Facilities (Campus Spaces)

Deep Breaths

indoor air quality


Have you ever found yourself and your students in the midst of a coughing and sneezing fit? Have you ever felt yourself growing uncontrollably sleepy—after a good night’s sleep? It’s happened to all of us. While there may be several explanations for such problems, one of the most likely explanations is poor indoor air quality (IAQ).

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website (epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq), “Indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.” Two to five times! What a huge multiple. No wonder you and your students are coughing and sneezing.

Fixing the Air

There are short term and long-term solutions to the problem. Short term is easy: open the windows and let lots fresh air into the room. Long term: find a way to provide constant adequate ventilation.

According to professional architects and engineers, adequate ventilation with fresh, clean air will prevent indoor air problems. What is adequate ventilation? Check the “Standards and Guidelines” page at www.ashrae.org.

ASHRAE, or the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, is a global professional association seeking to advance heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems design and construction. Founded in 1894 as the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers (ASHVE), it became the American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHAE) in 1954. In 1959, with the merger of ASHAE and the American Society of Refrigerating Engineers (ASRE), it adopted its current name of ASHRAE.

According to the ASHRAE website, “High building occupant densities make it particularly important for building designers to incorporate ventilation systems that provide adequate outdoor air (in compliance with the industry’s ventilation standard, ASHRAE 62.1-2010), while also controlling moisture and energy costs.

Of course, poor indoor air quality can have detrimental effects on the health of occupants. According to the EPA, poor indoor air quality can cause coughing, irritated eyes, headaches, and even respiratory distress related to asthma and allergies.

Such problems create serious roadblocks to learning for students. In addition, professors and instructors may also suffer and become less effective.

What Causes Poor IAQ?

While there are a number of causes for poor IAQ, poorly functioning ventilation and air filtration equipment are considered primary contributors.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website (www.osha.gov) says inadequate IAQ stems from poor conditions related to temperature, humidity, mold from water damage, chemical exposure, and lack of sufficient outside air or poor ventilation.

Indoor remodeling and construction—especially combined with painting—can also adversely affect indoor air.

Consider the case of a school in New Hampshire. In 1996, the local health department cited several IAQ deficiencies and required school officials to remedy those problems. The maintenance staff addressed those deficiencies by adjusting the school’s energy management system. That, however, did not solve the problem.

In fact, the problem grew worse. Over the next several months, administrators, teachers, and students began to complain more and more vociferously about general discomfort, inadequate temperature control, and odors. Some began to suffer from dizziness and tingling feelings in their extremities.

indoor air quality


Such a problem could certainly arise on any college campus.

Searching for a solution, the school’s officials came across the EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools program and Action Kit, which helped resolve the problem.

The EPA’s Action Kit includes a list of best practices and industry guidelines to maintain IAQ, sample IAQ policies, and a sample IAQ management plan. The Kit shows maintenance teams how to implement a plan to improve indoor air problems at little or no cost, using in-house staff.

12 Steps to Maintaining Good IAQ

In the commercial world, OSHA requires employers to provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards that may cause harm to employees.” That language covers IAQ which, if poor, may cause employees to become ill.

So how can a college or university comply with these policies and maintain healthy indoor air quality? The EPA recommends the following 12 steps:

  1. Start with an inspection of the HVAC systems in buildings across campus.
  2. Check out the ventilation systems in the various buildings. Are they functioning properly? Poor ventilation can set the stage for poor IAQ.
  3. Inspect the campus maintenance facilities. Repair leaks and clean up spills—right away. Secure chemical products and other supplies.
  4. Set a regular schedule for inspecting and changing HVAC filters in all campus buildings.
  5. Clean condensate pans and make sure they are draining properly.
  6. Establish a regular cleaning schedule for air supply diffusers, return registers, and outside air intakes.
  7. Isolate outdoor air intakes—at ground level and on the roof—from possible sources of pollutants, such as dumpsters, idling buses/vehicles, plumbing vents, and kitchen exhaust fans.
  8. Clean the ducts and the insides of airhandling units or unit ventilators.
  9. Keep papers, trash, and other items away from unit ventilators.
  10. Set the HVAC system to turn on and off in step with the building use schedule, including days, evenings, nights, and weekends.
  11. Educate the faculty and staff about the importance of maintaining HVAC systems to ensure proper building ventilation.
  12. Make regular use of the EPA’s IAQ Tools for Schools resources to identify, correct, and prevent IAQ problems.
indoor air quality


Indoor air quality is a serious issue on campus. Failing to attend adequately to IAQ issues can adversely affect the quality of teaching and instruction provided. That, of course, can adversely affect students’ futures.

In recent years, however, maintenance professionals have gained an ever-better understanding of how to manage and improve IAQ, enabling instructors to teach more effectively and students to learn more comprehensively.