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10 HVAC System Recommendations for Schools During Pandemic

July 29, 2020

Parents, educators, and administrators are all concerned about student and staff safety as schools and universities prepare to open for the 2020 academic year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indoor air quality and mitigation of the airborne virus are a hot topic this summer.

The ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force has developed extensive guidance for school and university facility teams as they prepare buildings for occupants.

“School and university officials are challenged with making very difficult decisions on how to best protect both students and staff as education facilities reopen, said Corey Metzger, ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force Schools Team lead. “This guidance offers a solid framework on ventilation control, filtration and maintenance that can be applied to different climate zones, building types and HVAC systems.”

From the guide, here is a synopsis of 10 of the many HVAC system recommendations for schools and universities. We strongly suggest downloading and reading the full ASHRAE 41-page document at the end of this blog.

  1. Keeping air and surfaces clean: The guide recommends a full daily air flush prior to occupancy. For a minimum of two hours prior to each school day, the mechanical systems should be operated in occupied mode with normal or peak outside air introduced to each space. Additionally, all surface areas in occupied spaces should be cleaned daily, including restrooms and food preparation areas.

  2. HVAC equipment cleaning: The ASHRAE guidelines include a monthly cleaning checklist for boilers, water systems, air and water cooled chillers, cooling towers, steam distribution systems, air handlers, pumps, RTUs, and more.

  3. Retrofit designer guidelines to improve air quality and to slow virus transmission via HVAC systems: These include temperature and humidity, ventilation, and filtration guidelines along with operation and scheduling guidelines for existing air handling units.

  4. Nurse’s office in K-12 schools’ requirements: Where are sick students sent? The nurse’s office. ASHRAE recommends following ASHRAE 170 and 2019 ASHRAE Handbook Chapter 9. The guide includes design criteria for temperature and humidity, ventilation, filtration, space pressurization, air pressurization and more.

  5. Filtration upgrades: Increase filtration efficiency to improve air quality in hopes of slowing the transmission of the virus via school HVAC systems. The guide includes filtration target levels, steps for data analysis and review of filtration systems, and implementation steps.

  6. Controlling outbreaks in K-12 and higher education environments: The guidelines include common sense approaches like identification of symptoms and notification of appropriate people about contact along with recommendations to develop quarantine and air cleaning protocol.

  7. Student health facilities at higher education recommendations: ASHRAE recommends incorporating a screening area with increased ventilation rates and one isolation exam room in the waiting area. They also recommend removing carpet and adding non-woven fabrics for seating. Additionally, they offer guidelines for temporary isolation rooms.

  8. Laboratories in higher education facilities: Recommendations include verifying that the space has one-pass air or maximum OA capable for lab operating requirements. Workstations should be modified for social distancing, and fume hoods and bio-safety cabinets should be up-to-date on certifications. Additionally, they recommend verifying airflow patterns using smoke tests.

  9. Athletics facilities and large assemblies: Move activities to outdoors, if possible. Limit occupancy and ensure social distancing procedures are in place. ASHRAE recommends avoiding use of locker rooms if possible. Otherwise, ensure that locker rooms have increased airflow and that exhaust flows do not exceed ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1. For lecture halls and theaters, increase outdoor air ventilation rates and replace all filters with MERV 13 or higher.

  10. Residence Halls: Universities should consider reducing occupancy in rooms, suites and common areas. Additionally, remove carpets and use non-woven fabrics for seating. Replace filters with MERV 13 or higher and verify all outdoor air flows are well distributed.

The ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force recommends that the guidance provided should take into consideration unique climate zones, unique school buildings and HVAC systems.  Additionally, schools should remember to always follow recommended CDC guidelines.

Download ASHRAE Guidelines to Reopen Schools


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Kelly Patterson

Kelly Patterson

Kelly Patterson is a lifelong learner and the marketing director at the Hoffman family of companies. There is nothing she likes more than talking about commercial HVAC systems and extraordinary customer service.

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