Mohawk College

Increasing Ventilation in Schools Across Ontario

Juan Malvestitti is the man in charge of getting the word out on safe back to school, and specifically Nerva’s duct sealing process, which is a proven method to increase ventilation without the need for mechanical upgrades.

Juan Malvestitti photo

Today we focus on safe back to school, what it means for parents, students and educators. Juan Malvestitti is the man in charge of getting the word out on safe back to school, and specifically Nerva’s duct sealing process, which is a proven method to increase ventilation without the need for mechanical upgrades. Listen in…

Liz Beatty 00:05

I’m Liz Beatty. This is the New Healthy Building podcast. Now we’re all about stories that help transform communities and save the planet, one building at a time. Today we focus on safe back to school, what it means for parents, students and educators. Juan Malvestitti is the man in charge of getting the word out on safe back to school, and specifically Nerva’s duct sealing process, which is a proven method to increase ventilation without the need for mechanical upgrades. He’s the guy with his finger on the pulse the industry site guys on education and other verticals. Happily, he’s here to chat with us today. Welcome Juan.

middleschool kids

Juan Malvestitti 00:51

Thank you, Liz.

Liz Beatty 00:52

Safe return to school is top of mind for everyone, across the media for parents for educators, Ontario Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, has committed big dollars to school ventilation. Now, what are the options for this investment?

Juan Malvestitti 01:11

You’re absolutely right, Liz. I mean, as a parent myself, I know how challenging this pandemic has been for parents and students. But working with school boards has allowed me to also look at it from a different lens and a different perspective. We’ve had an opportunity now to work with many school boards across Ontario, and we’ve been able to see firsthand just how demanding managing school facilities has become. It’s really unchartered territory for facility managers and school officials who have really been working tirelessly since this pandemic began. And a lot of that work, unfortunately, is behind the scenes. And we don’t always get to see what’s being done. But I know that everybody shares in the same goal and the same consensus, and that is to create healthy teaching and learning environments. I think we really need to tip our hats to everyone in the education sector, it definitely hasn’t been an easy ride for them.


Liz Beatty 02:07

Yeah, I can’t imagine how challenging running a school must be right now.

Juan Malvestitti 02:12

It really is truly demanding, Liz. I mean, there’s so much on their plates that they have to juggle Not right now, but really for the last 18 months. As it relates to your question about funding. I think the federal and provincial governments acted quickly. Last year, they launched a variety of COVID resiliency streams with funds that were allocated to public buildings, health care. And as we know, the education sector as well. Ontario schools specifically, were given access to $685 million to be exact, and those were designed to allow school boards to implement facility improvements. And to be able to bring those facilities up to date, and arm them with all of the tools, the strategies and the implementations, they would need to make sure that kids could return to a safe and healthy in person learning environment. There were really two goals, I think that were driven. behind all this funding, the first goal was to increase ventilation, which we know has been thoroughly proven to improve indoor air quality. And the second goal was to help improve filtration so that schools could capture pollutants at the source. The idea there is to increase the ventilation in the space. And by increasing the ventilation in the space to help enhance any filtration efforts that are already happening.

school lounge

Liz Beatty 03:34

We talked about it a lot on this show, but it’s worth repeating. Why is increasing ventilation so important?

Juan Malvestitti 03:42

Oh boy, that’s a that’s a complex question. But I’ll try to keep it as high level as possible. Increased ventilation is really just another term for more airflow. As we know, COVID is an airborne virus. So, increasing the volume of air inside classrooms is very important. Not only do you want to increase the volume of air, but you also want to re circulate the air inside of the school so that virus particles, they’ll have a chance to linger in the air or on high touch surfaces. I always remember as a kid, if me or any of my siblings were sick, my mom would always open the windows so that we could cleanse the house with fresh air. If you look at it, in practical terms, schools are really just trying to do the same thing. Only in a much bigger building, which obviously could be very challenging.

Liz Beatty 04:32

Allowing fresh air into your house is one thing, but how do you increase air volume in an elementary or post-secondary school with hundreds if not 1000s of students and teachers?

Juan Malvestitti 04:44

Yeah, absolutely. Liz, I mean it’s definitely a more complex challenge, especially when buildings over 100,000 square feet sometimes that’s we’ve been in elementary and middle schools where the average size of the facility is 30 to 40. 30,000 square feet. And as soon as you get into high school environments, most of those facilities over 100,000 square feet. So, it’s definitely a much deeper, more

complex environment. And more importantly, I think, when you look at some of the weather influences, especially here in Ontario, schools only have a limited number of weeks where they could actually open their windows. So, when you’re dealing with circulated air, the performance of your h back becomes a pinnacle factor. And one of the things that a lot of building owners tend to overlook is the overall health of the ductwork infrastructure, we found that to be a key component of overall h back performance as well.

Liz Beatty 05:43

Okay, so let’s expand on the idea of healthy ductwork. How do both of those things affect ventilation?

empty clean hallway

Juan Malvestitti 05:51

I see you’ve, you’ve come prepared with some technical questions. And obviously it needless to say, ventilation performance is a very complex topic, but I’ll try to keep it simple. I heard one of our school partners use a very simple analogy a few weeks ago, and it really resonated with me in regards to the simplicity that he used to describe it. And the way he put it, as he said, you have to think of HVAC equipment as the heart of your ventilation. And then the ductwork is actually the arteries, which is what distributes the air throughout the building. So, I think his takeaway there was that in order to have a healthy system, you want to make sure the heart is working properly. But also, importantly, that there are no leaks in the arteries. Does that make sense? I get it.

Liz Beatty 06:38

Ducks are like arteries. Leaks in either case cannot be a good thing.

Juan Malvestitti 06:43

Yeah, you got it. That’s 100% correct. ASHRAE, which is the leading authority for HVAC performance actually states that all commercial ductwork systems leak, simply because of the way they’re constructed and installed. Keep in mind, ductwork is just sheet metal at the end of the day. So, wherever there’s a joint or corner, there’s an opportunity for air to escape. That air that’s being lost through the ductwork ultimately affects the overall performance of the system. So, on one hand, if you have a really good h HVAC system, then leaky ducts can force the equipment to work harder and longer, which isn’t great for utility costs or maintenance. And on the other hand, if your HVAC system is older or underperforming, then you definitely want to make sure you’re not losing any valuable airflow. Really, when ducts leak, that air just goes into the ceilings, or the walls of the building, basically spaces that don’t need ventilation, and take away vital airflow from the actual occupied spaces like classrooms, libraries, gyms, and so forth.


Liz Beatty 07:52

Make sense? But if duct work is often hidden and hard to access, how do you eliminate duct leakage in a school?

Juan Malvestitti 08:01

Yeah, the fact that ductwork is hidden and hard to access definitely plays a factor in our overall implementation. But beyond just duck work, I think it’s important to realize that every building is different. And the needs for each school really varies from facility to facility. And that’s something we

understand really well as engineers. So, when we developed the Cleaner Air for Schools program, we really focused on creating a holistic process that lets us understand how each school is performing before we do anything, we don’t make any assumptions. And we don’t tend to rely on solutions that may have worked for one particular school, necessarily working for the next one, even if it’s in the same school board, or even in close proximity. Having a true understanding of how each school is performing helps us to understand what deficiencies we need to address. But more importantly, it also gives the school board a really clear idea of what is needed to maximize ventilation rates.

Liz Beatty 09:01

Help us envision the process.

Juan Malvestitti 09:03

Oh, well now you’re really putting me on the spot. It is a very comprehensive process. And obviously it’s a it’s quite extensive one but I’ll try to summarize it for you. Now in a nutshell, our process consists of four steps. We start with the team of auditors who will visit the school to evaluate the H back equipment and take airflow readings from each diffuser, which is basically just another term for register. That’s where the air physically comes out of. So basically, what we’re looking to quantify there is the actual air volume in each classroom. We take those air volume readings and compare them against what the equipment is designed to produce. So, if we have an HVAC system that should be producing X number of cubic feet of air, but the classrooms are only receiving a percentage of that then we know we need to determine two things. One whether the HVAC unit itself is performing at full capacity and secondly, Where the error loss is actually happening. So that’s a key component, as I mentioned before, to really understanding how each facility is performing and not making any assumptions going into every single project. The second step of the process is to deploy our technicians, who will physically inspect all the ductwork, the diffusers, the heating coils. And basically, what we’re looking to do there is rehabilitate any major deficiencies before we proceed to seal the ductwork itself. The third step is where we use our award-winning aerosolized duct sealing technology to seal the ductwork infrastructure, and eliminate any air loss in the actual physical ducks. Finally, as I said, it’s a four-step process. So, when we reach the fourth and final step, we bring back or auditing team back to the school to take new air volume readings, so that we could quantify the improvements and provide the school with before and after ventilation rates. We find that this process is not only comprehensive, but it allows us to truly quantify the improvements that each school is achieving across the entire school board portfolio.

hospital masks

Liz Beatty 11:16

We’ll get into some of those results in a second, but first, describe aerosolized duct sealing.

Juan Malvestitti 11:23

Yeah, for sure. It’s actually an award-winning technology out of California that was invented at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory over 20 years ago. And up until COVID, it was primarily used in hospitals where the need for increased ventilation has really always been a priority. Let me see if I could describe or paint a picture for you verbally. I know that’s often hard to do when it comes to technology. But if you could envision a machine or a piece of equipment that’s pressurizing the ductwork in order to seal it from the inside, at the end of the day, that’s our primary goal is to make sure that we could seal all of the gaps all of the leaks. And by sealing it from the inside, we no longer have to rely on traditional manual sealing methods, which would mean sealing or taping the ductwork from the outside. So, the duct sealing machine will basically pressurize the ductwork and release a water-based polymer down the ductwork infrastructure. As it’s forcing the polymer down the ductwork, the machine is looking for leaks and seals in real time. It has the ability to seal anything that’s small as a human hair all the way up to five eighths of an inch. It’s really a fascinating piece of tech. If you think about it, it would be virtually impossible to locate all those leaks in a school and try to seal them manually. A you don’t have access to the ductwork. Often commercial ductwork is pressed up against the ceiling or an areas when you can’t physically access it. Not only would be incredibly cumbersome to do, but that typically translates to more time, more money, more aggravation. But more importantly, there’s no way of really guaranteed that you’re going to get to all of those leaks, especially when we talk about some of those smaller ones that aren’t really even visible to the human eye. So, in the spirit of time, I won’t really get into all the tech specs. But if your listeners want to actually see the technology in action, they could visit our website and check out a 3d video. That’s really cool. It shows the aerosolized sealant in action. So, you’re able to really visualize how it’s working inside of the duck work in real time, we actually just finished producing a video that shows our entire five step process, one of our recent school projects. So, if anyone wants to get a more comprehensive look at what we do from beginning to end, I recommend checking that out.

Liz Beatty 13:52

Yeah, they’re great videos, really helps one envision the whole process, you’ll find links on our show page. So, let’s talk results. Who is currently using this program? And what kind of benefits are they realizing?

engineers looking at a computer

Juan Malvestitti 14:08

Yeah, results are key Liz, not only for our clients, but for us as engineers. We’re making recommendations, we’re providing solutions, and we want to make sure that those benefits are truly proven and quantifiable. As it relates to the program. It was launched in March of 2020 and has since grown to I believe, just over 320 schools and 110,000 students. We have just over 70 duck ceiling projects currently underway. And the results that we’re seeing are even better than what we expected. Our school board partners are achieving a 25% average increase their flow, with some older schools actually achieving closer to 45%. You got to keep in mind that from a mechanical performance perspective that’s truly remarkable is like keep in mind that we’re not replacing any equipment which can be very expensive to do. And best of all, there’s no wait time or interruption to School programs. And that’s key. All the work is done in the evenings and on weekends so that schools can continue to improve their ventilation rates. As the school year continues.

Liz Beatty 15:17

Congrats to you and your team one I know Nerva is really dedicated time and efforts to assisting schools and it looks like you’re delivering some impressive benefits. I’d also like to share it that the Cleaner Air for Schools Program recently received a very prestigious award. But more on that when it’s announced.

Juan Malvestitti 15:38

Thank you, Liz. I appreciate the time and I very much enjoyed our conversation. Yeah, to be honest, we’re really proud of our accomplishments, but more so the fact that we can play a supportive role during these challenging times. Like I said before, I have two kids in school myself. And as a parent, I feel better knowing that schools are doing as much as they can and as quickly as possible.

Liz Beatty 16:03

Thanks so much to our guest, Juan Malvestitti you’ve been listening to the new healthy building podcast find more information on duct sealing. links to those videos we mentioned the work of Cleaner Air for schools and more on That’s I’m Liz Beatty. Thanks for listening.

Host & Executive Producer

Liz Beatty is an award-winning feature writer, broadcaster and podcaster. She’s won the 2020 Gold Lowell Thomas Award for Radio Broadcasting from the Society of American Travel Writers. And North Americana took both 2020 Gold and Silver Lowell Thomas Awards for Best Podcast.

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