Gatineau students make their own filters to help improve air quality

What do you get when you put furnace filters, a box fan and whole lot of duct tape together? An experiential learning project about air filters that helps during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Project helps during COVID-19 pandemic as HEPA filters are too expensive

Students work on building the filters using just duct tape, furnace filters and a fan. (Submitted by David McFall)

What do you get when you put furnace filters, a box fan and whole lot of duct tape together? An experiential learning project about air filters that helps during the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 150 students in upper grades at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School in the Hull sector of Gatineau, Que., built air filters for each classroom as part of a project thought up by principal David McFall.

McFall says a conversation with a parent about air purifiers at the beginning of the school year turned into a discussion about how one could build a do-it-yourself purifier.

He looked into the idea and then spoke with a consultant at the school board who suggested the idea for a school project.

A prototype of the air filter students made at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School in Gatineau, Que. (Submitted by David McFall)

"It would be fun. It would engage students. It would get them excited about learning about the science of air quality and air purification. So we went from there," McFall said on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Wednesday. 

Learning by doing

Grade 5 student Joseph Bales, 10, said making the filters was fun and they were "working well."

The air filter project was much more financially sustainable than purchasing expensive HEPA filters, according to principal David McFall. (Submitted by David McFall)

His dad, Andrew Bales, helped supervise the class when they were building some of the 26 filters.

"What I thought they were picking up is how valuable the project was, that they were able to participate in something positive," he said.

"The school is going to get the kids outdoors and healthy and have sort of an outdoor environment education. This project just fits with that, giving the kids an opportunity to a still live a normal life and as best they can in the circumstances, and do something to help themselves and help others."

Bales was so inspired by the project in his son's class, he decided to make one of the filters for his own home.

'Supportive measure' to limit transmission

McFall said they used MERV 13 furnace filters, which Health Canada says are capable of capturing "particulates, including those containing infectious virus, if present." 

Students made 26 filters so each classroom could use one to help improve the air quality. (Submitted by David McFall)

These types of filters aren't as effective as HEPA filters, but McFall said HEPA filters were too expensive to be used throughout the school, priced around $600 to $800 each.

Public Health Ontario says an air filter "is not sufficient" to protect people from contracting COVID-19, particularly when in "close contact interactions," but it can help limit transmision.

"It is one supportive measure to improve indoor air quality and reduce transmission and is not a substitute for other public health measures," the agency said.


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