In the wake of COVID-19, the need for classrooms to be equipped with proper ventilation systems has become more urgent than ever. While children between the ages of 12-15 are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, it is still imperative to ensure the safety of the students, the faculty, and the staff by establishing more effective ventilation setups in schools.
The Australian Infection Control Expert Group (AICEG) has updated the federal government regarding the high risk of contracting COVID-19 in ‘poorly ventilated indoor crowded environments’. Recently, a concerned group of health, ventilation and architecture experts known as OzSAGE called on the government to also focus on mandates to improve ventilation in indoor facilities.
Labor’s NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten has expressed his concern on this vital issue, ‘There needs to be a national plan for better ventilation in special schools – actually all schools – but particularly special needs schools for kids, people with reduced immunity.’
Governments in other countries have already applied initiatives to ensure proper indoor ventilation. Belgium has made it mandatory for business establishments such as restaurants, hotels, and fitness centres to have carbon dioxide (CO₂) monitors. England’s Department of Education has pledged to provide around 300,000 CO₂ monitors to schools next term to help reduce the potential outbreak of COVID cases.
The impact of poor ventilation
When people are gathered in enclosed spaces with closed windows and doors – such as a classroom — the amount of carbon dioxide in the air increases. If an unmasked person with COVID-19 is in that area, there is a high risk of contracting the disease as the viral particles are concentrated in the indoor aerosols within the breathing space as well.
An increase in CO₂ levels can also affect a person’s wellbeing and performance. Based on his research findings, Professor Mat Santamouris of UNSW discovered alarming levels of CO₂ in classrooms — up to 4,000ppm. That’s more than four times the threshold limit.
Professor Santamouris noted, ‘Under these conditions, both the teacher and the students are sleepy and tired, and their learning capacity is reduced tremendously.’
Associate Lecturer Dr Shamila Haddad of UNSW Sydney’s School of Built Environment concurred, ‘High concentration of CO₂ released by the occupants of the classroom can lead to fatigue, concentration loss, and poor learning performance.’
She also added, ‘A good ventilation system inside classrooms, on the other hand, can ensure good air quality and thermal comfort, which can enhance learning capacity and also protect students against the transmission of airborne diseases, like COVID-19.’
Setting up CO₂ monitors can keep track of carbon dioxide levels as an accurate indication for good ventilation. Outdoor air contains around 400-415 parts per million (ppm) of CO₂. Scientists gauge that between 400 to 800ppm of CO₂ is considered acceptable parameters in a well-ventilated indoor area, or 600ppm on average.
Given the structural state of most schools, however, the air quality has suffered tremendously.
RMIT University recently investigated five schools in Victoria for having ‘very poor ventilation’ as recorded CO₂ levels inside classrooms have reached up to 5,000ppm.
Installing high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration can help improve ventilation in classrooms and reduce the risk of aerosol exposure to airborne viruses. But its effectivity will depend on several factors: proper installation, location coverage, placement, and even the behaviour of students in the room.
Ultimately, having optimum ventilation boils down to allowing ample airflow from the outside to significantly reduce indoor CO₂ and harmful aerosol levels as well.
Opening windows of opportunity
Even before the pandemic, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has conducted studies on indoor ventilation. Their 2018 research observed the window opening behaviour in classrooms with different ventilation retrofits. The research revealed the following comparative findings:
- Despite a visual CO₂ display, there was no significant drop in CO₂ levels in the classroom with windows that opened manually. Even in moderate climate temperatures, it was found that the occupants rarely opened the windows and barely noticed the CO₂ feedback with the windows in this scenario open only 17% of the time
- Substantially lower CO₂ levels were recorded in a classroom featuring an automatic window opening. The windows in this scenario were open 71% of the occupied time
Researchers concluded that CO₂ concentrations were at their lowest in classrooms that featured an automatic window opening. Simply providing visual feedback on the current carbon dioxide concentration — as a motivation for window opening – was not enough to encourage this.
Safetyline Jalousie: innovative solutions for better ventilation
The challenge of having properly ventilated schools during this pandemic can be quite daunting. Yet, Safetyline Jalousie can provide high performance louvre window designs with 86% free air that can ensure safe and healthy ventilation.
In conjunction with Blue Squared Window Automation, Safetyline Jalousie has recently developed the SmartAir system – a pre-programmable, fully automated turnkey ventilation system to control airflow for natural ventilation. CO₂, humidity and temperature monitors will trigger Safetyline Jalousie’s motorised louvre windows to automatically open and close, removing the reliance of human input and resulting in improved indoor air quality.
We understand the need to improve ventilation systems and cost could be a major concern. Through the Free Motors Initiative, Safetyline Jalousie offers the opportunity to add SmartAir louvre motors to any windows quote, completely free of charge. This includes all retrofitting existing projects along with both present and future builds.