School districts across the country are often under financial pressure, and powering down unoccupied buildings during summer break is a logical way to save on energy costs. However, if important moisture control strategies aren’t implemented, powering down can end up costing the school much more – in dollars and, more importantly, in student health.
Summer storms and high humidity can cause mold to develop quickly if an HVAC system is not managing moisture levels. Mold can cause thousands of dollars in damage and lower indoor air quality in a matter of weeks.
In 2011, Minnesota elementary school administrators had to pay $200,000 for mold remediation after finding spores in building air ducts and carpeting. Ten students and two teachers left the school due to health problems, possibly from exposure. Five years later, the administrators are still dealing with the aftermath of the problem and working to rebuild trust in the community.
Air Quality and Students
Depending on their sensitivity, students have various responses to mold – from no symptoms to flu-like symptoms to serious lung and respiratory conditions, such as asthma and sarcoidosis.
Children breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, which gives children greater exposure to environmental toxins. If pollutants damage their still-developing respiratory and cardiovascular systems, the health effects can be lifelong.
Summer Layups to Prevent Mold Growth in Schools
Facilities managers can get ahead of humidity by creating a dehumidification strategy for summer break. This summer layup should include a strategy for humidity control, policies for special projects, and HVAC maintenance plans.
Humidity Control – The Environmental Protection Agency recommends relative humidity to be below 60% and ideally 30-50%. A humidity strategy combines cooling and desiccant dehumidification to control dew point temperatures. Polygon offers an energy-efficient HCU, which combines an active titanium silica gel desiccant wheel with a packaged refrigeration system to maintain air quality and prevent mold. Even when outside temperatures reach 90°F with 90% relative humidity, the Polygon HCU delivers air between 75-80°F and 30-40% relative humidity.
Special Project Policies –The layup should also include guidelines about cleaning and repair projects over summer break. Projects that generate moisture, such as carpet cleaning and floor waxing, can contribute to the overall humidity level in a school building, and moisture-removing equipment should be utilized to offset it.
HVAC Maintenance –Systems that are not used for long periods can develop mechanical problems and become homes for microbial growth. Summer layups for mold prevention should include step-by-step instructions about maintenance. Cleaning the indoor and outdoor coils can increase HVAC efficiency up to 40%. Other steps should cover how to clean the condensate trap and check filters, belts, motors, bearings, and the blower assembly.
Long-term plans that include prevention and system upkeep can save money for schools over the long term – and maintain the confidence of parents, students and staff.
Polygon works with many schools and universities to control moisture and prevent mold and mildew in buildings during summer break. Together, they create a layup using temporary humidity control equipment, which enables the school to take their large HVAC system off-line, preserve the indoor air quality, and consume much less energy.
[Photo from Tina Franklin via CC License 2.0]