Energy Management

School Building Preparedness in the COVID-Era

2 min read

As millions of students in America head back to school for in-person learning, there are several changes that institutions have been implementing to ensure that their students and staff members return to healthy and safe facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One area of opportunity is focusing on Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) operational improvements and/or modifications that stem from the guidance provided by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Many of these recommendations are low initial cost yet can have a dramatic effect on school buildings’ indoor air quality.

To begin, all schools should ensure that mechanical and control systems are functioning as designed. From there, facility directors and maintenance teams should reach out to the manufacturers of the associated HVAC equipment to determine the highest level of filtration media that can be installed in the equipment based on their specifications. ASHRAE recommends that HVAC systems be fitted with at least MERV-13 filters if the systems will not be adversely impacted by their installation, according to ASHRAE’s “Reopening of Schools and Universities” guidance. If this level of filtration cannot be used, it is recommended that the school consider the installation of portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in those spaces.

Reverting Back to the Use of Outdoor Air

When natural gas and oil prices spiked from 2005-2008, many institutions were faced with the dilemma of how to handle the increased costs associated with heating their facilities. Consequently, budgets were being squeezed from every angle. Many school districts implemented building control strategies that minimized outside air into the buildings based on either occupancy or measured levels of carbon dioxide or CO2 in the spaces. Other institutions unfortunately closed off outside air intakes all together. Regardless of what action was taken – right now – all school buildings must get outside air flowing back into our schools for everyone’s health.

If CO2 or other demand control ventilation (DCV) strategies were implemented in the past, then the ASHRAE suggest they be suspended at this time until further notice. All schools, K-12, community colleges, and other higher education facilities, should ensure that an adequate supply of outside air is delivered in accordance with ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2019. Also, note that pre-occupancy and post-occupancy purging of the schools with outside air should be conducted at this time as well.

These are a few of the suggestions by the ASHRAE intended to get school leadership moving down the right path. For access to ASHRAE’s full guidance, visit If you need assistance with upgrades to improve the quality of air at your school facilities, Constellation is here to help.

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