the full story.
Air filter solutions from Rochester, NY-based R.P. Fedder are found in almost every K-12 school in western New York state to help these facilities successfully implement energy-saving measures to improve indoor air quality.
How Improving Indoor Air Quality Increases Labor Efficiency
Generally, all classrooms and most other areas in a K-12 school facility are equipped with a ventilation unit to pull in outdoor air through a fresh air intake located on the exterior wall of the building. The ventilation unit mixes and filters fresh and return air, then sends the treated air to the room. To remove stale air, the system is equipped with exhaust vents, which are typically ducted to fans on the roof.
Ventilation units become fouled with both outdoor and indoor airborne contaminants, which if left unattended could reduce the efficiency of the system and foster poor indoor air quality. However, maintaining and changing air filters in these ventilation units has become a challenge in many K-12 schools because of labor shortages. Schools have multiple ventilation units. Typically, it takes about two hours per unit for an air filter change-out, including preparation, cleaning, replacement and disposing of the used filter.
Using high-efficiency air filters reduces labor hours needed to maintain air handling systems in schools. This is because they operate at top efficiency longer than less expensive air filters. High-efficiency air filters have a longer lifespan, and therefore require fewer change-outs.
Camfil conducted a study to demonstrate how high-quality air filters could reduce labor by 80%, which showed “the difference that highly efficient air filtration can make in energy consumption, labor hours and landfill waste over less effective solutions.” Read the full case study.
How High-Efficiency Air Filters Can Reduce Carbon Footprint
According to K12 Climate Action, an initiative examining ways the education sector can help to fight against climate change, K-12 schools in the U.S. significantly contribute to the country’s large carbon footprint. Operating the nearly 100,000 public K–12 schools in the U.S. consumes a tremendous amount of energy—the equivalent of 18 coal-fired power plants or 15 million cars each year. Energy consumption is also the second-largest source of expenses for school districts.
Clean air experts at Camfil note that by using air filters that are engineered and constructed for performance, “you can see the potential reduction in energy usage (and the corresponding reduction in carbon footprint) is substantial.” Read the full story.
By reducing airborne pollutants, school facilities can run more efficiently and use less energy, leading to a reduction in emissions. If the school’s HVAC system is not equipped to handle high-efficiency filters, high-quality standalone air purifiers, like Camfil’s City M portable units, are an ideal solution for removing airborne particles and gaseous pollutants, such as VOCs.
The Role of the Director of Facilities in Improving Indoor Air Quality
The director of K-12 facilities is responsible for ensuring the air quality within the school buildings meets healthy standards. The director of facilities must be aware of potential indoor airborne particulate hazards and maintain proper ventilation and air filtration to eradicate these threats.
The director of facilities is also responsible for leading a team in implementing strategies to reduce indoor air pollution, such as maintaining ventilation systems and installing advanced air filtration systems. By taking proactive steps to improve indoor air quality, the facilities director can help create a healthier environment for everyone in the building.
Camfil indoor air experts advise, “Remember, commercial air purification systems work best when paired with proper ventilation and acting against the source of disease-causing contaminants. They address the symptoms of polluted indoor air, but not its source, so be sure to take a holistic approach when improving air quality in your school and buildings.” Read the full story.
At the Rochester City School District, the director of facilities is supported by supervisors in facility maintenance, design, security, planning, custodial operations, plant engineering and environmental safety. In this network are personnel dedicated to maintaining indoor air quality for the 7.3 million square feet of leased and owned space including 37 elementary school buildings, 14 secondary school buildings, the central office, service center complex and several multipurpose facilities.
The Role of the Buildings & Grounds Superintendent in Improving Indoor Air Quality
The building and grounds superintendent at K-12 schools is responsible for leading personnel in monitoring, inspecting and maintaining ventilation systems, HVAC units, air filters and ducts to ensure good indoor air quality. They should also be aware of any potential sources of pollutants such as smoke or fumes from nearby businesses or factories. With their knowledge and expertise, they can help to make sure that buildings are safe and comfortable for occupants.
At the Rochester City School District, the plant maintenance supervisor serves as building and grounds superintendent and is supported by maintenance mechanics and heating personnel. Together they work to improve indoor air quality at the districts K-12 schools by providing upkeep of HVAC and air filtration systems. The supervisor is also responsible for making sure the buildings meet all relevant standards and regulations for indoor air quality.
Camfil clean indoor air experts advise, “When attached to a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) unit, a high-efficiency air filter captures and removes pollutants from the air as they enter the HVAC system and ductwork, ensuring that any air circulating inside a room or brought in from the outside is free of contaminants.” Read the full story.
The Role of the Maintenance Supervisor in Improving Indoor Air Quality
The maintenance supervisor plays a crucial role in ensuring that the air inside K-12 buildings is clean and safe. From regularly checking ventilation systems to monitoring air filters, the maintenance supervisor leads a team responsible for keeping indoor air quality at an acceptable level. Furthermore, the maintenance supervisor should have the knowledge and expertise to identify potential sources of air contamination and take steps to reduce or eliminate them.
The plant maintenance supervisor at the Rochester City School District serves under the direction of the director of facilities and is supported by maintenance mechanics and heating personnel. Together they work to improve indoor air quality at the districts K-12 schools by providing upkeep of HVAC and air filtration systems. The supervisor is also responsible for making sure the buildings meet all relevant standards and regulations for indoor air quality.
“School administrators, board members or anyone in the position to make decisions about a school’s infrastructure and facilities, needs to consult industrial air filter manufacturers before deciding on any type of air filtration system. While attaching an air purification system to a centralized HVAC system or an in-wall vent goes a long way to improving indoor air quality in schools, results can be maximized if experts are brought in to assess the school building’s layout, size, and presence of any particular pollutant,” Camfil air filtration experts explain. Read the full story.
The Role of the School District Superintendent in Improving Indoor Air Quality
The role of the school district superintendent is essential in ensuring the quality of indoor air in K-12 schools. Therefore, it is important for school district superintendents to take proactive steps to improve indoor air quality. The superintendent oversees that all facilities and maintenance teams are maintaining appropriate standards for ventilation and air filtration systems.
The school superintendent also works with school staff, parents and student caregivers, the school board and the local community to develop policies that promote healthy indoor air, such as prohibiting smoking on school grounds or encouraging the use of green cleaning products.
Air filtration experts at Camfil note, “Aside from installing commercial high-efficiency air filters, school administrators and building owners face the challenge of creating an environment that limits, if not prevents, the presence and growth of biological contaminants. … Fortunately, the solution to damp environments is to introduce a steady stream of dry, outside air. Ventilation, however, presents another problem: polluted air from the outside. This process is where a commercial high-efficiency air filter becomes crucial in stabilizing a room’s indoor air quality.” Read the full story.
The school district superintendent of the Rochester City School District reports to the Board of Education. Together, they are ultimately responsible for safeguarding indoor air quality at all district facilities to protect the health of students, teachers and staff.
How to Get Started With Improving Indoor Air Quality in Rochester Schools
Determining the best air filtration systems for K-12 school facilities is challenging because of the multiple environments within each building. Selecting the right air filters for each situation depends on the type of airborne particles that must be removed, the size of the particles and the appropriate minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) for the air filter. Therefore, the best first step to improve indoor air quality is to consult with an air filtration expert experienced in educational facilities.
A MERV rating is used to characterize how well an air filter removes different sized particulates. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends a minimum filtration efficiency target of MERV 13.
“Air filters rated MERV 13 are designed to remove particles larger than 0.30 microns, while high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can remove particles smaller than 0.30 microns. MERV 13 filters can remove up to 99.97% of particles from the air, while HEPA filters can remove up to 99.99% of particles from the air,” according to air filter experts at R.P. Fedder. Read the full story.
Keep in mind that not all filters rated MERV 13 maintain that efficiency throughout their lifecycle. That’s why ASHRAE also designates certain filters with a MERV-A rating. The MERV-A rating indicates those filters have undergone additional testing to demonstrate their rated efficiency will last throughout their lifetime. When possible, K-12 school facilities should use MERV-A rated air filters to ensure optimal performance.
Often, a school’s HVAC system is not equipped to handle high-efficiency filters. For example, many single-stage air handling units have the capability to hold 2-inch-deep pleated filters, which are typically MERV 13 and not MERV 13A filters. In that case, the MERV ratings would quickly drop to as low as MERV 8, not high enough to provide adequate protection to the students. One solution would be to upgrade to Camfil’s MERV-9A-rated 30/30 Dual 9 air filter and supplement air filtration with Camfil’s City M in-room air cleaner in classrooms and other areas requiring additional HEPA filtration.
“Each public building has different needs, which should be evaluated by a professional with experience in virus filtration. Recommending different filter styles over the phone in order to achieve a MERV 13 efficiency carries a certain level of risks,” Camfil air filtration experts add. “[I]f you plan on upgrading, make sure you involve a qualified HVAC professional who can help answer these questions to make sure you don’t cause harm to your system or your space.” Read the full story.
The Rochester City School District worked to meet its indoor air quality challenges by operating ventilation systems with a maximum fraction of outside air installation of MERV 13-rated filters, where the HVAC units can accommodate them and running air purifiers in all occupied spaces.
How to Measure the Success of Indoor Air Quality Improvements
Tracking indoor air quality metrics is important to determine the success of a ventilation and air filtration program at K-12 school facilities. Partnering with an air filtration expert is the best way to correctly measure the necessary metrics and to recommend adjustments to an existing indoor air quality strategy.
For example, Camfil can provide mobile labs to examine indoor air quality. “The Camfil mobile labs are equipped with testing rigs that analyze filter performance under real-life environmental conditions. Furthermore, the mobile labs can also analyze air quality around a commercial facility … to determine whether the facility’s existing filtration is sufficient to eliminate airborne contaminants and design an air filtration strategy based on the unique needs of that facility. Camfil also offers a mobile media tester, which analyzes the media used in your existing filters to determine if they are properly trapping the pollutants to improve IAQ,” Camfil indoor air experts recommend. Read the full story.
Measuring and monitoring indoor air for particulate levels is an important part of a ventilation and air filtration program that those responsible for ensuring good indoor air quality in K-12 schools—from director of facilities, buildings and grounds superintendents, and maintenance supervisors to school district superintendents and school board members–should not neglect.
R.P. Fedder has been designing & manufacturing custom filters since 1959 and serves as a trusted filtration advisor for a variety of facilities and Fortune 500 companies. The company’s filter solutions are found in almost every hospital, manufacturer, K-12 school and university in western New York state. With headquarters and a manufacturing facility in Rochester, New York, R.P. Fedder also has facilities in Buffalo and Syracuse.