ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Legislature has approved a bill that funds monitoring IAQ in schools throughout the state.

ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Legislature has approved a bill that funds a pilot program for monitoring IAQ in select schools throughout the state.

The program will compare indoor air quality in buildings with energy consumption data collected for the Schools Air Monitoring Project for Learning and Energy Efficiency. Known as SAMPLE2, the program is a collaboration between Minnesota energy utilities and Lakeville, Minn.-based IAQ-monitor manufacturer PureChoice.

On May 22, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed the Environment and Natural Resources Finance bill, which includes $300,000 for the Continuous Indoor Air Quality Monitoring in Schools project.

"This is the first time in U.S. history that public money has been spent on continuous, real-time IAQ monitoring in public schools," said Bryan Reichel, president and CEO of PureChoice, the company that developed the monitoring technology. "The IAQ monitoring industry has just come of age."

The project, which was slated to begin in June, will identify both IAQ and energy-conservation improvements, applying the manufacturer's PureTrac air-monitoring system and input from a team of industry experts, including Barry Bridges of Sebesta-Blomburg and Associates in Roseville, Minn., and David Grimsrud, Ph.D., of the Minnesota Building Research Center in Minneapolis.

Jim Kennedy, PureChoice director of sales and marketing, said it wouldn't surprise him to see a direct correlation between IAQ and energy consumption.

Working within legislation

According to PureChoice, the system "continuously monitors indoor air quality in real time, around the clock, without interruption." It offers "continuous visibility of building trends. The comprehensive database created provides a solid groundwork for bench-marking, modeling, optimization of air-quality controls and effective protection against legislation."

The ideas for the SAMPLE program were developed about a year ago, Kennedy said, when the manufacturer proposed to work with utility companies. State utilities are mandated by Minnesota Conservation Improvement Program legislation to spend 2 percent of their energy revenues annually on energy conservation programs, Kennedy explained.

The manufacturer had to learn about the inner workings of state government in order to proceed. The IAQ monitoring program was proposed to the Legislative Commission of Minnesota Resources, which usually deals with parks, lakes, fish and trails.

PureChoice officials asked the state to fund the program, at first proposing to work with 10 schools and requesting $500,000. The program eventually OK'd by the state included $300,000 and permission to work in seven schools.

Schools 'very interested'

"A number of schools are very interested" from northern and southern parts of the state, as well as in the Twin Cities area, Kennedy said. The sponsors will consider a number of building designs, as well as various HVAC systems, when they make their selections.

Using the monitoring system in eight or more classrooms per school, SAMPLE will correlate IAQ and energy consumption to identify energy-conservation and IAQ-improvement opportunities in K-12 schools. Each participating utility will sponsor one or more schools in its service territory, according to PureChoice.

Schools that participate will receive:

  • PureTrac in eight or more school rooms in each school

  • Access to view their real-time IAQ data on the Internet in graphs and tables

  • A final report at the end of the first 12 months

  • Sponsoring utility follow-up on energy conservation recommendations with other energy programs

  • Two additional years of IAQ-monitoring service beyond the initial 12-month study period, which should enable schools to enact study recommendations and measure results.

    The program will monitor temperature, relative humidity, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds. Kennedy explained that the monitoring system takes readings every five to 15 seconds, which are transmitted via computer to wherever data are being collected. The real value, he said, is in examining the trends.

    Beyond the project

    The program is modular and can be easily adapted to initiate similar studies in other states, PureChoice's president said.

    "When parents and facility managers from schools in other states finally understand how easy it is to conserve energy and, at the same time, achieve a sustainable indoor air quality standard through the use of continuous, real-time IAQ monitoring, the state legislatures and large, progressive building-control companies will be bombarded with requests for real-time, continuous monitoring," Reichel said.

    The results of the project should also be of interest to the HVAC contracting and manufacturing communities, which have had the school market in their sights for at least a couple of years. "We find mechanical contractors to be a great partner for us," Kennedy added. "We just report the data."

    (B. Checket-Hanks is service/maintenance and trouble-shooting editor for SNIPS' sister publication, The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News, where this article originally appeared.)