How does indoor air quality affect schools?

Green improvements in school buildings positively impacts on student performance, according to a new World Green Building Council report. One of the key improvements is proper indoor air quality (IAQ) and better thermal properties for the building.

school gypsies 436332In January, millions of children around South Africa headed off to school, either for the first time or to experience another year of learning. By the time these children finish matric, they would have spent most of their time in a school building, second only to being at home.

Considering that children spend so many hours of their schooling career inside a learning facility, it’s worth asking how they are impacted by these buildings from a health and productivity perspective and how can schools be built better for children?

A recent report by the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), which is co-sponsored by Saint-Gobain, explores the topic of health, well-being and productivity in schools and shows that children are more susceptible to indoor environmental factors than adults, which often leads to poor school performance.

Atisha Gopichund-Lutchman, head of marketing at Saint-Gobain Gyproc and Isover and mother of a son in primary school, says that it’s the joint responsibility of parents, governing bodies, architects and other key decision-makers to ensure that the school building’s design, operation features and construction materials are beneficial to students.

“By designing and operating green schools in South Africa that have lower carbon footprints and are energy efficient, be it for new-builds or improvements, we’d be constructing environments that are both more conducive for learning and which enhance the health and general well-being of our children,” Gopichund-Lutchman says.

According to the study, there are four key areas where sustainable improvements can positively affect students: indoor air quality, thermal comfort, lighting and acoustics. Gopichund-Lutchman says that a greater focus should be placed on these principles in South Africa to create healthy, sustainable buildings in which children thrive.

The study finds that thoughtful school design and operation that considers these research areas can improve student health and performance, which according to WorldGBC, can be done without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

1. Better indoor air quality

The concentration of pollutants in a room determines the indoor air quality and specific concentration levels in combination with ventilation rates have been linked to sick building syndrome (SBS) which is characterised by symptoms like lethargy, headaches, nasal stuffiness and dryness.

According to the report, children have a higher susceptibility to SBS because they inhale more pollutants per body weight than adults, due to higher breathing rates.

To have better air, classroom design should allow for natural ventilation. In addition, air quality levels can be improved by incorporating hybrid or mechanical ventilation, using products or materials with low to zero volatile organic compounds and building with a plasterboard that improves indoor air quality by scavenging formaldehydes from the air.

Check out how exactly indoor air quality affects schools…

Capture IAQ

2. Better thermal properties

Many schools in South Africa don’t have the luxury of air conditioning, which can help to moderate temperature and humidity.

Because children have higher core body temperature and less developed thermoregulation capabilities, they’re more sensitive to higher temperatures than adults and, according to the study, thermal comfort affects academic performance. To counter this, schools need to regulate temperature to meet children’s needs which generally means a lower temperature compared to what adults are used to.

For improved thermal comfort, passive interventions such as natural ventilation and envelope insulation should be prioritised. Comfortable temperature and humidity levels can be maintained by installing energy-efficient and renewable building materials.

According to Gopichund-Lutchman, building with plasterboards and installing non-combustible insulation brings in thermal inertia which significantly helps to regulate variances in temperature.

Check out how exactly thermal comfort affects schools…

Capture ThermalComfort

The other two elements covered are LED lighting and acoustics…

“Schools are a place of learning and growing, and so we have to create safe healthy environments for our future leaders. Considering that children must attend school, and they’re being impacted by indoor environmental factors, we should take particular measures to build them better.

“By changing how we approach school building design in South Africa, not only will we achieve optimal levels in air quality, lighting, temperature and acoustics, which is proven to enhance the well-being and health of learners, but we’ll be practicing responsible environmental construction too,” Gopichund-Lutchman concludes.



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