It’s no secret that the flu virus, in addition to the potential of ongoing COVID-19 issues, can be a headache for K-12 school systems across the United States. For the past couple of years, the flu has been a reason why schools have been forced to close for an extended amount of time during the late fall and winter months.
In November 2022, K-12 Dive reported that schools in Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia were experiencing systemwide closures due to illness. In the same report, it stated Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky canceled classes for its 41,000 students due to widespread illnesses and staff absences.
Even as recently as May 5, at least one school was forced to close due to high levels of flu-like symptoms. According to CNN, Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit temporarily closed when two students were diagnosed with the bacterial illness Haemophilus influenzae in addition to several pre-K through eighth-grade students becoming ill.
While there is no guaranteed way for K-12 schools to guarantee airborne illnesses won’t spread, mechanical HVAC solutions provide a protective measure that can minimize the number of pathogens in the air. With most students across the nation on summer vacation, now is a great time for school leaders to take extra precautions and help prepare the HVAC systems for the upcoming school year.
By utilizing the summer to perform proactive HVAC maintenance or upgrades, school leaders are eliminating much of the stress that comes with being reactive to these potential illness outbreaks. They are also preventing any potential downtime that may occur by doing the services during the school year.
There are several ways K-12 leaders can take advantage of the summer to better equip their schools for the fall. From retrofitting equipment to installing upgrades, being proactive can go a long way in providing safe, clean air for students to breathe once summer break is over.
Install Filtration Upgrades
One of the most important aspects of K-12 HVAC systems is their ability to filter viruses from the air. This helps reduce the number of pathogens that can spread throughout a classroom or school. By having these units maintained or serviced during the summer, you are ensuring they are ready to operate at peak performance when the students are back in the classrooms.
As part of regular maintenance, installing upgrades to the HVAC unit can help provide additional protection from airborne viruses. If compatible, upgrading the filters within the unit is recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Dating back to when the initial COVID-19 outbreak took place, ASHRAE has recommended upgrading to MERV 13 or even MERV 14 filters. In addition, adding features such as Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization give HVAC units another layer of protection. This tool delivers positive and negative ions into the classroom through the ventilation system, which ultimately attach to airborne particulates and filters them from the air.
It is important to note that when K-12 schools make upgrades to their HVAC equipment, they need to ensure all the components of the unit can handle the added stress. In many cases, when upgrades are made, facility managers neglect to check if the upgrades are compatible with the HVAC system. If the motors in the unit can’t handle the added static, it could result in the motors failing. Be sure to check all the components of the HVAC system before installing the upgrades.
Replace Troublesome HVAC Units
The worst-case scenario for most K-12 schools is an HVAC unit failing during the school year because it’s too old or consistently malfunctions. As a reminder, if your HVAC unit is around 15 to 20 years old, it’s time to have it replaced. In buildings, such as schools, where the HVAC is in constant use, the motors are likely old or worn out. This will result in added amp loads, increasing the chance the unit breaks down permanently. In some cases, the parts needed to fix the unit could be outdated.
In a situation like this, the summer provides K-12 schools an opportunity to order a replacement. While the installation process for a new system is longer than retrofitting the existing unit, the chances of a breakdown during the school year are significantly less than that of an old unit. New equipment means that the unit should be up-to-code once installed while performing at peak levels when students return.
While students are enjoying their summer at home or on vacation, K-12 schools can be making the necessary improvements to ensure they return to a safe learning environment. Making indoor air quality a top priority during the summer can help guarantee students have clean air to breathe during the flu season. Far too often, the spread of viruses can be minimized by having an HVAC unit that is operating at excellent levels. But to help that become a reality, schools need to be proactive in the preparation. Use the summer break to make upgrades to your HVAC unit or replace one that is too old or outdated.
This will help keep clean air circulating throughout your facility and improve the student experience.
Emily Wright is the business development manager of IAQ for Modine Manufacturing Company. At Modine, we are engineering a cleaner, healthier world. Building on more than 100 years of excellence in thermal management, we provide trusted systems and solutions that improve air quality and conserve natural resources. Modine is a global company headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin (USA), with operations in North America, South America, Europe and Asia.