Framework for Effective School IAQ Management
How can your school or district make a healthy indoor environment a priority? One way is through the development of an indoor air quality (IAQ) management program — which, through simple, low-cost actions, can save money, improve health, and decrease student and staff absenteeism.
The IAQ Tools for Schools guidance documents and resources help schools develop and sustain effective and comprehensive IAQ management programs, or other overall health and safety initiatives. The IAQ Tools for Schools guidance has been implemented successfully in tens of thousands of schools nationwide.
Use the below resources to develop your own program for indoor air quality in schools.
On this page:
- Technical Solutions to Common IAQ Issues in Schools
- Key Drivers for Effective IAQ Management in Schools
- Case Studies for Effective IAQ Management in Schools
- Take Stock of Your IAQ Management Program
- Provide Quality HVAC
- Mold and Moisture
- Integrated Pest Managment (IPM)
- Effectively Clean and Maintain
- Make Smart Materials Selections
- Source Control and Chemical Management
Use the Basic Steps to Using the Energy Savings Plus Health Guidelines to find examples of typical school energy efficiency and building upgrade projects, as well as the potential IAQ/health risks and opportunities that may be encountered when executing these upgrades.
Quality HVAC system design, operation and maintenance are critical for providing clean and healthy IAQ in schools. Properly functioning HVAC systems provide adequate outdoor ventilation, controlling odors and reducing the pollutants that cause most IAQ problems inside school buildings. In addition to improving occupant health and performance, regular HVAC maintenance saves energy.
|Common Solutions to HVAC Issues|
|I don't know if our school's HVAC system is operating properly or if our air is being contaminated by common pollutants.||
|I want to ensure adequate fresh air circulation at my school.||
|I am concerned that good heating and ventilation practices are incompatible with energy efficiency.||
|Our school buildings have experienced mold and moisture problems.||
School HVAC systems should be designed and operated to provide a minimum outdoor air ventilation rate consistent with current ASHRAE Standards. For classrooms, this standard is about 15 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of outdoor air per person.
For more information:
2. Mold and Moisture Control
- Conduct routine moisture inspections.
- Establish a mold prevention and remediation plan.
- Maintain indoor humidity levels between 30 and 60 percent.
- Address moisture problems promptly. Dry wet areas within 24 to 48 hours.
- Review EPA's "Mold Remediation in Schools and Large Buildings" to learn about mold growth in schools and how it can be managed.
For more information:
3. Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
- Inspect and monitor school environments for pests.
- Establish an IPM plan.
- Use spot treatments and baits rather than broad pesticide applications.
- Communicate with occupants prior to pesticide use.
- Mark indoor and outdoor areas treated with pesticides.
- Use the IPM Checklist from the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit.
For more information:
Effective cleaning and maintenance procedures are critical to protecting building systems and building occupants. Student, teacher and staff health and productivity can suffer when school building systems fail to operate as designed. School and district-level cleaning and maintenance programs can be designed to help prevent IAQ problems.
|Common Solutions for Cleaning and Maintenance Issues|
|There have been complaints of illness and discomfort in sensitive individuals due to high dust levels.||
|I want to put proactive cleaning and maintenance practices in place to prevent problems before they begin.||
|Facilities staff at my school don't use cleaning products in the correct manner.||
|Our school has a large number of grounds supplies, equipment, fertilizer and portable gasoline containers.||
|Our school has a variety of flooring, including vinyl, wood, terrazzo, tile and carpet, which require daily cleaning.||
|We want to ensure that the combustion appliances at our school are functioning properly and safely.||
For more information:
- Download the Building and Grounds Maintenance Checklist (PDF) and Backgrounder (PDF).
- Read the Environmental Stewardship Guide (PDF) from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), North Carolina, to learn how this district is successfully implementing effective cleaning and maintenance practices.
- Read about Broward County Public Schools Program on Environmental Steward on Air Quality from the School Board of Broward County, Florida , to learn how this district has tailored the IAQ Tools for Schools guidance, including information on effective cleaning and maintenance, to fit its individual challenges and needs.
School environments face threats of exposure to indoor air pollutants due to a variety of factors, including: the construction of more tightly sealed buildings; reduced ventilation rates to save energy; the use of synthetic building materials and furnishings; the increased use of personal care products, pesticides and housekeeping supplies; and the increased use of vehicles and power equipment.
To reduce the impact of indoor air pollutants, choose products that have less of an effect on human health and the environment than equivalent, competing products or services. Look for products that may contain recycled content, or for products and services that minimize waste, conserve energy or water or reduce the amount of toxics disposed or consumed. When building a new school, meet with building planners and design architects to discuss materials selection.
|Common Solutions to Materials Selection Issues|
|I don't know what chemicals or products are currently being used in my school.||
|There are no guidelines for purchasing chemicals or other products at our school.||
|Sometimes products that are used in our schools make students and staff feel sick or have allergic reactions and/or asthma attacks.||
For more information:
- Visit the ENERGY STAR website for EPA resources designed to assist procurement officials in making smart purchasing decisions.
- Visit the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing website to read more about environmental attributes to look for in products, procurement guidance, tools, case studies and other useful resources.
- Visit the Introduction to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) website to learn about the sources and effects of high-emission products.
One of the most effective ways to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) is to eliminate individual sources of pollution, including chemicals or to reduce their emissions. Chemicals may be used by studentss, teachers, facility personnel, and administrative staff throughout a school.
Consider the possible health, safety and environmental implications before buying a particular chemical. Proper chemical use and management, including storage, labeling and disposal, is critical for reducing chemical exposures and costly accidents.
|Common Solutions to Source Control and Chemical Management Issues|
|There are hazardous chemicals contained on school property that have not been properly addressed.||
|I want to minimize student, teacher and administrative staff exposure to hazardous chemicals.||
|I want to ensure our school buildings don't have elevated radon levels.||
For more information:
Efforts to create healthy school environments should encompass a variety of strategies and policies within schools. The Key Drivers for Effective School IAQ Management are the programmatic building blocks of sustainable health or safety programs, including IAQ management programs.
The Key Drivers give step-by-step actions and strategies that schools can take to create effective IAQ management programs:
- Develop a systematic approach.
- Identify existing assets.
- Design standard operating procedures.
- Empower an IAQ leader.
- Build an effective team.
- Create champions.
- Secure senior buy-in.
Effective organization is critical to ensuring a successful and sustainable IAQ management program. To organize for success:
- Designate a responsible and motivated IAQ coordinator to lead and track IAQ management activities in your school;
- Convene a leadership team to assist the IAQ coordinator and engage senior management to support your IAQ management efforts; and
- Build an IAQ team that represents your district and community. To recruit program champions, communicate with school officials, staff and parents about how your program is organized. Many effective IAQ teams include union representatives, parents and teachers who initially lodged IAQ complaints.
- Share your goals.
- Make IAQ meaningful.
- Be transparent and inclusive.
- Communicate results.
Communicate with everyone, all the time. Share your IAQ program's intent, activities, results and next steps with your entire school community to build understanding and buy-in. Making transparent and inclusive communication a priority will help your program engage participants and program supporters from your community.
Highlighting and sharing your successes and results can help make IAQ meaningful for your school.
Download the IAQ Tools for Schools Communications Guide (PDF) (EPA 402-K-02-008, January 2003).
- Walk the grounds.
- Listen to occupants.
- Use technology.
- Determine a baseline.
- Keep customers satisfied.
- Identify and prevent risks.
Assess your environment by developing an IAQ profile of your buildings. Make IAQ monitoring a standard element of maintenance and custodial practices. Learn more about developing an IAQ profile.
Consider collecting information about facility IAQ from school staff using the Collection of Indoor Air Quality Checklists.
Communicate and share the walkthrough findings and action steps.
- Prioritize actions.
- Put goals in writing.
- Start small.
- Work in stages.
- Plan for the future.
Develop an IAQ management plan that includes goals, objectives and new standard facility management policies designed to prevent IAQ problems and respond to potential IAQ issues when they occur. Be sure to communicate your plan — including a proposed timeline for action items — to the school community to generate feedback and promote collaboration. Update your plan on a regular basis to reflect new goals, objectives and policies. Read the Developing an IAQ Tools for Schools plan.
- Educate staff about IAQ to change behavior.
- Train cccupants to address IAQ risks.
- Address the source of problems.
Act to address structural, institutional and behavioral issues. Communicate the actions you will take to improve IAQ with all affected stakeholders, including IAQ team members, facility staff, and teachers and administrators.
Be sure to address IAQ problems identified in the IAQ profiles of your buildings and priorities listed in your IAQ management plan. As you take steps to manage IAQ, tell your community what you have done and why it is important. This will help sustain your IAQ management program by institutionalizing IAQ policies and building community support for your program.
- Solicit feedback.
- Capture return on investment.
Evaluate your results by assessing your progress toward your goals and your program's impact on student and staff health, productivity and performance. Measure your program's impact by monitoring metrics, such as the number of IAQ complaints, the cost of IAQ-related repairs, the difference in school nurse visits, and attendance and student test scores over time.
Assessing the impact of your IAQ management program on student health and achievement is a critical step to constantly improving your program and capturing your return on investment. Evaluation can also identify opportunities to decrease costs through preventative maintenance. Consider your results and the metrics for tracking the program as you continue to refine your program strategy.Find additional examples of districts achieving outcomes using the IAQ Tools for Schools resources, such as Section 6 of the Reference Guide: Solving IAQ Problems.
The following case studies are snapshots of school districts that have implemented the IAQ Tools for Schools guidance successfully — detailing how they have worked to achieve this success. Each profile demonstrates strategies from the Framework for Effective School IAQ Management that schools have applied to create effective and enduring IAQ programs.
Read the profiles below to learn how school districts from across the country have overcome barriers to launch and develop accomplished programs — regardless of location, size, budget or facility conditions.
Baltimore County Public Schools
Urban, suburban, and rural district surrounding the city of Baltimore, MD
Used the Framework to strengthen existing programs and leverage a proactive approach to environmental issues.
Blue Valley School District
Suburban district in Overland Park, KS
Built momentum and secured support for facility investments by linking IAQ management to student performance.
School Board of Broward County
Urban district in the Fort Lauderdale, FL area
||Created a collaborative approach to IAQ management that brought together parents, unions, teachers, facilities, and operations and maintenance staff.|
Urban district in Charlotte, NC
Committed to ensuring healthy indoor environments after an expensive and exhausting IAQ crisis. Reorganization, training and benchmarking all facilities led to a sustainable, institutionalized IAQ management program.
Hartford Public Schools
Urban district in Hartford, CT with the sixth highest poverty rate among large U.S. cities
Used the IAQ Tools for Schools guidance to coordinate school health and facilities functions across the district and engage community organizations in an effort to address asthma.
Katy Independent School District
Rapidly growing suburban district outside of Houston, TX
Turned an IAQ crisis into an opportunity by creating an effective IAQ program led by key senior managers at the district level and by health services representatives at each school.
Newark Public Schools
Urban district in Newark, NJ
Created a proactive, results-oriented IAQ management program, despite many 100+ year old facilities, by training staff, partnering with community groups for support and cultivating program ownership.
North East Independent School District
Urban district in San Antonio, TX
Transformed its reactive IAQ program in a proactive, comprehensive environmental health regime by equating the health of school buildings to the students' health and wellness.
West Carrollton School District
Suburban district near Dayton, OH
Overcame an IAQ crisis and loss of public trust by employing an open communications and planning strategy to build understanding, improve assessments and create ownership for IAQ results.
A critical component of developing a successful IAQ management plan is identifying your program's current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. By assessing your program, you will be able to recognize your greatest assets, identify areas for improvement, and plan and execute a long-term strategy for success. To take stock of your school's IAQ management activities, use the step-by-step directions below.
"Using the worksheets helped us realize the assets and valuable components already in place at our district and how best to leverage them to achieve IAQ success.
- Get the right people together. Gather an inclusive group consisting of members of your IAQ management team, facilities and maintenance staff, administrators or others who have been involved in creating a healthy learning environment.
- Set your intention. As a group, reflect on your program's ultimate objective, which will help ground the group in your program's overall vision and goals.
- Refer to the Framework: Seven Key Drivers and Six Technical Solutions. Hand out copies of the Framework, which is comprised of proven approaches and strategies designed to promote and advance environmental health in schools. Refer to the Framework throughout the exercise.
- Brainstorm as a team. Highlight your program's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
- Strengths: Attributes of a school district that are helpful for achieving set objectives.
- Weaknesses: Attributes of a school district that are harmful to achieving set objectives.
- Opportunities: External conditions that are helpful to achieving set objectives.
- Threats: External conditions which could do damage to set objectives.
- Map out your program's next steps. After you complete both exercises, determine your program's next steps and future action plans. Consider the following questions when developing a list of short-term and long-term action items:
- What are our weaknesses, and what specific actions can we take to address them?
- How can we leverage our strengths and opportunities to enhance our future plans?
- What is the timeline for completing each of the specific tasks?
- Are there individuals within the school community who could serve as resources for completing these action items?
- Mobilize your community to take action. A powerful way to gain administrative and community buy-in for your action plans is to host a pacing event — no matter how small or large. After determining your next steps, bring in members of the school community and educate them on the role they can plan in creating a healthy school environment. Pacing events can help promote action and participation while building momentum for future plans.