Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time inside, making indoor air quality and lighting critical to their health, comfort and productivity. A study led by Piers MacNaughton from Harvard University supports this claim, reporting that green-certified buildings can improve occupant health and cognitive function.
MacNaughton’s team looked at 10 high-perfChristoorming buildings in five cities across the US, and found occupants in green certified environments scored 26 percent higher on cognitive function tests. The same occupants experienced 30 percent fewer symptoms of sick building syndrome and recorded 6 percent higher sleep quality scores than those in non-green certified buildings.
The study supports the idea that air quality, lighting and temperature control should be a top priority when designing, constructing and maintaining healthy schools and other buildings.
This is exactly what Johnson Controls did when it constructed and expanded four high-performance buildings at its corporate campus in Glendale, Wisconsin. The buildings incorporate technologies that minimize their environmental impact while supporting productivity. This means installing geothermal heat pumps, photovoltaic energy, under-floor heating and cooling, safety management and skylights and bigger windows to increase the amount of natural light. The company has also led a wide range of green building projects that incorporate similar technologies, from schools and universities to hospitals and sports stadiums, all with a focus on the health of both the building and its occupants.
Tips to improve the K-12 environment
Implementing simple healthy building programs in K-12 schools can improve classroom comfort, increase efficiency, and reduce operating costs by up to 30 percent.
Consider using central HVAC air handling units (AHUs) that serve multiple rooms in lieu of unit ventilators or individual heat pumps. Although ventilators and heat pumps require less floor space, maintaining multiple units is more difficult. They also present opportunities for moisture problems, which can worsen asthma symptoms in some students.
Central AHUs offer several advantages, including quieter operation, better control of humidity and moisture, heavy-duty components, and easier maintenance. They also minimize drafts and supply a consistent amount of fresh, outside air.
Consider a hybrid design; VRF in combination with a dedicated outdoor air system (DOAS). VRF provides temperature control without fluctuation, down to the individual classroom, providing optimal temperature control. With a VRF system’s ability to simultaneously heat and cool, you have the ability to control the optimal acoustics and temperature for the best learning environment. DOAS provides optimal efficiency for spaces like large auditoriums and gymnasiums.
For high-quality, clean ventilation, use a properly designed and maintained HVAC system instead of relying on windows and doors. Opening windows and doors can let in contaminants and disrupt the balance of HVAC equipment. Some classrooms even report mechanical ventilation rates as low as 3.4 cubic feet per minute (cfm)—less than one-third the rate (15 cfm) required by ASHRAE Standard 62 for classrooms.
Lastly, keeping classroom temperatures cool – below 77 degrees - has been shown to improve student performance with tasks requiring concentration, like math and sentence comprehension.
To read more about the Harvard study, click here.