Indoor air quality in schools affects grades

How often can you remember queuing for your next class at school and walking into the room only to find it extremely hot, sweaty and smelly from the previous occupants?

Poor classroom air quality Croft ArchitectueA few too many times maybe?

The chances were that the indoor air quality of the learning space was insufficient and below the recommended standard for use. However, in days gone by what would we do? Open the all the windows and freeze until the room returned to some kind of normality.

This process is completely inadequate for any learning environment. We wouldn’t accept this standard of indoor air quality in our own homes so why should it be acceptable in schools?

Would you be happy if this practice was routine at your child’s school today?

I’m sure the answer is no and the Government now have regulations in place in the form of BB101 guidelines regarding acoustics, lighting and ventilation in schools.

The Government recommendations for indoor air quality in schools was published in March 2014. The guidance instructs that the design of all newly built academic institutions must adhere to the recommendations to ensure they meet the standards for ventilationthermal comfort and indoor air quality.

Ventilation, thermal comfort and indoor air quality are a crucial consideration for any building, but even more so for schools.

Children and teachers spend over six hours a day in close quarters within their small teaching spaces. The design needs to consider the health and comfort of the buildings occupants for long periods of time.

The BB101 documentation recommends that,

 “Ventilation should be provided to limit the concentration of carbon dioxide in all teaching and learning spaces. When measured at seated head height, during the continuous period between the start and finish of teaching on any day, the average concentration of carbon dioxide should not exceed 1500 parts per million (ppm).”

We’ve all been in a situation either in the classroom or a meeting where we’ve felt tired and unable to function after a long session with a large number of people in the room. Upon release from the room you are crying out for caffeine and the room generally feels hot, stuffy and the windows have steamed up!

Condensation Croft Architecture

Yes, this is a classic example of carbon dioxide build-up within an unventilated space. The increase in carbon dioxide causes drowsiness, headaches and inability to function due to a reduction in oxygen reaching the brain. This is a completely unsuitable learning environment. Children need to be able to listen and respond to instructions and remain alert.

In essence, you could be the best teacher in the world, but you can't make someone learn. If the learning environment is substandard with poor air quality teachers have little chance of conveying information for it to be understood. 

Poor indoor air quality has a range of effects on its occupants and can increase the risk of;

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Learning Problems
  • Behaviour Disorders
  • Sinusitis
  • Headaches

Indoor air quality in the classroom

Indoor Air Quality in schools Croft ArchitectureIt’s amazing to think that a small increase in carbon dioxide can cause such big problems for children and teachers in school. 

Carbon dioxide is not the only problematic source of poor indoor air quality in school buildings. Health problems amongst pupils and teachers will only result in the spread of infection and days off sick, poor pupil engagement and achievement. Air quality can also be affected by pollutants such as;

  1. Carbon monoxide from heat sources using fossil fuels
  2. Microbial contaminants such as mould & bacteria.
  3. Volatile organic compounds released from paints & lacquers, office equipment such as copiers, printers, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers and corrective fluids.
  4. Asbestos which is found in building materials usually pre-dating 2000. When they’re disturbed by cutting, sanding, drilling or building remodelling the fibres are released into the air affecting the lungs. This should never affect any schools due to the particularly stringent regulations and the management systems in place. Disturbing asbestos without a license is a criminal offence.
  5. Legionella from air conditioning units and shower facilities.

There is so much to consider terms of a schools design to optimise air quality. Any new project needs adhere to current legalisation and design standards to ensure the environmental safety and wellbeing for all occupants.

By implementing a high standard of design in school teaching spaces where fresh clean air is provided consistently and reliably in a flexible design, the lifetime value of school buildings will be vastly increased. If ventilation and air quality are not a key consideration, the building life could be considerably shorter, and even worse it may result in the illness of its occupants.

Natural ventilation is key to a new school design. Well designed natural ventilation strategies will allow large volumes of air to move through teaching spaces. This can be achieved through the use of atria, cross ventilation and also stacks, where the hot air rises and low pressure suck in air from outside.

Indoor Air Quality Croft ArchitectureThe continuous flow of fresh air from outside will maintain a healthy sustainable building preventing illness and increasing student engagement and performance in the classroom.

The success of a school design involves achieving thermal comfort and optimal indoor air quality now and for a sustained future.

Healthy buildings = healthy people = productive environments

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