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A Window of Opportunity: a study into CO2 concentrations as a proxy for indoor air quality in the classroom environment

Part 2 Dissertation 2009
David Buchan
University of Strathclyde | UK
This dissertation studies the internal environment in a selection of Primary and Secondary schools in Central Scotland by measuring Carbon Dioxide concentrations as an “indicator of poor indoor air quality,” (DfES, 2003:15). Recordings of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, temperature and relative humidity were carried out in six schools; one Victorian, three refurbished 1970s and two 21st century new build schools. Results show that 50% of schools did not achieve the minimum UK guidelines for ventilation in school classrooms. Concentrations of carbon dioxide above 1500ppm were frequently measured in 83% of classrooms. A peak concentration of 2500ppm was logged in one new build school, whilst ventilation performance was found to be best at the Victorian Primary school. These outcomes support recent research to suggest ventilation efficiency is being compromised in order to improve energy efficient in buildings. These findings support the need for a series of Government ‘standards’ rather than ‘guidelines’ to be established. Teachers in 5 out of 6 schools had not been given guidance into how to effectively ventilate the classroom. Hence, results show that 100% of schools failed to maintain the recommended maximum internal temperature of 18oC. This, along with increases in carbon dioxide helps to create an environment that will exacerbate the potential for more harmful and toxic indoor pollutants that can adversely affect children and staff. Results from this dissertation provide the foundation to an area of indoor air quality analysis not comprehensively researched within a range of educational buildings in Scotland. In doing so, it highlights a ‘window of opportunity’ for Architects and Engineers to understand the importance of classroom air quality and hence better equip the profession in its ability to provide healthier environments for children and adults in a new generation of school building.
David Buchan

There is a ‘common sense’ belief that our society is, year by year, making ‘progress’. Our computers are now faster and lighter and can process levels of data unimaginable only a few years ago. So surely our built environment is subject to the same ‘natural’ laws?

Ten years ago the US Army noted that those recruits housed in refurbished barracks presented to the medics with twice the prevalence of flu, fever and respiratory complaints than those who had not yet ‘benefited’ from the ‘improvements’. Since 1975 the UK government has, in a laudable attempt to become more energy efficient, encouraged the population to ‘save it, seal it up and switch it off’.

The loss of open chimneys in combination with the new generation of hermetically sealed buildings has sacrificed indoor air quality on the cross of sustainability. Since the tipping point in 1976 childhood asthma rates in the UK have increased by a factor of seven. This is far greater than the concurrent increase in general allergy prevalence that is occurring in all first world countries and the indoor environment is the prime suspect.

David Buchan’s dissertation investigates this phenomenon using new and refurbished classrooms as a test bed. The dissertation is a mini PhD with a clear hypothesis to test. The research questions are both pertinent and important and his methods apposite. His conclusions are justified by the data he collected and the work has added a small but well formed brick to the knowledge wall.

The 20th century saw too many buildings constructed on the basis of ideology rather than science. David’s work in this dissertation is the foundation on which his generation of architects can start to repair the damage by producing energy efficient buildings that don’t make you ill.

Dr Stirling Howieson
Jacqueline Lister
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