Decentralized HVAC Systems Offer Benefits for Schools

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HVAC systems at K-12 schools conjure images of massive rooftop units humming continuously throughout the academic year. But while this is a go-to option for many projects, architects and engineers should weigh the benefits of a decentralized system. Individual units, such as Changeair’s classroom air handlers, provide a number of long-term advantages that can lower lifetime costs while eliminating inefficiencies, lessening maintenance concerns, and boosting energy savings.

Here are a few attributes to consider when weighing a decentralized system:

Service friendly

Decentralized air handlers are easier to service and maintain than centralized systems, with less complicated setups resembling residential units. Therefore, classroom air handlers are more approachable for traditional or junior-level school maintenance crews, including easy filter changing. In-house maintenance crews may feel intimidated by larger centralized units, and there is a bigger risk if something goes wrong; such systems will typically require the ongoing expense of a service contract with a professional HVAC contractor.

Approachability for maintenance is essential to ensuring the longevity of HVAC equipment. For example, compressor condenser coils require regular cleaning, but it’s an arduous task for non-professionals and may get skipped. Delays in maintenance can lead to breakage or a buildup of dirt, which then insulates the coils and eventually reduces capacity and efficiency. Changeair units are compartmentalized, so it’s even easier to access and service the specific element needed for routine maintenance such as this.

Changeair air handlers also feature non-proprietary fans, coils, and other equipment, so parts and replacement elements are usually readily available locally.

Infection control and ventilation

Decentralized systems do not circulate air throughout the school, reducing concerns about germ spread. What’s more, a Changeair system offers a better air exchange rate—each unit is sized for the room and is dialed-in for the ideal air exchanges per hour. A central system is continuously circulating air to and from the classrooms, with no distinction from room to room.

Efficiency and flexibility

Classroom units allow teachers to control temperature and ventilation in their rooms, a helpful option for classrooms where activities may generate more heat, such as science classes or kindergarten classes where there is more physical activity.

Decentralized systems also do not require a lengthy amount of time to warm-up or cool-down the space for day. With only having to condition one room, classroom systems can be shut off or turned down at night with little concern about how long it will take to power back on in the morning.

Changeair systems can be equipped with occupancy sensors and/or carbon dioxide sensors to further increase energy efficiency.

For schools that provide after-hours space, such as for community meetings or church services, decentralized systems provide additional efficiencies. Rather than powering an entire HVAC system to accommodate use of one or two rooms, classroom units allow schools to only power on those classrooms that will be occupied.

Lower impact during downtimes

Having an air handler in each room means that the entire school does not need to be shut down in the event of maintenance or operational issues. For example, if a heating component breaks down during the winter, school doesn’t need to be canceled for the day; instead, that one classroom can move temporarily to another location within the building.

Low profile options

Changeair series units offer a space-saving design, have the ability to be ducted above a false ceiling, and are as quiet as <NC35. Designers can select a cabinet color that blends best with each room’s aesthetic, and cabinets resemble those holding school supplies.

Want to see a decentralized system in action? Download this case study to explore how classroom units provided an all-inclusive solution for Madison High School in Maine.

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