Buying an air purifier for your school? Here’s what you need to know.
Evaluating air purifier options
Is your school preparing its indoor air quality improvement plan? If you answered yes, then you probably have started looking at all the different air purifiers out there—and there are a lot! At one end of the spectrum, there are units suitable for industrial or healthcare settings and at the other, those for home-use. This leaves school air purification somewhere in the middle due to the size of a classroom and number of people in it. In this post, we’re going to cover off a few things to help you make an informed decision as you evaluate your options.
Images: (left) PuraShield unit for industrial use is around $6,600 USD and 58” high, (middle) Copernicus’ True HEPA Air Purifier $820.96 USD and 22” high, (right) Bissell My Air is around $100 USD and 12 ¼” high.
Why does good air quality matter?
If you have ever felt like taking a snooze during one of those marathon departmental meetings, it could be partly due to the meeting topic, but it could also have something to do with the air quality in the room. Air purification is a key component in improving air quality indoors whether it is a meeting space or a classroom. There are many benefits to having good air quality in a classroom including increased student engagement, improved well-being for allergy and asthma sufferers and reducing the transmission of viruses, including COVID-19. The virus spreads through aerosolized particles that tend to hang in the air unless they are blown away or removed; air purifiers can do both.
Five tips for selecting a classroom air purifier
- What are the clean air delivery rate (CADR) and air changes per hour (ACH) values?
- Make sure there is a child safety lock to avoid the unit from being tampered with and that the unit has has proper electrical safety certifications.
- Look for the term True HEPA filtration. This ensures it has been tested and certified to remove at least 99.97% of airborne contaminants.
- Ask yourself what added features are really needed in an air purifier based on the space it will be used in and are they safe or necessary for classrooms use?
- Is the unit quiet and easy to use (less than 60 decibels)?
Technical terms you need to know
If you are responsible for researching air purifiers, there are a few technical terms to keep in mind as you consider your options. It is important to be familiar with these terms because their ratings affect the efficacy of the unit.
CADR: Clean air delivery rate
This measurement refers to how many cubic feet of air is purified per minute (CFM) through an air purifier’s filters. Look for a unit that is the right capacity for a classroom (more than 300 CFM). Undersized home-use units are not suitable for a typical classroom because of the size of the room and how many people are in it, and large industrial units are too large and loud.
ACH: Air changes per hour
A study at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends 5-6 air changes per hour for an “excellent” air quality rating. Air changes per hour can be increased by opening windows and doors as well as using air purifiers. However, for open windows and doors to be effective, they need to provide a cross breeze to circulate the air in the room. Unfortunately, many schools do not have windows that open.
True HEPA: High Efficiency Particulate Air
Although there are units available with multi-stage air purification using ozone, ionizing and UV-C light, the majority of the air purification process is done through the filters. True HEPA filters have been tested and certified to capture at least 99.97% of small particles measuring 0.3 microns, like viruses. If you see a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating without the term True HEPA, they are probably not referring to True HEPA filters. MERV is a very broad reporting value.
Ozone, ionizers and UV light—here is why you may not need to pay more for these features
Unfortunately, there is a lot of fear marketing and false claims around air purifiers. Once you understand why some features are not safe or needed for classroom use, you will be more prepared to make sound decisions. Aside from being unsafe or unnecessary, the functions covered below tend to cost more and require replacement parts. We hope this information helps your selection process so you not only purchase an air purifier with the functions you need, but you can stretch your budget and keep the cost of ownership low.
A note about units for healthcare settings
It is common to see many of these functions in units used in healthcare settings, such as surgery suites. On the surface that sounds great, if it is good for a hospital, it is good for a school right? Not necessarily. Medical staff are wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and the room is thoroughly cleaned after each use. Neither are the norm in most school settings.
Some units tout the effectiveness of ionizing, but ionizing charges particles so they attach to nearby surfaces (which then need to be cleaned), versus removing them from the environment entirely. Wiping down all the surfaces in a classroom several times a day is not feasible.
Another controversial function is using UV-C light to clean the air. In most air purifiers, the particles are not in the unit long enough for UV-C light to do its job. Some units use UV-C light on the captured particles in the filters. This additional sanitizing is not neccessary because the filters have already removed the particles from the air.
Looking for more informaton as you consider your options? Download this comparison to see how our Portable True HEPA Air Purifier stacks up to the competition.
Visit our FAQ page to learn more about how to determine how many units your classroom needs, how to care for the unit and more.
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Schools for Health’s 5 Step Guide to Checking Ventilation Rates in Classrooms
Healthy Buildings for Health: Risk reduction strategies for reopening schools
Edweek: What the CDC guidelines don’t say about classroom ventilation
Center for Disease Control: Ventilation in Buildings
Hechinger Report: The learning effects of air quality in classrooms
Edweek: Air filters a potential tool to boost learning
EPA: What are ionizers and other ozone generating air clearners?
EPA-Ozone Generators are sold as air cleaners
Healthy Buildings for Health- FAQ Risk reduction strategies for reopening schools
California Air Resources Board – Hazardous Ozone Generating Air Purifiers