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Ventilation in schools – is it time to revisit mechanical ventilation?

Ventilation in schools – is it time to revisit mechanical ventilation?

We all remember those hot summer days at school when the only defence against rising temperatures was the folded-up piece of paper jamming the door open. Then, there was that dilemma, as the noise from outside drowned out the teacher, and soon the air was stuffy and stale once more.

While this image of school classrooms is an almost comical representation of education-based suffering, the impact of COVID-19 has made this much less of a joke. While natural ventilation may have been the way of the past, as schools sought to reduce costs, the future is likely to require more use of mechanical ventilation.

Here we explore the argument about why it is now the time to revisit mechanical ventilation in our schools.

Protecting our young people

Ventilation has never been such a serious topic. The air we breathe has become a potential danger, and we have lost some of the assuredness we once had that an open window was enough. We are all now tuned into virus mitigation, stopping the spread of airborne pathogens, and protecting the health of all.

While the symptoms of COVID are not as serious for young people, it became clear that schools were a petri dish, and our children became a vector in the spread of the virus. Keeping children at home long term is now recognised as the worst of all worlds. However, sending young people to school to be the long-term occupant in the same airflow needs revisiting.

Mechanical ventilation has been the last resort for most schools due to the cost. A school is a large building with many different rooms and corridors. The idea of managing airflow is challenging and expensive. The Royal Institute of British Architects noted that £150 million was wasted on energy used by HVAC systems in school.

More than just COVID

While this new focus on effective mechanical ventilation in schools has been prompted by COVID-19, there are many reasons why an effective system is essential.

Remember that image from the beginning of this article. How many of you actually learned something when you sat in that hot and stuffy classroom? Your mind was likely far more interested in when you would be free to get some fresh cooling air. The right ventilation system has been the focus of many studies looking to create better spaces for the learner.

Two government documents should be of interest to schools. The first is the Building Bulletin (BB) 101, which offers ventilation, thermal comfort, and indoor air quality guidelines, published in 2018. The second document is BB 93, which is the Acoustic design of schools’ performance standards.

These BBs are not a legal requirement, but they do set out non-statutory guidance on best practices. The documents are written to help the school provide adequate ventilation for the performance of the building for its purpose. By adhering to these standards, schools can provide classrooms that are the best environment for learning. It just so happens that they will also lessen the possibility of a school becoming a vector for the spread of a global pandemic.

If you would like to discuss the ventilation requirements in your school buildings, contact Transcool Systems today.