9 Ways to Improve Air Quality in Classrooms: Teacher’s Guide
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Understanding Indoor Air Pollution
Originating from a variety of sources, including cleaning agents, furniture, construction materials, and even personal care products, indoor air pollution is an increasing threat to our community that deserves the attention of educators, administrators, and policymakers. Like most Americans who spend most of their time indoors, students and educators inside the classroom are at constant health risks. Studies have shown that chronic exposure to poor indoor air quality in school has been linked to various health issues, from headaches, eye irritation, fatigue, and long-term diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Impact of Indoor Air Pollution on Academic Performance
When it comes to academic performance, indoor air pollution is a silent killer. The poor quality of the air inside classrooms can drain students’ energy, leaving them feeling tired, irritable, and unable to focus. And the damage doesn’t stop there – exposure to indoor air pollution has also been linked to decreased cognitive function and memory, making it more difficult for students to retain what they’re learning.
The Importance of Indoor Air Quality in Schools
But here’s the good news: creating a healthier classroom environment is within our reach. By prioritizing indoor air quality, we can help students perform at their best, allowing them to concentrate and thrive. In this guide, we’ll explore practical steps you can take to improve the air inside your classroom.
1. Invest in Air Purifiers
When it comes to cleaning up the air in your school, air purifiers are an essential tool. Different types of air purifiers remove pollutants in various ways, but the most effective ones contain HEPA filters. High-efficiency particulate air filters trap even the tiniest particles in the air, making the air in your school much cleaner and healthier. These microscopic particles can irritate the lungs, especially those with asthma or allergies. While the human body can filter larger particles like pollen, dust, and mold, HEPA filters remove them all. Air purifiers will also deal with outside pollution factors, such as neighbors burning waste or heavy traffic beyond the school’s control.
Before purchasing a purifier, it’s essential to understand its Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), which measures its efficiency. The CADR of an air purifier is higher in larger models (ideally above 200 cfm), making them more suitable for large classroom placement.
Having a classroom HEPA air purifier is only half the battle, though. To truly clean up the air in your school, the air must circulate regularly. Otherwise, a room filled with many people can lead to a buildup of CO2, resulting in a lack of oxygen. To avoid this, consider implementing ventilation systems that ensure rooms contain breathable air.
2. Revamp Ventilation Systems
Breathing in fresh air is crucial for our well-being, but what if that air is contaminated with harmful pollutants? That’s where ventilation systems come in. Proper ventilation update is one of the most important steps educators can take to improve classroom air quality, particularly in older buildings with outdated ventilation systems.. It helps to reduce the concentration of indoor air pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, and radon, from building up. Sure, you could simply crack open a window for air exchange, but that’s not always enough. Here are some options to consider when revamping your school’s ventilation system.
- Positive Air Pressure system – The fan pushes filtered, dry, and warm air into the classrooms, forcing out the stale and damp air. The indoor air pressure becomes higher than the outdoor air, causing the indoor air to flow out. However, this system requires air ducts and ceiling vents to circulate air properly, making it a more costly option.
- Negative Air Pressure system – Force polluted air out of the classrooms. It’s a good choice if the source of indoor air pollution is within the school, and the downside is that fresh air must be constantly circulated into the classrooms.
- Balanced Pressure Ventilation – This system combines the best of both worlds, pumping fresh air in while expelling stale air out. It uses weatherstripping to ensure airtight seals, conserving energy from heating or cooling systems. The use of heat exchangers makes this a highly efficient option.
Additionally, installing mechanical ventilation systems, such as exhaust fans and air-to-air heat recovery systems, can help continuously improve indoor air quality in the classroom.
3. Seal the Deal with Weatherstripping
Weatherstripping is the process of sealing up gaps in your home, like windows and doors. It works best with a limited budget, as it can effectively stop air from leaking in the classroom. By sealing your home, you can control the ventilation and prevent air from becoming too stuffy or stagnant. If there are many people in the classroom causing high levels of CO2, a positive air pressure system would be highly beneficial. It also stops moisture from seeping in and causing mold. But be careful; weatherstripping can trap polluted air if it’s not properly ventilated. That’s why it works hand-in-hand with the positive air pressure system to regulate the flow of air.
To get started with weatherstripping:
- Inspect your home for air leaks, including cracks in the ceiling and door and window frames. Once you’ve identified the spots, you can choose the best material for sealing them.
- Consider door sweeps made of nylon, plastic, or vinyl for sealing the bottom of doors or tape for irregular cracks.
- For more information, check out this comprehensive list of weatherstripping options based on different materials and dimensions for various leaks.
4. Goodbye to Chalkboards, Hello to Whiteboards
Chalkboards have been a staple in classrooms for centuries, but with the invention of the whiteboard in the late 80s, it’s time to leave the dusty blackboards behind. People often overlook the dangers of inhaling chalk dust, but it can cause classrooms to become stuffy and potentially harmful to those with asthma or allergies. In many developing countries, chalkboards are still the go-to option due to their accessibility and low cost compared to whiteboards. However, we can improve the health of students and teachers by providing schools with better resources and spreading awareness about the dangers of chalk dust.
5. Ditch Dangerous Building Materials
Many schools fail to realize that even the building materials in their classrooms can release harmful indoor pollutants. If your school was built prior to 1990, it’s likely the materials used contain and release harmful substances like lead, formaldehyde, and asbestos. These chemicals are nearly invisible and odorless, making them difficult to detect. But they can be easily absorbed into the human body. It’s vital to determine whether your building materials contain these harmful substances or use safer materials when constructing a new structure. Hire professionals to remove these deadly pollutants if an existing building has these toxic materials.
Asbestos is a dangerous mineral that is commonly found in older building materials like insulation, floor tiles, adhesives, cement pipes, bike parts, and old wax crayons. Like formaldehyde, the fibers can easily be inhaled and get trapped in the lungs, increasing the risk of developing mesothelioma, a lung lining cancer. The younger you are when exposed to high concentrations of asbestos, the higher your chances of contracting the disease later in life. You can purchase DIY home testing kits; for instance, formaldehyde test kits (powder + water), to assess the level of formaldehyde in the school. Lead can be tested using a swab test on paint or wood, and testing for asbestos requires sending samples to a lab. Keep in mind sending samples to a lab can take months, and results may only be reliable if samples are taken correctly.
If you suspect that your school might contain dangerous levels of asbestos, it’s essential to get an accredited asbestos inspection. They’ll provide a risk assessment of existing building materials and collect samples for testing.
6. Monitoring and Testing
In the battle against indoor air pollution, it’s crucial to understand and pinpoint what harmful pollutants we’re fighting against. Enter Indoor Air Quality monitors – A tiny gadget that uses cutting-edge sensors to assess various air quality elements, such as particulate matter, CO2, temperature, and humidity. Armed with this newly acquired knowledge, we can take the necessary steps to enhance the air quality in our classrooms and safeguard the well-being of our students, teachers, and staff.
7. Regular Cleaning and Maintenance
Regular cleaning and maintenance are also essential for maintaining good air quality in classrooms. By regularly dusting surfaces and vacuuming, you can help to reduce the concentration of pollutants in the air. Also, ensure HVAC systems and air purifiers’ air filters are replaced accordingly.
8. Use Green Cleaning Products
Another important consideration for improving classroom air quality is avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals by replacing them with non-toxic green cleaning products whenever possible. Many pesticides and cleaning agents contain chemicals like VOCs, formaldehyde, arsenic, and benzene that can linger for years and harm students’ health. Everyday products, such as air fresheners, glue, paint, perfumes, and hairsprays, can also contribute to classroom indoor air pollution. These products can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, which can have a negative impact on air quality.
9. Get Air-filtering Indoor Plants
Another great way to improve air quality in classrooms is by incorporating indoor plants. We all know plants are natural air purifiers, converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. They also have the added benefit of creating a more visually appealing and calming environment. There are specific species that have been shown to remove harmful indoor air pollutants effectively. NASA conducted a study in the late 80s to discover which plants are most effective in toxin removal, and plants like Dracaena, Peace Lilies and Weeping Ficus made it to the list.
Still, relying on just a few houseplants to tackle high levels of CO2 is unrealistic. Certain indoor plants also require a lot of sunlight, which some classrooms may not have access to. Investing in improved ventilation or positive air pressure systems is a more practical solution.
Improving air quality in classrooms is essential for creating a safe and healthy learning environment for students and teachers for years to come. By evaluating your circumstances and implementing these proven strategies, educational facilities can take proactive steps to reduce the buildup of pollutants, improve the overall air quality, and create a more comfortable yet productive learning environment.