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Are Students And Faculty At Your School Frequently Getting Sick? It May Be A Building-Related Illness

by Anthony Graves

Are your students and faculty frequently coming down with respiratory illnesses? While schools are notorious for being full of germs, there's another possible cause. When a large number of people using a commercial building experience respiratory illnesses, they may all be suffering from a building-related illness caused by problems in your HVAC system. There are multiple potential causes: mold in your ducts, airborne volatile organic compounds or contaminants and insufficient airflow from the outside are a few. Here's what you need to know about preventing building-related illnesses in schools.

Maintain Your HVAC System on a Regular Schedule to Maximize Airflow

While the exact cause of building-related illnesses is unknown, insufficient airflow is a primary culprit. Your HVAC system needs to be kept in good working order to ensure that indoor air is exchanged with outside air. Modern schools are built to be energy efficient. Although this is a good thing, the building envelope of energy-efficient buildings is well-insulated against air exchange from the outside. You're relying entirely on your HVAC unit to keep the air in your building fresh, so it's important to receive regular maintenance from a commercial AC service.

Instruct Students and Faculty to Keep the Air Conditioning Vents Open and Unblocked

Most schools keep their thermostats under lock and key. This is done to prevent students from setting them as low as possible as a prank to freeze out a classroom. Unfortunately, this has one unintended side effect: when classrooms get too cold, students and faculty start closing the air conditioning vents or blocking them off with books and tape. After all, they can't simply adjust the thermostat! As well-intentioned as the students and faculty may be, closing the vents causes problems for your HVAC system.

Closing the vents reduces air circulation in the classroom and contributes to building-related illnesses. It also forces more cold air into adjoining classrooms, causing them to become uncomfortably cold. The most important thing, however, is that warm air from the classroom will cause condensation to form on the closed vent or the duct. Whenever you have a temperature differential in an energy-efficient building like a school, condensation and mold soon follow. Instruct your students and faculty to leave the vents open at all times — instead, they should tell maintenance to adjust the thermostat if the classroom is too cold. If adjusting the thermostat doesn't fix it, contact a commercial HVAC specialist to inspect your school's air conditioning system — there may be obstructions in the vents that lead to uneven cooling.

Inform Teachers that Cleaning Sprays Contribute to Building-Related Illnesses

If you have problems with odors in your school building, your faculty may bring in cleaning sprays from home to combat them. Unfortunately, harsh cleaning sprays that contain bleach or ammonia release airborne volatile organic compounds that can exacerbate building-related illnesses. Inform your faculty that they shouldn't attempt to clean their classrooms themselves. Classrooms with persistent odors should be cleaned by a professional. If the odor appears to be coming from your air ducts, it may be a sign of mold. You'll need to call an HVAC specialist to have your air ducts examined for mold growth — it's best to catch mold early before it starts to spread.

While the source of building-related illnesses is difficult to track down, good HVAC maintenance goes a long way in helping to prevent illness. Contact a commercial HVAC specialist to check for mold and obstructions in your ducts. He or she will also ensure that the HVAC system in your school is working as designed and that the system is exchanging the proper amount of inside air with outside air.

For more information, contact your local commercial ac services.