by Patti Dees

School building HVAC preventive maintenance (PM) may not be on the top of most back-to-school lists, but it should be. Besides general comfort, students and teachers benefit from a healthier environment and administrators see lower costs.

Understanding HVAC Needs and Challenges in Education Settings

Educators want to focus on student performance, but a poorly maintained HVAC system can make that difficult. They need a reliable, efficient, and cost-effective means to control temperature and indoor air quality (IAQ). PM can help education facilities with many of the HVAC challenges they face.

Money is Always Tight

Districts and institutions are faced with financial constraints that can impact what repairs are prioritized. Administrators tackle energy costs with tactics such as locking thermostats or controlling temperature settings from a centralized location. Such approaches often, and incorrectly, assume every space has the same needs at the same time, and that the HVAC system is running optimally.

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Needs Change

However, most educational settings are made up of many rooms of varying sizes with windows facing different directions. Even if the HVAC system was designed for multiple zones to accommodate different temperature needs, changes to room use over the years may have altered HVAC needs for an area. The system will struggle to meet these new demands, increasing operating costs and speeding up equipment deterioration.

Weather Impacts

Local weather conditions can also prove a challenge. Wide temperature swings over the course of the day and very hot or cold regions add additional strain to a suboptimal HVAC system. In the case of regions with extreme temperatures, system failure can lead to hazardous situations and schools will need to close until the HVAC system repairs are made.


A significant concern, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, is IAQ. Schools need to provide an environment that is as safe and comfortable as possible. Attention to IAQ reduces risks from pathogens such as COVID-19 and flu viruses, allergens like dust or mold, and pollutants that may include hazardous materials from maintenance on aging buildings. All of these risks are shown to impact student health and performance.

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How Preventive Maintenance Addresses Challenges

One of the primary benefits of PM is also one of the most common concerns: cost. Over the long term, PM can save money, both through reduced operating costs and fewer emergency repairs. According to the website, “Every dollar spent on preventive maintenance yields $4 in savings.” While setting up a PM plan takes a little investment, there are significant financial benefits.

Another benefit of HVAC preventive maintenance for educational facilities is the opportunity to monitor and address unique concerns between zones/areas. PM plans apply to all parts of the HVAC system. Regularly inspecting components provides insight into how the system is performing and how well it is meeting the needs of each space.

Schools following a PM protocol can catch potential issues and identify which areas need prioritization. Knowing in advance the kinds of upcoming repairs that likely need to be made gives maintenance staff time to plan and prepare for projects, and avoid emergency repairs, which tend to be more expensive. Planned maintenance helps equipment run more efficiently, reducing electricity costs.

Regular cleaning and inspection of filters, coils, and ductwork help reduce debris and microbes circulating through the HVAC system. Occupants benefit from better health as these tasks address post-COVID concerns and reduce irritants that can trigger asthma, headaches, and other illnesses.

The improvements to efficiency and IAQ through PM create an environment that promotes student welfare and focus, all while reducing costs. Therma professionals have the expertise to help educational facilities create PM plans and maintain their HVAC systems. Contact us today to learn more!

Patti draws on her background as a chemical engineer to share information with readers on technology, manufacturing, and construction.


US EPA – Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools: Preventive Maintenance Guidance Documents


US Department of Education – Improving Ventilation in Schools, Colleges, and Universities to Prevent COVID-19

National Center for Education Statistics – Chapter 5 Maintaining School Facilities and Grounds