Fri, Apr 1, 2022 - 10:33am

Access to quality schools with a healthy learning environment and good indoor air quality (IAQ) is crucial to help kids develop physically, mentally, and academically, and succeed in the short- and long-term. Healthy learning environments are so important that IAQ is a subsect of a broader category called Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) which also includes clean water, appropriate lighting, windows and views, acoustics, and thermal comfort. The CHPS criteria, crowd-sourced and regularly updated from industry experts since 2002, include IEQ best practices and solutions that many school districts have adopted to increase the IEQ at their facilities. In fact, IEQ Is so important to student well-being, development, and performance, that CHPS makes it a priority in our verification criteria, accounting for nearly one third of all available points (more than double LEED’s proportional points). And CHPS is the only whole-building standard that has the majority of its points in the IEQ category.  

In 2019, an emphasis on IEQ would have raised the bar for student’s baseline health, performance, productivity, and overall well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the specific need for IAQ to ensure schools have reliable, healthy air to protect against the transmission of infectious disease. As part of the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan to move beyond the pandemic and reduce the risk of spreading airborne particles indoors, the Biden administration recently announced the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge to improve building IAQ.  

As part of the Challenge, the Environmental Protection Agency published a best practice guide for managers, organized into four areas of emphasis: 

  • The creation of a clean IAQ action plan 
  • Optimizing the supply of fresh, outdoor air to the building 
  • Using enhanced air filtration and cleaning 
  • Engaging occupants for increased awareness and participation in healthy IAQ  

While the Biden administration's recommendations are not new, they reflect the growing focus and (now) nationally recognized importance of a healthy indoor environment, which can be a real challenge to achieve in schools.   

Too often, children arrive at school already struggling with poor health or nutrition, conditions which are exacerbated by many schools falling short of providing or maintaining a clean and healthy physical environment due to lack of funding and other extenuating circumstances. Children may be exposed to irritants and pollutants such as mold and subject to poor sanitation and other elements of decreased IAQ which can have lasting effects on their health and ability to perform academically. Even within the EPA's guidance in the IAQ Challenge, there are no metrics or tangible measures to implement or evaluate IAQ.   

CHPS attempts to address many of these challenges by providing a clear playbook for what schools need to do to maximize the health of their students. For example, all projects following the US-CHPS v2.0 (2020) criteria are required to design HVAC systems to meet ASHRAE 62.1 and best practices that include: providing adequate ventilation, enhanced air filtration, and ducted returns. CHPS projects can achieve points within our rating system for improving IAQ by controlling mold and moisture, dust, air borne combustion products, radon, and flushing out ambient volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Additionally, CHPS criteria emphasizes using low emitting materials to ensure paints and coatings, flooring systems, and composite wood products meet rigorous air quality standards. The experts behind the CHPS criteria have found some of these elements to be so important to student health that they are required prerequisites for all CHPS projects. To highlight the broader importance of IEQ, rather than just focusing on air quality, the CHPS Criteria includes other measures that contribute to a healthy indoor learning environment. They include thermal comfort, access to natural light and views, drinking water safety, glare reduction, and acoustics, the latter two of which are also prerequisites in US-CHPS v2.0.    

CHPS Criteria provide reliable solutions from industry experts, aligned with and surpassing the recent Biden administration's IAQ recommendations, to help schools address larger IEQ issues by providing clear, evidence-based design criteria, concrete steps and benchmarks, and best practices. Find out more about our CHPS Criteria here.