Keep Your Campus Cool Without Burning Out Your HVAC System

Adding a predictive maintenance toolkit to your efforts will prepare your campus HVAC system for the hot summer season, and beyond.

By Jonathan Cooper

Summer school is in session, and once again, campuses nationwide have their hands full keeping students comfortable. Last year’s summer was one of the hottest on record in the lower 48 states, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The weather was so hot that some schools were forced to release students from class early or cancel classes altogether because their aging HVAC systems could not meet demands.

predictive maintenance
Credit: Jack Hollingsworth

Preventive measures can not only help campuses avoid a repeat of last year’s fallout, but provide campus technicians with the opportunity to upgrade practices across the board. Formerly relegated to large organizations, data centers, or enterprise businesses because of high costs, Predictive Maintenance (PdM) has recently become affordable and accessible to all facilities, even schools. It offers a way to not only keep an HVAC system humming along, but to ensure healthy indoor air quality and conserve energy even during the hottest summer months.

Old, Dirty Energy Hogs

When maintaining an effective HVAC system, it is important to consider several factors including: humidity, energy recovery ventilation, location of outdoor air intakes and exhaust, outdoor air quality, and air filtration. Across the nation, HVAC systems are among the largest energy consumers at school environments. K-12 facilities in the United States spend more than $8 billion annually on energy, the second-highest operating expenditure after personnel costs. Due to budgeting constraints, many aging facilities defer necessary maintenance and as a result, their HVAC equipment suffers.

Not only are HVAC systems running less efficiently, but utility costs can rise as the quality of air declines. A 2014 survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that the average age of a campus’ main building is 55 years old. Another 25 percent report having one or more buildings in need of extensive repair or replacement, and nearly half of all buildings across campuses have documented problems relating to indoor air quality.

Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is a known accelerator to the deterioration and reduction of efficient HVAC use and can have a negative impact s in a campus setting for both student and teacher attendance, comfort and performance. In fact, many of the health effects of poor indoor air quality are subtle, with symptoms ranging from eye irritation and shortness of breath to headache and fatigue. Recent studies conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times (and occasionally more than 100 times) higher than outdoor levels.

So what is the answer for these aging, neglected HVAC systems that are responsible for maintaining healthy, safe learning environments across the nation? In short, moving from an outmoded preventive maintenance model to a more efficient PdM approach.

Cooling Down And Cleaning Up

While a number of school districts are implementing new policies and updating their HVAC systems, others are resistant to change primarily due to the perceived cost increase. In reality, implementing a predictive maintenance strategy can significantly reduce downtime and save money.

A recent McKinsey Global Institute report revealed that the use of PdM in factories could reduce maintenance costs by 10 to 40 percent. Instead of relying on a calendar schedule to address maintenance issues, PdM utilizes data-driven analytics to predict failure or malfunction before it happens, ultimately extending the life of capital equipment.

With the ability to connect to machines and their sensors, PdM delivers data into the hands of facility and campus technicians, who can then determine the appropriate action based on real-time knowledge to avoid costly downtime and potential system failures. When it comes to creating a navigable way to keep your campus cool, an HVAC system intact and indoor air quality healthy, turning to a PdM program is the solution.

Ways To Adopt And Use PdM

Three places to start when it comes to adopting a new and executable approach for better HVAC health this summer include:

  1. Map it out: Schools and campus facilities can establish an energy roadmap that outlines strategies for improved equipment performance to reduce energy costs and create a better environment for learning.
  2. Check it off: Keep a checklist log as a guide to resolve current IAQ issues and prevent future problems to maintaining good indoor air quality. Utilize the checklist to record distribution of information to parents, school board members and contract service throughout the process.
  3. Establish a new toolkit: PdM can address a range of diagnostics, and it’s best to gather tools over time. One of the powerful techniques used in a PdM approach is vibration diagnostic technology, built around the concept that every mechanical system can be characterized by the sound that it makes. When applied to HVAC systems, vibration analysis can use machine-mounted sensors to determine each specific machine’s condition and locate any issue before catastrophe occurs. Sensors can track progressing stages of bearing failure, identify imbalance and mechanical wear and correct misalignment and resonance, all key components of maintaining a healthy HVAC system particularly in times of heavy use, like a hot summer.

A New HVAC Model For Schools

Maintaining a manageable school environment is critical to the wellness and productivity of students, faculty, and administrative staff and, as such, should be a top priority. Currently, over 30 U.S. states have established school health policies for the improvement of indoor air quality. These include “green cleaning” programs, HVAC equipment maintenance, and an increased focus on safety and health standards.

With the summer months already here, campus facility managers can seize the opportunity to bring advancing technology not just into the hands of students, but into the back-end of building infrastructure as well to sustain a cost-efficient, predictable, and accommodating learning environment. Adding a PdM toolkit to such efforts will prepare campus for not only the hot summer season, but beyond.

predictive maintenanceJonathon Cooper is the Head of Business Development at Augury, a New York- and Israel-based company that is bringing predictive maintenance technology to new markets and creating the mechanical diagnostics platform for the Internet of Things.

A BOMI-accredited session on Next Gen Facility Management will be held at the inaugural Facility Executive Live!, a new one-day conference presented by Facility Executive magazine on October 3rd in Chicago. Click here to learn more.