What Are The HVAC Challenges For The Education/Schools Market?
26 Oct 2021
For schools, improving indoor air quality (IAQ) is a basic function of HVAC systems, which also ensures a high comfort level for students, teachers and staff. Schools can be a lucrative market for HVAC systems, but there are challenges, such as long sales cycles and the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What are the challenges for HVAC in serving the education/schools market?
School districts today have needs that far outweigh funding. Healthy indoor air quality (IAQ) is a major need, but how do schools prioritize IAQ, aging facilities, technology, and infrastructure? The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on state and local revenue for schools is hard to overstate and many states have yet to return to revenue levels depressed by the Great Recession. That’s impacted teacher staffing, capital expenditures on facilities, instructional technology, maintenance – everything. Federal aid and stimulus money help, but with so many needs, districts have had to prioritize, which has been difficult. We have a programme to instantly model capital investments in facilities, so we can advise districts on the best way to invest for the benefit of their students. We know poor building conditions significantly correlate with lower test scores and that many older buildings don’t promote IAQ control to the levels recommended by the CDC. Understanding that facilities matter is what allows us to develop solutions that create thriving learning environments.
From a new technology standpoint, the main challenges are long sales cycles, due to compliance and other regulations, which require educational institutions to critically evaluate the cost and impact of every new technology or service. It is not uncommon to see sales cycles of 6 to 24 months, when approaching a school district or other educational institutions. At the same time, schools are some of the most marketed-to verticals. Those challenges combined make schools a less attractive target, when compared to other commercial real estate business segments.
Ventilation has always been a challenge to get right in schools. The role that good indoor air quality (IAQ) plays in student performance and comfort is significant. Evidence suggests that when levels of CO2 are higher, there is a noticeable drop in student concentration. This has immediate consequences for occupants of a school, where students spend most of their time learning, developing and expanding their field of knowledge. Mechanical ventilation, such as Elta Fans’ PREMA range, is the most effective way to provide fresh, filtered air into classrooms. CO2 sensors detect changes in pollution levels, automatically adjusting fan speed to ensure that air quality is reliably controlled and drowsiness doesn’t set in. Managing the comfort levels within a school can also be challenging, and many opt for natural ventilation to improve IAQ. However, this can become an issue in colder months, when a cool air flow from outside, into the building, placing a huge amount of strain on a school’s heating system.
School facilities have many unique features that increase the concerns regarding indoor air quality. Occupants are usually very close together, considering that school buildings have four times as many occupants as office buildings, for the same amount of floor space (EPA). Other issues include tight budgets, the presence of a variety of pollutant sources (including specialty classrooms, like art, gyms and labs), concentrated diesel exhaust exposure, due to school buses, and a large amount of heating and ventilation systems that may cause an added strain on maintenance staff. Schools also have to worry about child safety issues, concerned parents, and well-being of faculty and staff. Natural ventilation and HVAC systems are the basic methods to bring clean air indoors. However, schools that rely only on these methods of ventilation need to be aware of their potential limitations. HVAC systems, for example, should have regular maintenance checks and filter changes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of automated processes, which are adaptable to different building occupancies and shifting challenges. As schools around the world take the first steps towards digital transformation, the simplicity and ease of integration of some smart technologies are showing marked cost savings, streamlined safety, maintenance and operational efficiencies, and enhanced green potential. Real-time reporting from sensors and technologies are mobilizing schools to adopt a data-driven approach, to take their schools into the future. The dormancy of school buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic has created a secondary worry around Legionella bacteria and the latest guidance from the Department of Education encourages the usual pre-term building checks. This bacteria causes Legionnaires’ Disease, which is preventable yet potentially fatal.
As teachers teach and students learn in a variety of education environments, there may be little awareness of the HVAC systems, until something goes wrong. But every day, HVAC systems are working quietly behind the scenes to ensure comfort and indoor air quality (IAQ) in classrooms around the world.
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