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3 Expert Tips to Prepare School Buildings for Extended Shut Downs

Most schools are the backbone of the local community and buildings are bustling with activity year-round—rarely fully shutting down—including the summer and the school year alike. As such, during this unprecedented time, our engineers have been helping clients develop long-term shut down plans to ensure their facilities are still saving money, avoiding humidity, and preventing damage when buildings will sit mostly unoccupied for several months.

Jerod Hillard, who has been helping our clients for 14 years with our Client Services team, has compiled a list of the most expressed areas of concern and how he has been advising clients. We hope these might be useful to others.

1. How to save money

Focus your attention to areas with temperature readings or insulation capabilities when you’re looking to save money and energy. Simple actions, such as lowering the blinds to shield interiors from external heat and double-checking all freezer and cooler doors are firmly shut, are two easy first steps.

An additional utility conservation step is to turn off the water to kitchens and restrooms, preventing leakage.

The most impactful adjustment is setting the building temperatures to account for the unoccupied space, which will be somewhere outside the range of 66-85 degrees (<66 Htg & >85 Clg), depending on the local climate conditions and building controls. Many building control systems include humidity sensors, our next area of concern, but if your facility does not, each set point should be carefully considered to maximize cost savings while mitigating damage.

2. How to avoid humidity

Beyond taking steps to conserve energy and maximize savings, administrators should think about controlling humidity in facilities. Just as the set point for optimal temperature varies based on local geography and climate, so does humidity levels and risk to buildings.

Unchecked humidity could potentially lead to mold growth, which then damages walls and carpets, and poses a health threat to students when classes resume. Therefore it is important to consider the correct building temperature for humidity control in conjunction with energy conservation.

Ensure all kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans are set to “off” because these exhaust systems draw humidity-rich outdoor air into a building, which might result in HVAC systems working unnecessarily to clear the air by overcooling.

Additional moisture controls to consider include exterior site drainage, gutter systems, drainage ditches and condensate drainage. Ensure that water gets removed from the exterior base of the building and away from sitting or “pooling” along the outside. This “pooling” water will soak into the slab of the building and enter, leading to moisture infiltration.

Turn off water to the building to prevent possible plumbing leaks at a site where no one is around. Use caution if doing this during winter months in certain regions, as running water is typically recommended to avoid frozen pipes.

Do you live in areas below the ASHRAE 90.1 marked red line? If so, you should have active humidity control implemented on your BAS that is operating your HVAC around dewpoint control.

3. How to prevent facility damage

Damage to facilities may come from a variety of sources when buildings are unoccupied: internal infrastructure, animals, and other people. Prevent damage from these unwanted visitors by securing all exterior doors and checking that security alarms are fully functional. 

To make facilities less appealing targets, keep the grounds clear of trash which might attract animals and reprogram lighting to illuminate grounds after-hours.

Finally, set up call-forwarding on land lines and VOIP so administrators can be reached in an emergency.

It is important to remember that equipment that has been switched off for several months will need to be restarted properly.

We're here to help

We hope these tips are helpful during this period of unprecedented shut downs. Our entire Client Services team is available to answer any additional questions on how to prepare and operate facilities. Please contact your client services representative if you need anything. We are here to assist you, now and in the future.