IAQ4EDU: Optimal ventilation strategies to balance indoor air quality, comfort and energy use in educational buildings

Douglas - SARTI UPC
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Ventilation in indoor spaces has become a topic of great interest recently, especially with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Recent studies report a reduction in the incidence of respiratory infections when ventilation maintains the concentration of carbon dioxide below 1000 ppm. Proper ventilation is also required to ensure the wellbeing of lecturers and students and to enhance their cognitive abilities.


In Spain, schools built before 2007 (the vast majority) are usually housed in buildings that do not have mechanical ventilation. Thus, indoor air quality depends on the personal perception of the occupants and the measures that they might take as a result. The most practical, effective solution in this case is natural ventilation. However, especially during the coldest seasons, occupants may stop opening windows due to the lack of thermal comfort. Consequently, the indoor air quality could deteriorate. If windows continue to be opened, greater energy consumption is needed to counter the lack of thermal comfort.

In this context, the project Optimal ventilation strategies to balance indoor air quality, comfort and energy use in educational buildings (IAQ4EDU) was proposed. The project is led by researchers from the Construction Research and Innovation Group (GRIC) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya - BarcelonaTech (UPC). The aim is to optimise the ventilation strategies in educational buildings, considering the quality of indoor air, thermal wellbeing, energy consumption and overall costs.

The optimisation strategies that are included in the project are:

  • Exclusively natural ventilation through opening doors and windows.
  • Low-cost mechanical ventilation systems (that is, extraction fans installed on the façade).
  • The implementation of mechanical systems with a constant flow or with ventilation rates controlled by demand.
  • Hybrid implementation approaches.

First, the project will characterise the indoor air quality in educational buildings, including schools, institutes and universities, through an experimental campaign to measure indoor environmental parameters (mainly the levels of concentration of CO₂ and temperature) in 40 classrooms in 20 educational buildings with three modes of air conditioning (heating, cooling and a mode without heating or cooling). The main ventilation strategies and the corresponding thermal behaviour, as well as the energy use, will be modelled using reduced order models. The project will explore the potential for flexibility in buildings’ ventilation systems, that is, the capacity to displace the building’s energy demand while maintaining the required levels of comfort and safety.

Finally, a decision-making strategy will be developed with multiple criteria to take informed, profitable decisions focused on safety, streamlining investments in the short and long term on how, when and where to carry out maintenance plans and improve educational installations in terms of their ventilation capacities.

Results and impact

The results will help to identify the exact ventilation rates to prevent infections caused by aerosol particles, while maintaining suitable levels of thermal comfort and energy efficiency in educational contexts. This will lead to the preparation of a first operational guide for the correct ventilation of educational centres in Catalonia, which will help users in the education community to adopt the optimal natural ventilation strategy to guarantee suitable indoor air quality, improve thermal comfort and increase energy savings.

In addition, the IAQ4EDU project will provide a comprehensive model of support for decision making to prioritise investments in ventilation systems in educational buildings.


Budget and funding

The project will be developed during a three-year period (September 2021–August 2024) and is funded with a budget of €132,011 by the Ministry of Science and Innovation through the State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation (PEICTI) 2017–2020.

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