Many New Zealand classrooms are housed in older buildings with poor insulation and lacking adequate heating and ventilation. Compounding this situation is the Ministry of Education’s cap on energy spending at 2010 levels.
Of key concern is poor indoor air quality, resulting from inadequate ventilation, especially from April to October when windows and doors remain shut.
A 2015 study by Massey University in 40 schools in Auckland found that only 40% of teachers open windows, leaving students exposed to high levels of respiratory pathogens, pollutants, carbon dioxide and humidity.
The sustainable and healthy building expert team from Massey University, GNS Science, BRANZ, Mid Central DHB and the University of Otago’s Public Health Department, led by Dr Mikael Boulic, aims to find out whether improving the air quality in classrooms will have a positive impact on student health.
A study of 12 low-decile primary schools in Palmerston North, funded in part by a Health Research Council grant, investigated the impact of a low-cost, solar-powered heated ventilation system on air quality. The research programme is expected to be complete by the end of 2016.
The research is expected to show a correlation between increased ventilation and a reduction in respiratory infections, fewer sick days and lower levels of chemical pollutants.
Smart windows, developed by a team of Massey University students led by Dr Khalid Arif, will also be tested. Window operation will be controlled using a Bluetooth signal activating a sensor measuring CO2 levels, temperature and relative humidity.