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What is the Educational Cost of Poor Indoor Air Quality?

elementary school female teacher feeling sick in classroom due to poor indoor air quality

Indoor air quality is often a topic of discussion, but it’s not always brought up in the context of schools. The fact is that poor indoor air quality is a problem in many schools, especially older buildings. A study in 2014 revealed that the average age of school buildings in the nation is 55.

How does Indoor Air Quality Affect Students and Teachers?

So, what impact does poor air quality have on students (and teachers?) It can have a number of negative impacts:

  1. Increased absenteeism. Poor air quality makes students feel unwell, and then they stay home sick. Some students may also experience allergic reactions to everything from pet dander on a schoolmate’s clothing to dust mites.
  2. Compromised academic performance. Pollution affects brain health, which in turn affects performance. Studies show that this effect is independent of things like school size and student demographics.
  3. Increased fatigue and attention problems; students and teachers alike may become tired and unable to focus during class.
  4. Increased behavioral issues, likely caused by attention problems.
  5. Developmental delays in younger children. Poor indoor air quality can even contribute to verbal, perceptual, behavioral, and motor disabilities.
  6. Headaches and other symptoms that can also interfere with both learning and teaching.
  7. Low morale from teachers and students not wanting to come to school.

Health problems are more likely to be caused by indoor air quality problems if symptoms are only noticeable when the child is at school or if complaints are associated with particular times of the day or week. If children are reluctant to go to school or saying they “hate” school then that may indicate an issue, especially with younger children who may not realize the root cause of their feelings.

In other words, poor indoor air quality can affect just about every aspect of your child’s education and can result in a lower GPA, higher absenteeism, and children not getting into the college they want or even, in some cases, graduating on time.

What can Schools Do?

There may only be a limited amount schools can do when dealing with aging infrastructure and other “high dollar” items. However, there are a few things school administrators…and even students and teachers can do:

  1. Get an energy audit of the school building or campus to see how the existing HVAC systems can be easily improved to both improve air quality and lower expense.
  2. Ensure that ventilation rates hit the recommended levels to reduce carbon dioxide exposure. In some cases, putting carbon dioxide sensors in classrooms to remind teachers to open the windows can help, but only if the local climate is conducive.
  3. Replace noisy mechanical ventilation systems with quieter ones. Noise is wasted energy, but it also prompts teachers to turn off the ventilation system, so they don’t have to raise their voice over it. (Noisy systems can also be a source of distraction for students).
  4. Make sure HVAC systems are inspected regularly. Change all filters regularly and make sure condensate pans drain properly.
  5. Post signs to remind students and staff not to rest books, papers, backpacks, etc on HVAC units and vents.
  6. Ban smoking in or near school buildings, including for senior staff.
  7. Ensure that the most environmentally friendly cleaning substances are used. “Green” products often have less VOCs, which can cause long-term health problems.

Indoor air quality has a significant effect on a student’s ability to learn and a teacher’s ability to be effective. This translates to lower test scores and GPAs, and to students not being able to reach their goals. It can also contribute to staff absenteeism and staff turnover. If you suspect indoor air quality problems in your school, contact Energy Optimizers today for an energy audit to help you improve indoor air quality and energy efficiency in your building(s).

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