Creating an atmosphere that contributes to learning is the main goal of K-12 schools. In addition, developing a work environment that promotes a healthy, enjoyable experience helps keep turnover low and production high. While IAQ has been a popular topic since the pandemic began, indoor environmental quality (IEQ) plays an important role inside a school setting. From reducing distractions to providing superior air quality, IEQ should be a focus for facility managers and school administrators.

Mechanical HVAC units provide an excellent solution to assist schools with two pivotal factors regarding enhanced IEQ — noise reduction and air quality. Loud noises can inhibit a student’s learning ability due to constant distractions, while poor IAQ can negatively impact the entire school.

Because of this, it is important for school leaders and facility managers to develop a plan that addresses and enhances IEQ inside the building. HVAC solutions can be the tool one utilizes to create that environment.

Limiting HVAC Noise

In an article from EducationWeek, Gail M. Whitelaw, the director of the Ohio State University Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic in Columbus, Ohio, said, “It doesn’t take very much sound to really be detrimental to the listeners. So much of school is auditory and oral learning, and one of the things we know is sound can create more issues with kids with anxiety and attention.”

Mechanical HVAC units can contribute to these noise issues if the wrong solution is chosen or maintenance hasn’t been upheld.

The two main components that contribute to noise in a classroom are sound pressure and sound power. Sound pressure is the force of sound on a surface area and is predicated on the characteristics of the room. Sound power is the energy of sound per unit of time and is dependent on the sound source alone. Understanding these two principles of noise will allow school administrators to select the perfect HVAC solution for their noise reduction needs.

Upgrades are available that can assist in HVAC noise reduction as well. Upgrading to a redesigned acoustic plenum will reduce noise by up to 7db. Improved insulation with a barrier can also reduce noise levels for your unit.

Provide Maximum IAQ

The only positive brought on by the pandemic was showing the importance of IAQ. While schools understood that air quality was important, it never reached the discussion heights as it has over the past two years. IAQ is paramount when it comes to IEQ. Poor air quality can be easily noticeable and uncomfortable. Plus, it can promote poor health due to the potential particulates in the air. HVAC solutions are best suited to combat this issue by focusing on three departments: ventilation, filtration, and dehumidification.

One way to improve IAQ is by bringing fresh, clean air inside the building. HVAC units allow facility managers to control how much air is being brought inside the facility based on what amount is best for the building. While clean air is being introduced into the space, the HVAC unit will push contaminated air outside.

Equally important to ventilation is dehumidification. Humidity can contribute to bacteria growth in addition to mildew and mold. These particulates can create health issues if breathed in by a student or faculty member. Humidity will also affect the comfortability of the space. If humidity is too high, the air will feel sticky and muggy. If humidity is too low, the air will feel dry and uncomfortable. It is important to keep relative humidity between 40% to 60% for enhanced comfort.

Filtration helps prevent airborne pathogens from quickly spreading throughout a school. Utilizing high-rated filters can help decrease the number of particulates in the air. ASHRAE recommended the use of MERV-13 filters for most applications during the early days of the pandemic, if the units were compatible. In addition to MERV filters, HVAC units can also incorporate UV lights and needlepoint bipolar ionization for an extra layer of protection.

Benefits of IEQ

K-12 schools are meant to be safe spaces for all students to learn. By maximizing IEQ, school administrators can be catalysts for an improved experience. By developing proper IAQ and focusing on noise reduction, school leaders are doing their part in providing an atmosphere that promotes learning and safety. Students shouldn’t be distracted during important tests because of HVAC noise and uncomfortable air. There are many more important things for them to focus on, like making good grades. Those matters should be left up to facility managers and school administrators. By utilizing HVAC solutions, decision-makers can make the right choice and focus on enhancing IEQ for the entire building.