Powering down unused equipment is a smart way for schools to save on energy costs, especially during summer break when buildings can sit empty for weeks. Switching off and unplugging lights, vending machines, computers, and other standby “vampire” electricity draws can provide substantial savings.
Air conditioning is one of the largest energy consumers in a building. It’s also the largest contributor to peak electricity demand during hot summer weather. Schools often take their HVAC systems off-line to avoid these expensive costs. These summer lay-ups when the system is down also give facilities staff a chance to inspect the system for wear and tear and perform regular maintenance to extend the life of the system.
Unlike lights and computers, however, HVACs need more than a simple flip of a switch a pull of a power cord to shut down. Proper summer lay-up requires a series of steps to protect the indoor air quality. Moisture and dampness – in and around the school building and in and around the HVAC – can quickly turn into a mold issue that affects IAQ year-round. Mold can also cause damage to books, paper files, musical instruments, and artwork. Outdoor humidity, summer storms, leaking pipes, and locker room showers can also cause moisture buildup, which, left untreated, can grow into a larger problem.
The relative humidity inside a school should be between 30-60%. A dehumidification system is a cost-effective way keep the HVAC off and maintain the appropriate humidity levels. More specifically, desiccant dehumidifiers have been proven to be efficient, cost-effective, and compliant with school environmental standards.
Summer Lay-Ups for School Buildings
The brand and type of HVAC system determines the steps required for a summer lay-up. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to protect the system and to keep active warranties valid.
Summer lay-ups often include draining cooling towers, cleaning coils, checking that condensate pans are draining, changing filters, and cleaning ventilation ducts and dampers. Since HVAC components run throughout the building, facilities managers often create a checklist to make sure each step is completed.
Summer break is also a good time to look at other ways to keep moisture out of the building:
- Plan ahead to manage the moisture from summer projects such as painting and carpet cleaning.
- Look for moisture problems with an infrared camera and moisture meter.
- Check that the landscaping near the school drains away from the building.
- Inspect flashing on the roof, walls, and windows and repair any gaps and bends.
- Consider waterproofing or damp proofing walls and floors.
Polygon works with many school districts to control moisture and prevent mold and mildew in buildings during summer break. Together, they create a lay-up strategy using temporary humidity controls services, which enables the district to take their large HVAC system off-line, preserve the indoor air quality, and consume much less energy.
[Photo from Alan Levine via CC License 2.0]