High Performing Schools: Why do they matter?

Students in America miss approximately 14 million school days per year because of asthma, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Controlling exposure to indoor environmental factors, like carbon monoxide, dust, and pollen, could prevent more than 65 percent of asthma cases among elementary school-age children, reports the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

A high-performance school, which is a school facility developed expressly to operate with higher energy efficiency and indoor air quality, as well as improved acoustics and easier maintenance, enables students and staff to perform better, and allows the school to put more money where it belongs – in the classroom.

Designing a High Performance School

Applying state-of-the-art systems for lighting, HVAC, and plumbing can save school districts 30 to 40 percent on utility costs, according to the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC). Considering the impact of rising energy costs on schools with fixed budgets, utility cost reductions provide a welcome way for school administrators to focus limited funds on academic areas.

Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency show that green schools heighten student academic performance as well as decrease overall building costs. Some additional benefits high-performance schools provide include:

• reduced long- and short-term health problems for students and staff, which raises attendance levels;

• improved teacher and staff performance;

• reduced deterioration and improved efficiency of school systems and equipment; and

• lower risk of school closure or relocation.

The Energy Information Agency reports that anm HVAC system accounts for 30 to 50 percent of the building’s energy consumption. Using the right HVAC system can cut down on utility costs immensely. To do so, it’s important to consider the size of the building and the system that would provide the best learning environment for the students.

In addition to helping reduce energy consumption, a more efficient system will help improve indoor air quality, manage moisture and ventilation, and reduce life-cycle costs for the system. School facility managers who work closely with HVAC consultants during the building design process can more accurately calculate the cost savings high-performance buildings offer.

Air Quality — From the Inside Out

The connection between outdoor pollution and health problems is well-known. But, few people are aware of the effects of poor indoor air quality. Inside building conditions such as temperature, humidity and acoustics all play a role in students’ ability to stay focused and learn.

Construction innovations that have led to more energy-efficient, high-performing schools may also contribute to poor indoor air quality. For example, tightly sealed buildings save energy, but trap allergens and chemicals from synthetic building materials and cleaning supplies inside. This results in an uncomfortable learning environment for all students — not just those suffering from asthma.

Schools often present air quality challenges that differ from other building types because of the number of children who have an innocent tendency to easily pass illnesses to each other. If there isn’t an efficient ventilation system in place, the classroom can become a breeding ground for bacteria and illness.

Take, for example, the impact of 30 energetic youngsters compressed into a 1,000-sq.-ft. classroom. With germs, food, and materials passed among students throughout the day, it is imperative that schools achieve better ventilation and moisture control.

Moisture control is equally important for reducing the build-up of mold and bacteria. HVAC consultants recommend that relative humidity levels stay between 40 and 60 percent. Buildings usually develop moisture issues if barriers were not part of the design or if pipes and equipment are improperly sized or installed. All of these issues can result in sweaty pipes and equipment and present a humid, moist environment where mold and bacteria thrive.

To combat these challenges, HVAC consultants recommend designing systems that prevent and manage moisture accumulation. It is important to consider the number of rooms in the building, as well as the total number of occupants — information that the HVAC consultant considers when developing a system that will provide superior ventilation.

Analyzing Lifecycle Costs

As with any building system, regular maintenance of HVAC systems results in lower costs and greater performance over the life of the building. That’s why it is important to work with HVAC suppliers to design a maintenance strategy for their schools that contains predictive approaches to maintenance.

A lifecycle cost analysis on a school’s newer HVAC system involves assessing the total operating costs for a system, building, or campus. It will also demonstrate how much money can be saved by implementing high-performance building measures. Some costs assessed in the analysis include:

• initial purchase price and installation costs;

• lifetime expected energy and utility consumption;

• operating expenses;

• repair and maintenance estimates;

• costs for component upgrades; and

• disposal costs.

Regular building maintenance checks, part of any maintenance strategy, can be accomplished with a variety of technology-based testing equipment. Infrared thermography, for instance, is a type of photography that identifies areas of heat loss and HVAC system“hot spots.”

This technology helps maintenance people see air flow in pipes, as well as any blocks that have developed, and evaluate how well devices work. By using sound and lighting meters, maintenance personnel are able to validate industry standards and identify target areas for remediation measures.

For larger facilities, or campus settings, preventive testing measures can help ensure that systems are operating correctly. By using ultrasonic testing, performance irregularities can be detected in a variety of components, such as fan bearings, compressors and steam valves. In addition, vibration analysis provides a basis for establishing normal operating patterns. Testing against these patterns will help identify operation abnormalities that could impact reliability and performance. Finally, electromagnetism analysis can be used to detect unusual tube wear patterns, identify specific problem areas, and determine conductivity or heat transfer performance.

With the right maintenance strategy, schools spend less money on more costly repairs and spend more time ensuring that the most critical elements of the HVAC system operate as intended.

Improve Schools Now

Saving money while helping school children learn — it’s not an urban myth. A well-designed HVAC system can give teachers and students alike the“breathing room” they need to meet increasingly stringent academic requirements. In the midst of the many improvements a school district can make to its buildings, the HVAC system provides the farthest-reaching effects — considering poor indoor air quality is one of the top environmental risk to health, as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Maureen Lally, Institutional Markets director, is the market segment leader for Trane where she works to understand the needs of Trane's education and healthcare customers and provide solutions to those customers in those markets — helping manage and control the indoor environment, thereby improving the performance of all who work in the building.