It’s fair to say that most people have some understanding that indoor air quality (IAQ) is very important… even if that only means that they only notice their IAQ when something stinks. But since the COVID-19 pandemic, the cleanliness and quality of the air we breathe—and the role it plays in infectious disease control and general health—has been on the forefront of nearly every American’s mind. Experts believe that in the future, air quality may be the deciding factor that some use to guide where to work, live, play or get an education.
For parents and students in the Northwest Local School District, that last decision just got a little easier. The district engaged SHP to engineer several major IAQ improvements at White Oak Middle School, Pleasant Run Middle School and Colerain High School. These buildings were also retrofitted for air conditioning using the latest and greatest technologies on the market.
“Working on these projects has been homecoming of sorts for me,” said Jacob. “One of my first projects when I was hired at SHP was to design HVAC systems for three new elementary school buildings. There’s something immensely satisfying about being asked to return to a district, and to work with all its familiar names and faces!”
Cooling: Magnetic Levitation Chillers
The first improvement made to some Northwest buildings was the installation of Magnetic Levitation Chillers (or MagLev, for those in the know…), which is one of the most efficient compressor designs in the air conditioning industry. These chillers have centrifugal compressors, which have a magnetic bearing. This allows the compressor to be suspended freely—to levitate, if you will—inside its mechanical housing. Additionally, whereas a standard air compressor will have friction due to metal-on-metal contact and need oil to function properly, a MagLev chiller is virtually frictionless! This saves on maintenance and service fees down the road and has been known to achieve energy savings of up to 42% throughout its lifecycle. Other benefits include: a quieter performance than typical cooling methods and a smaller physical footprint.
Cooling: Chilled Beams
Chilled beams were another major improvement that the engineering team made to Northwest schools. These systems rely on large pipes of water that are placed through a heat exchanger, or a “beam.” Within these chilled beams is a dedicated heating and cooling coil directly in each space. As warm air is generated in a classroom (from people, equipment or other factors), it rises to the ceiling and is circulated through the coils of the beam, which cools the air. The cool air then becomes denser than the warm air surrounding it and is then released back into the room, where more warm air is cooled, and the cycle continues. Because chilled beams move the job of cooling and heating out of the central air handler and into the space, less air needs to be pushed around the building. This results in a big reduction in fan energy, one of the major categories of building energy use.
Air Quality: Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization
With the recent rise in air quality concerns throughout the country and the world, Northwest decided a few more improvements were necessary. The leadership group decided that implementing needlepoint bipolar ionization is the next step in improving air quality for their students and staff. The district utilized its ESSER funding to invest in this technology district-wide; installation will be complete in time for the 2021-22 school year to begin.
To understand needlepoint bipolar ionization, consider a time when someone suggested you step outside for some fresh air. At the time, they might have meant you needed to cool down—but wait, there’s more! One of the reasons outside air is so fresh is because of the countless naturally occurring events that contribute to air quality. Waves crashing, rushing water, and even sunlight create the key ingredient: ions.
An ion is a molecule or atom that is positively or negatively charged, meaning it must either gain or relinquish electrons to become neutral. Ions rush to find another molecule to bond to and therefore become neutral. By doing this, they begin to form clusters of larger molecules. Larger molecules are slower, heavier and more likely to be captured by standard HVAC system filtration.
Needlepoint bi-polar ionization technology replicates this effect indoors. The same positively or negatively charged atoms (ions) that occur in the natural environment are created and released into the indoor airstream. They bond to pollutants, dust, smoke, bacteria and common viruses—like cold, flu and COVID molecules—that are suspended in the air we breathe. The big molecule clumps are filtered out of the air, and IAQ is improved.
Additionally, when ions bond to viral or bacterial cells, such as the coronavirus, they bond to the cell’s outer layers. In doing so, they destroy the outer cell walls of the virus and deactivate them entirely.
What’s really cool about needlepoint bipolar ionization is the fact that it doesn’t generate any ozone gases, making it a very clean technology to implement. Clean air with a clean environment impact; it’s a win-win.
Air Quality: Humidification
In addition to these three major upgrades, SHP is in the process of installing humidification in new Northwest elementary schools. Humidity in the air has a similar effect to bipolar ionization; it can prevent disease transmission by latching onto harmful particles, making them heavier and forcing them fall to the earth. It also makes dry winter air more comfortable and protective.
Knowing Northwest students will breathe a bit easier this fall is why the engineers at SHP do what we do. For a few other solutions worth considering, check out my article with Steve Tossey, Three Strategies for Improving Infectious Disease Control through Indoor Air Quality.