Schools and universities should be vigilant about upgrading their facilities to correct indoor-air-quality problems. But in some cases, renovations and retrofits themselves can be the cause of poor air quality.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's “Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools” program provides guidance for facilities managers upgrading their buildings:
Before performing any demolition, check for lead-based paints and asbestos.
When possible, perform work at times when the occupants are not in the building, such as vacation breaks, weekends or evenings.
Keep building occupants as far as possible from renovation activities. The greater the distance between pollutants and occupants, the less concentrated the pollutants will be upon reaching the occupants.
Install temporary barriers (such as plastic sheeting) to seal the work areas from the occupied areas. Cover all supply and return air grilles if the HVAC system in the renovation area also serves occupied areas. This will prevent the air ducts from spreading pollutants to occupied areas. Exhaust air from the construction area so that pollutants cannot flow from the construction area to the occupied areas.
Try to keep pollutants confined to as small an area as reasonably possible, rather than allow them to spread to larger areas.
When painting, select a low-VOC-emitting paint that is free of lead and mercury. Use proper storage and disposal practices for paints, solvents and supplies. Allow paint odors to dissipate before occupants return to the area; use supply and exhaust fans to sweep fumes out of the building.
For flooring installations, use low-emitting flooring materials and adhesives. Let the new flooring air out before installing it. Install carpet, vinyl and related flooring materials when the school building is not in use, and follow the manufacturers' recommendations for ventilating the work area. Seal joints of hard surfaces and the entire surface of porous flooring installed near water sources.
When upgrading roofs, put “hot pots” of tar and other pollutant-producing materials away from outdoor air intakes. Consider wind patterns and try to arrange equipment so that winds carry odors away from the building. If the pollutants can't be kept away from air intakes, schools may choose to temporarily close the outdoor air intakes of air handlers, particularly rooftop units in the vicinity of (and downwind from) the work area. In these cases, schools should provide a temporary solution (such as fans) to supply unaffected outdoor air, and reduce pollutant-generating activities indoors.
Clean up construction debris, dust and scraps at least daily so that there is less chance that these pollutants will enter occupied areas.
Estimated number of U.S. schools that have indoor air quality or ventilation problems.
Source: U.S. General Accounting Office
Number of hours a typical student spends in a school building each year.
Number of school days lost each year to asthma-related absences.
Source: Centers for Disease Control
Amount of cubic feet per minute (cfm) per person that is the outdoor air ventilation rate recommended for classrooms.
Source: American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers