The Importance of Good IAQ in Classrooms
I remember when I went to school. Back in the 70’s and 80’s……the smell of chalk, the smell of fear, fluorescent lighting that was quite unpleasant, the cracked, marked wooden desks and chairs! The teachers were never very friendly, and we didn’t ask many questions, but nothing to complain about, really. But a huge difference from the well thought out schools of today, especially those that have cropped up in the last 10 years.
Remember the movie “Gone with the Wind”? Set in Atlanta in the days of the civil war of the 1860’s, in the hot and humid summer climes. The plantation architecture sported shaded porches and cupolas for ventilation – no rocket science there, just green building in its elemental form! But building professionals would have you believe that being green is all about new-fangled technology!
In the US today, buildings constitute the highest energy consumption, far more than transportation and manufacturing. Considering the economic climate of late, schools would be well-advised to save money wherever possible to channelise savings for other necessities. Many builders also forget about investing in Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) in their pursuit of energy efficient buildings. Windows constitute an important component of high-performance building design, contributing to improved occupant health and comfort in the following ways –
• Designs strategizing daylighting has been shown to improve student learning.
• The indoor air quality impacts student/teacher health.
• Windows impact thermal comfort and proper shading maximizes daylighting.
• Window treatments used can eliminate undesirable noises as well, improving the indoor acoustic quality.
Traditional School Designs
With the baby boom after the WW2, new schools were designed with good window systems that included skylights for daylighting and natural ventilation, but the later decades saw the inception of fluorescent lighting, mechanical ventilation and air-conditioning. Engineers and designers saw natural daylight and ventilation as uncontrollable, and so the window was perceived as a no-value contribution to a classroom. In fact, many school architects of the era reduced windows to depressing narrow verticals, catering to the misguided belief that exterior views provided distractions for students, giving rise to ugly school buildings with a small percentage of inoperable glazing. In a glaring contrast, the 90’s saw school architecture change dramatically to include 50% of its wall spaces with operable windows!
In an instance of innovation, teachers have come up with a system to cover windows during lock down drills. Rather than using black paper and tape or fitted poster boards that included drilling holes into the window frames or mini blinds one could see through anyway, a couple of teachers in the Morris County School of Technology came up with the product ‘Hideaway Helper’ – a black shade made of a fire-resistant polyester blend that comes in a roll that is kept furled by a small snap. The shade, which is made in eight different sizes, is attached to a door or window using heavy-duty Velcro. To unroll the shade, teachers only need to unsnap it and the shade unfurls. Hmm. Innovative, but still unwieldy!
Studies have shown that the air indoors, where we spend 90% of our time collectively, is more polluted than the air outdoors. The Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) that’s being desperately researched has yielded very little concrete results though acute ill health and discomfort appear linked to time spent in poorly ventilated indoors. Though mold has be identified as the main culprit, chemical off-gassing or VOC’s from building products are also contributors to the syndrome. Asthma has now reached epidemic proportions in the US, and the national census shows that one out of ten children is afflicted with asthma, a leading cause of absenteeism.
Natural daylight is seen to be the best quality light for visual tasks (this reminds me of all the times I go to a store and ask that I be allowed to take a piece of clothing outside to gauge its exact color!), accounting for as much as 26% better student achievement on standardized tests!
Positive IEQ strategies enhance the use of operable windows in classrooms and laboratories, and improved acoustics is a beneficial side effect of energy efficient window design that reduces thermal conductivity and air infiltration as a result of improving the shading coefficients of windows.
The Benefits of using Roller Solar Shading for School Windows
Roller Shades are endlessly practical to shade windows oriented to receive a lot of sunlight, inevitably leading to increased, undesirable thermal gain. Roller shades can be deployed over open windows to deflect the glare, thermal gain and UV rays that have detrimental effects on indoor furniture and the human skin. Sunlight can also play havoc glinting off shiny board surfaces, both smart and otherwise. Solar fabrics used in Roller shades are designed to deflect the sun’s unwanted glare and heat to provide a stable thermal environment indoors while maximizing daylight, proving to be an inherently energy efficient window shading option. There are two ways to combine light filtering and blackout solar shades –
1. Use individual light filtering and blackout shades within window frame recesses to deploy as and when required, manually or remotely, using a double head rail system that can be hidden with sleek, unobtrusive, color coordinated valances.
2. Using dual roller shades that serve the same function, but is a more expensive option
Either way, daylight can be utilized without its interfering with classroom activity, and blackout shades can be used during AV presentations and lock down drills for safety instruction. All without having to worry about indoor air quality or privacy. Enterprises like Graber Blinds and Crown back their products with the approved GreenGuard and Microban certifications that ensure no off-gassing. They are also treated to be flame retardant and dust repellent, limiting any hazards to near zero. The Graber LightWeaves blackout shades can be used in tandem with the Graber 5% Light Filtering Solar shades to provide the perfect classroom ambiance. Or the Crown light filtering shades used in combination with the Crown blackout shades would create much the same effect. To be snapped into their brackets without any hassle, customized to various window sizes to create that perfect fit! So, no more tapes! No more Velcro! A flick of the remote button or a pull of the cords will deploy or retract the needed shade to roll into its header neatly.