Whether your campus is open now, reopening in stages this fall, or adopting a “wait and see” approach, you’re probably thinking about ways to improve indoor air quality in your campus buildings.

And if you’re not, you definitely should be. Air quality is an important factor in keeping university students, employees, and the community at large safer and more comfortable when they return to campus.

Although we don’t have definitive proof that SARS-Cov-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – can be transmitted via HVAC systems, there is concern that it could happen. According to guidance from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), transmission through the air of COVID-19 is “sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled.”

But how should colleges and universities approach indoor air quality activities?

A good place to start is with the following clear, actionable steps, backed up by expert guidance from the EPA, CDC, and ASHRAE.

The list below not only helps higher ed institutions improve the campus environment and mitigate certain risks, it can help manage – or even reduce – operations costs, all urgent priorities for administrators.

Five steps to help improve indoor air quality

1. Give your HVAC systems a thorough check-up

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew that indoor air quality has a direct effect on student health.[1] In addition to communicable diseases, pollutants such as mold or dust can impact student health.

Make sure all campus HVAC systems are operating properly and comply with ASHRAE ventilation requirements.[2]A properly maintained HVAC system is the foundation of better indoor air quality on your campus. Routine HVAC maintenance might not sound exciting, but without timely check-ups, your system could be using too much energy, or pollutants could become trapped in your system.

Moisture, of course, is often a by-product of an improperly maintained HVAC system as well. That moisture can foster the growth of mold and mildew, and may even give viruses (like COVID-19) the opportunity to remain viable for a longer period of time.

Especially if your campus has been closed for a few months, it’s a good idea to have ductwork inspected and cleaned now. Ask your plant operations and maintenance partner for their recommendations and expertise.

2. Consider high-efficiency filters to improve air quality

We know high-efficiency filters (such as HEPA or high-level MERV filters) can significantly reduce concentrations of indoor airborne particles. They can filter dust and other pollutants – and it’s possible they may filter out some virus particles.[3] High-efficiency filters aren’t a silver bullet, since some COVID-19 particles may still pass through, but they play an important role in your overall indoor air quality program.

Of course, this is only when those high-efficiency filters are properly maintained. Your HVAC maintenance program should include preventive maintenance (as well as corrective repairs) to ensures filters are installed the right way, working properly, and are within their service life.

3. Consider UV air-cleaning products

Another move toward better indoor air quality may include the use of ultraviolet (UV) disinfection technology.

According to ASHRAE, “the entire UV spectrum is capable of inactivating microorganisms, but UV-C energy (wavelengths of 100 – 280 nm) provides the most germicidal effect.”[4]

You can implement UV disinfection technology in a variety of ways, including:

  • Banks of UV lamps installed inside HVAC systems or ductwork
  • Banks of UV lamps focused on drain pans, cooling coils, and other moisture-rich surfaces inside HVAC systems
  • UV fixtures mounted to the wall or ceiling in occupied spaces

Like the high-efficiency filters, UV technology isn’t a guaranteed solution, but is another useful component in your overall indoor air quality plan.

4. Launch an integrated disinfecting plan

An integrated disinfecting plan works hand-in-hand with your indoor air quality plan. Work with a reputable facility services provider to develop, launch, and maintain efficient, regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces on your campus, such as handrails and doorknobs.

Make sure your facility services provider trains its team members on social distancing, PPE use, and EPA-approved products for use against the virus that causes COVID-19.[5] 

The right team also will create a tailored service plan that addresses your unique campus environment – one that can be adjusted as your on-campus population fluctuates.

5. Let your campus community know about your efforts to improve air quality

A clear communications plan helps everyone in your campus community feel more confident about your reopening process – whether you’re opening today or a little later on.

As you build out a communications plan, stay connected with your facility maintenance partner. You should feel comfortable asking questions and having conversations with them to make sure your priorities are being met. Students, staff, and their families will appreciate an open, steady flow of information from you about the steps you’re taking to creating a safer campus environment.

Find out how HES can help

To learn more about how HES is helping colleges and universities adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, review our full suite of COVID-19 Resources or contact one of our professionals at info@hesfacilitiesmanagement.com.