From spontaneous to strategic natural window ventilation: Improving indoor air quality in Swiss schools.

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Natural window ventilation is frequently employed in schools in Europe and often leads to inadequate levels of human bioeffluents. However, intervention studies that verify whether recommended ventilation targets can be achieved in practice with reasonable ventilation regimes and that are also suitable for countries with cold winters are practically non-existent. To explore the initial situation in Switzerland we carried out carbon dioxide (CO2) measurements during the winter in 100 classrooms, most of which (94%) had natural window ventilation. In more than two thirds of those, the hygienic limit value of 2000 ppm specified for CO2 in the Swiss Standard SN 520180 (2014) was exceeded. To improve ventilation behavior, an intervention was implemented in 23 classrooms during the heating season. Ventilation was performed exclusively during breaks (to avoid discomfort from cold and drafts), efficiently, and only for as long as was necessary to achieve the ventilation objective of compliance with the hygienic limit value (strategic ventilation). The intervention included verbal and written instructions, awareness-raising via a school lesson and an interactive tool for students, which was also used to estimate the required duration of ventilation. CO2 exposure was significantly reduced in pilot classes (Wilcoxon signed-rank test, p = 3.815e-06). Median CO2 levels decreased from 1600 ppm (control group) to 1097 ppm (intervention group), and the average proportion of teaching time at 400-1400 ppm CO2 increased from 40% to 70%. The duration of ventilation was similar to spontaneous natural window ventilation (+5.8%). Stricter ventilation targets are possible. The concept of the intervention is suitable for immediate adoption in schools with natural window ventilation for a limited period, pending the installation of a mechanical ventilation system. The easy integration of this intervention into everyday school life promotes compliance, which is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Authors: Claudia C Vassella, Jeremy Koch, Alexander Henzi, Alexander Jordan, Roger Waeber, Reto Iannaccone, Roland Charrière