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How Indoor Air Quality Affects Student Health & Academic Performance

September 29, 2022


Schools are responsible for everything from student education and enrichment to health and safety. With the many priorities educators have to juggle, where should 'monitor indoor air quality' fall?

As it turns out, indoor air quality (IAQ) is a lot more consequential than previously thought. Air quality impacts everything from student health, to attendance, to performance on standardized tests. However, managing indoor air quality at scale can be challenging. Traditional ways of gauging a school’s IAQ are siloed from other school systems, limiting their usefulness.

Meanwhile, nearly half of all school districts have been reported to have problems related to indoor air quality (IAQ).

In this article, we’ll discuss the surprising importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) in schools and how administrators can better manage IAQ with interconnected smart sensors. Better indoor air quality promotes better student health, prevents back-to-school illnesses, and improves attendance, test scores, and academic performance.

How to Monitor Indoor Air Quality

What gets measured, gets managed. Schools today use intelligent environmental sensors to monitor indoor air quality and gain actionable insight.

Modern air quality sensors are interconnected devices that continuously monitor the air around them. Sensors can detect various chemical signatures and particulates, including:

  • Carbon dioxide levels
  • Smoke
  • Vape
  • VOCs
  • Particulate matter
  • Hazardous gases

These sensors capture and record IAQ data and also send real-time alerts when predetermined triggers are met. For example, if vape is detected or CO2 levels are elevated, the sensor automatically sends an alert with related measurements and corresponding video evidence.

These sensors are part of a centralized platform. Schools can both monitor air quality in real time and instantly communicate that information to other school systems in order to take meaningful action. For example, schools can broadcast an evacuation alarm if hazardous chemicals are detected, increase ventilation through the HVAC if CO2 levels are high, or record a video clip from security footage if vape is detected.

Impact of Air Quality on Student Health and Back-to-School Sickness

New classrooms, new subjects, new germs. Back-to-school illnesses can feel inevitable with so many children and teenagers in close proximity.

Poor air quality makes this worse; it’s associated with long and short-term health effects, including:

  • Coughing
  • Eye irritation
  • Headaches
  • Aggravated asthma
  • Allergic reactions
  • Respiratory disease
  • Increased vulnerability to airborne viruses, including COVID-19.

By monitoring indoor air quality and setting up thresholds, you can identify when indoor air quality is poor and take action in real time.

Reduce the Spread of Airborne Illnesses

Sickness can spread through the student body like wildfire. Common viruses, like the flu, are highly contagious and easily transmitted by coughing, sneezing, and simply breathing.

However, there’s good news—improving ventilation has a noticeable impact on the airborne concentration of infectious particles, according to ASHRAE. In other words, monitoring and improving indoor air quality will reduce the spread of many common viruses, including COVID-19.

Prevent IAQ-Related Discomfort and ‘Sick Building Syndrome’

Sometimes, a building itself is part of the problem. If students and faculty are experiencing vague feelings of unwellness with no apparent cause, sick building syndrome may be to blame.

Sick building syndrome is when building occupants feel ill or uncomfortable—but only when inside a specific building or room. Symptoms include everything from headaches to eye, nose, and throat irritation, dizziness, and nausea.

These symptoms are thought to be caused by poor ventilation and poor air quality. Sick building syndrome is more common in older buildings, in part because after about 40 years, buildings begin to rapidly deteriorate if not maintained. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average school building is 42 years old.

These are some of the signs that student or faculty health complaints may be related to indoor air quality:

  • Health complaints are associated with specific classrooms or areas on campus
  • Health complaints are associated with particular times of the day or week
  • Multiple occupants in the same area experience similar issues
  • Health complaints end when the individual leaves the building and recur upon return
  • School buildings have recently been renovated or refurnished
  • New cleaning or pesticide products have been implemented

How Air Quality Sensors Help

Indoor air quality management helps prevent the spread of airborne illness and the occurrence of IAQ-related health issues.

Air quality sensors allow you to monitor air quality and make changes to ventilation in real time.

Detect High Risk of Disease Transmission

In an enclosed space like a classroom, high carbon dioxide levels signal that disease is more likely to spread. With IoT air quality monitoring, if CO2 levels get too high, you can set your HVAC units to automatically turn on to bring fresh and healthy air into the building.

Diagnose ‘Sick Building Syndrome’

It can be difficult to identify and address IAQ-related health complaints, but IoT air quality monitoring makes it easier. Sensors help schools identify when their buildings are at risk by:

  • Measuring carbon dioxide levels
  • Monitoring temperature and humidity levels
  • Measuring airborne particulates and irritants
  • Working with the HVAC system to keep these levels in check

Impact of Air Quality on Attendance, Test Scores, and Academic Performance

Cleaner air not only keeps children healthier; it also makes it easier for students to learn.

Studies show that indoor air quality has a surprising impact on academic performance. When IAQ is managed, students have better attendance rates, score higher on standardized tests, and are better able to perform mental tasks.

One study showed that students in classrooms with better ventilation scored 14-15% higher on standardized tests compared to those in classrooms with poorer ventilation.

Cognitive Benefits for Students

Overall, better indoor air quality more than doubles cognitive performance. It improves critical thinking and decision-making in particular.

Having better ventilation and fresher air leads to:

  • Better overall student academic performance
  • Better standardized test scores
  • Improved health and productivity of teachers
  • Fewer student absences due to illness, asthma symptoms, and other ‘sick building syndrome’ symptoms

“Our district implemented an IAQ management plan that led to unprecedented academic success for our students. Since 2005, we have seen an increase of 17.3% on test scores and an increase in the average daily attendance rate to 97%, allowing students to have more classroom time.” Frank DiNella, Keller Independent School District, Texas

Student Vaping and Automatic Smoke/Vape Detection

Underage tobacco use is a major concern for many schools and families in the United States. The FDA found that 13.4% of high school students use tobacco products, with 2.06 million middle and high school students reporting that they use e-cigarettes.

Though these statistics are concerning, they include a kernel of hope: nearly two-thirds of students (65.3%) reported that they were “seriously thinking about quitting” the use of all tobacco products.

Vape Detection and Supportive Programming

Every day, schools have a real opportunity to help students reduce their tobacco use. Air quality sensors can help by automatically detecting the use of e-cigarettes on campus and capturing actionable evidence.

Once administrators identify these incidents, they can intervene and support students who are found to be vaping. Based on the evidence discovered, schools can create targeted programming and educational resources.

Here’s how IoT air quality sensors help you create healthier, vape-free environments:

Real-Time Alerts for Vape/Smoke/THC

Air quality sensors monitor the surrounding area for the chemical signature of smoke, vape, or THC. Since there’s no dependence on sight or smell, sensors aren’t tricked by attempts to mask the vape with another aerosol.

When vape or THC is detected, the sensor reacts in real time. It records the incident, including the amount of substance detected, and sends an alert directly to administrators via email, text, or app.

Collect Actionable Video Evidence of Tobacco Use

By pairing an air quality sensor with a nearby smart camera, schools capture synchronized security footage of smoking/vaping incidents.

Once vape is detected, school administrators decide what to do with that information. Administrators can directly intervene and support students who are found to be vaping and create targeted programming and educational resources based on the evidence discovered.

Respect Student Privacy

IoT air quality sensors can be installed anywhere without infringing on student or faculty privacy. Pair the IAQ sensor with a security camera facing the restroom's exterior door—together, the sensor and camera provide context on what's happening without violating a person's right to privacy.

How to Improve Student Health, Performance, and Well-Being with IAQ Monitoring

When you improve indoor air quality, you improve the health, safety, and overall well-being of every school occupant.

IoT air quality sensors give organizations a powerful advantage. Because IAQ monitoring is interconnected with other school systems, it’s possible to streamline IAQ management and react quickly and efficiently to air quality issues.

If your school is interested in using sensors to manage indoor air quality, Rhombus’ E2 Air Quality Sensor is a cost-effective tool designed to address the issues discussed in this article. You can demo the E2 or trial it at your school for free by reaching out to the Rhombus Team at

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