Indoor Air Quality

Spring Cleaning Your Facility: Understanding Indoor Air Quality

By Brandon Taylor

Let’s face it: Our schools are filthy. 

It’s not your fault. There are dozens of daily factors that compound over time to make our schools and administrative offices unhealthy environments. Things like mold, dust, bacteria, odors and more can contribute to an unwell feeling that’s not to be overlooked.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported improving air quality is the leading way to mitigate transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses.

According to a 2020 study by the Government Accountability Office, 40 percent of the nation’s school systems need to replace at least half of their HVAC systems. Many school, district and higher education leaders are working to improve indoor air quality for their facilities, and the government has offered funding to supplement those costs.

The Department of Education introduced the American Rescue Plan (ARP), allocating funds which can be used specifically to improve indoor air quality in schools—specifically including system upgrades, filtering and purification, as well as inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement, and upgrading of projects in school facilities.

The ARP provides $122 billion for the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. The ESSER funds and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds provided under earlier appropriations can also support this work. The original ESSER and GEER funds are available until 9/30/2022, while a second round of funding is available until 9/30/2023.

But indoor air quality technology is complicated, mostly because you can't see it. There remains a lot of confusion about expectations of these devices and what they truly are (and aren’t) capable of. Here’s what you want to consider before installing these devices in your facility.

What do air purifiers really do?

Air purification is the improvement of indoor air quality. There are a few ways to do this—most simply, bringing in fresh air by opening a window.

Technology has allowed us to replicate this naturally occurring purification process to actively reduce pollutants in the air—things like odors, mold, pollen and dust—but inside a school or office building.

Air purifiers were originally designed to eliminate odors and volatile organic compounds such as those caused by bacteria and mold, pollen, dust, pet dander and other pollutants. More recently, many companies began testing their air purifiers’ ability to specifically eliminate SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. While many air purification devices have been proven effective at inactivating SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses, it’s important to note no device or filtration system is 100-percent effective, and therefore, air purification should be considered as just one part of a larger cleaning and disinfecting plan.

Understanding Acronyms

HEPA: The CDC endorses high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) as the most efficient at capturing human-generated virus particles. HEPA filters push air through fine mesh filters, removing dust and other particles without releasing any new potentially harmful materials into the air. A true HEPA filter can remove at least 99.97% of particles in a lab setting. Be wary of “HEPA-like” or “HEPA-type” filters, as they are not true HEPA and do not deliver these results. It’s also important to note that some viruses and VOCs are too small for even HEPA filters to trap, which is why multi-layered technologies—photocatalytic processes, UV lights and ions—are seen in the most effective air purification devices.

PCO: Photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) technology uses energy to activate a catalyst, turning moisture in the air into products that continuously clean your space.

BPI: Bipolar ionization creates a plasma of electrical charges. Ionization removes allergens and other harmful pathogens from the breathing space, either by pushing them away or causing them to clump together and fall to the floor.

CADR: The clean-air delivery rate rating measures the speed at which the purifier turns over the air in the room and removes dust, smoke and pollen. This number applies only to devices that use passive technologies, however. If you choose a device that does not combine both active and passive technologies, look for a CADR of 300 or more.

Which one is right for us?

One of the most common mistakes is choosing a purifier that’s not powerful enough for the space it’s cleaning. Make sure you install a device that’s designed for the size of the room or space you are trying to purify. The device should be able to filter the air in a room at least 3 times every hour, seeking out and reducing contaminants that can cause odors and other irritations.

When choosing a purifier, look for a device that also offers odor-reducing technology to help with offensive odors.

Look for multiple technologies. Combining active air purification technologies such as PCO and BPI with a passive HEPA filter can further improve indoor air quality, speed up the purification process and destroy the smallest contaminants that the HEPA can’t capture.

Maintenance is a key component to proper efficacy. Once you’ve installed your air purification devices, regular maintenance is an important part of making sure they are operating to their highest ability.

Brandon Taylor is CEO of Greentech Environmental. Greentech was founded in 2009 with the desire to innovate products that improve the space where families live, work and play and make clean air accessible to all.