Fairly early on in the pandemic it was established that ventilation was one of the best measures for controlling the spread of Covid-19. The simple step of ensuring windows were open to help promote higher air exchange, was encouraged.
In August 2021, the Department for Education announced that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) monitors would be provided to all state-funded education settings, enabling staff to quickly identify where ventilation needs to be improved. BUT, how can we realistically expect accurate results from those that are not familiar with the technology, or know how to interpret the results?
How are CO2 monitors meant to help?
People exhale carbon dioxide when they breathe out. The theory goes that if there is a build up of CO2 it would indicate that the area requires greater ventilation. The aim would be to allow staff to act quickly where ventilation was poor.
These CO2 monitors are meant to be used in classrooms and areas that are densely populated. Corridors, or large open internal spaces such as sports halls are not recommended for monitoring.
How reliable are CO2 monitors?
The guidance we have seen which has been provided to teachers, warns against the perils of using a single “snap shot” reading and recommends taking an average value for the occupied period. It also recognises that the time of year can heavily influence the ventilation in a building.
Our own experiences tells us that CO2 levels fluctuate massively, the same way that humidity does. Herein lies the danger that I pointed out at the start of the blog…’How can we realistically expect accurate results from those that are not familiar with the technology, or know how to interpret the results?’
The practicalities of such a programme as we enter into the winter months is obviously questionable. Since the roll out, there have been reports of children sat in the classroom wearing gloves, impeding their ability to write. Clearly, opening a window is not a viable long-term solution.
The 1960s was a prolific period for school construction, with the 2010s being the only other period surpassing that. It will also come as no shock that the majority of buildings which now require repair are from the 1960s! There can be little doubt that the bulk of these were not built with the same regards for ventilation as they are today.
The likelihood is that the large majority of buildings would have been altered over time. The fitting of modern, airtight windows is almost inevitable and will result in reduced ventilation.
A study published in May 2021 had already announced that £11.4 billion in remedial works was required to rectify defects in school estate.
The last resort?
The guidance we have seen so far almost implies that additional ventilation, either mechanical or natural, should only be considered as a last resort. The benefits of better indoor air quality are becoming increasingly understood. Why then, when we understand the important role it plays are we not looking to take permanent and appropriate measures?
Unfortunately, once again, suitable ventilation is an afterthought…
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