The fourth blog in our ongoing series about HVAC solutions for different industries brings us to the challenge of addressing energy consumption in the education sector. In education, an optimally performing HVAC delivers performance gains that extend beyond the balance sheet.
In the context of HVAC systems, the education sector is a particularly interesting market. While in other industries we have addressed in this series so far, a combination of ROI, comfort, and safety have been primary motivators in guiding HVAC energy consumption, education presents different requirements and challenges.
Educators are becoming increasingly aware that the ability of students to concentrate, use their cognitive skills, and retain information can be heavily influenced by their physical environment. In a comfortable, temperature-controlled classroom grades tend to improve and, it’s believed, classroom aggression is correspondingly reduced. As a result, the education sector is paying serious attention to HVAC.
If the realities above sound in any way ephemeral or unconvincing, the proof is in the science. The link between HVAC and educational performance is causal. Think about:
A body that’s either too hot or too cold will result in the brain directing resources towards addressing the imbalance. Maintain an optimal body temperature and the brain is free to focus on learning.
It is well established that hydration (or, more precisely, dehydration) affects cognition and extreme humidity results in discomfort. Again, air conditioning can moderate humidity and let the brain focus on learning.
Toxins and allergens can result in illnesses and their related absences clearly negatively impact education. A child that’s not in school isn’t learning. Proper HVAC filtration will provide a clean, healthy, air supply.
If you’re interested in learning more about the effects of HVAC in the classroom, you may find this research paper interesting additional reading.
If the sector-specific benefits that can be accrued in education are compelling reasons to take HVAC seriously, the sheer diversity of different physical environments in schools and colleges that must be considered when choosing an optimal HVAC system make matters challenging. Educational institutions might contain classrooms, gyms, changing rooms, kitchens, dining halls, laboratories, arenas, swimming pools, dormitories, common rooms, and more - all of which present uniquely diverse demands when it comes to supplying fresh air and removing odors and bacteria.
Beyond the sheer physical diversity, there are other challenges. These include the reality that funding is often limited (despite the fact that HVAC often assumes a major part of a schools recurring operating costs) and the window for system optimization (installation and maintenance) is generally limited to breaks in the school year and school holidays as opposed to other sectors that can optimize the system year-round.
Taking everything we have discussed so far, into account it’s clearly important for educational facilities to have a formal HVAC plan. Such plans allow for HVAC units to run at maximum efficiency while detecting worn or malfunctioning parts. As a result, the HVAC plan will lower energy costs, deliver the best air quality, and extend the ROI of the investment in the system while producing high indoor air quality.
While it’s not the intention of this blog to focus on HVAC system choice, it’s worth saying in light of the above that there is, perhaps unsurprisingly, no “best practice” solution that applies to the entire education sector.
Packaged air conditioning systems are likely to make sense for newer secondary education facilities where large spaces with room for ducting predominate. Modular systems can make sense where older buildings are in play, perhaps for long-established schools. And as the sector becomes more attuned to environmental concerns, heat recovery systems that use the latent temperature of air within a room to heat or cool fresh air drawn from outside can be appealing. Put succinctly, there is no “one size fits all”. Among other things, all this means there is a lot to optimize.
What is important to all education facilities, from primary schools to universities and colleges, is that the HVAC is optimized to provide maximal performance. This means being able to automatically control the system on a 24/7 basis so that it uses the minimum energy necessary. To achieve this, the requirements are:
For schools, where financial imperatives come into play, and where environment plays a critical role in educational performance, it should come as no surprise that the question of HVAC is getting increasing attention and the features above matter now more than ever.
The optimization plan is what enables the end-goal (which, for educational facilities, is essentially effective management of temperature) to be achieved. As we noted earlier, the right temperature not only assures employee and student welfare but contributes directly to successful outcomes in the classroom. This plan also delivers corollary benefits, including:
These benefits are important because educational facilities are rarely static, often expanding in size and broadening their building footprints. When this happens, the existing HVAC may need to be expanded or upgraded to accommodate increased usage and differing loads. Being in position to manage these sorts of system changes seamlessly, whether through fine-tuning or buildout, is easy to get wrong if the right (comprehensive) performance information isn’t available from the start. There is more to HVAC than “install and switch on” and while experience is a dear teacher, optimization is not a lesson you want to learn the hard way.
In addition to HVAC optimization other tools such as an Energy and Building Management System (EMS / BMS) can be implemented to provide tangible benefits such as being able to access dashboards to deliver constant insight into HVAC performance, identify areas where savings can be made, and enhance fault detection and diagnosis (FDD) to help protect both short- and long-term system and student body health. The benefits are particularly impactful in the education sector as the gains extend past economic gains to better classroom performance itself.
At NexRev, we’ve been unlocking the power in facility and energy management data with over half a million connected devices across North America. Our team of experts are focused on helping you deliver more with your budgets, infrastructure, and assets to create sustainable savings in operations and energy, reducing your risk and increasing operational confidence.
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