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An ounce of prevention

Sept. 22, 2022
Effective preventive maintenance will help schools provide facilities with good indoor air quality.

Effective preventive maintenance in education facilities is a goal that schools and universities strive for, but too often they lack the resources to carry out such strategies effectively. That frequently leads schools to defer needed maintenance, which can cause more severe and costly maintenance problems, and result in building conditions that put the health and safety of students and staff at risk.

Covid-19 and its impact on school facilities has heightened the concerns about students and staff are affected by the air quality in classrooms and other learning spaces, and those concerns remain paramount as the threat of Covid-19 looms over another school year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as part of its Tools for Schools program, has produced a Preventive Maintenance Guidance manual to help schools establish an effective preventive maintenance program that enhances indoor air quality.

  "A good preventive maintenance program includes routine and regular maintenance and repair, which keeps equipment and facilities performing reliably and as intended," the guide says It helps your equipment have a longer life span and saves schools from unexpected, costly repairs.  

The EPA guide list six components of preventive maintenance for indoor air quality

HVAC and Equipment: Monitoring a school’s HVAC system using preventive maintenance help detect problems before they become severe. The EPA says regular inspection and keeping the system clean and exhaust systems clear help prevent problems that could require expensive repairs. “For example, a missing filter could, over time, lead to plugged coils, reduce your HVAC system’s effectiveness, contribute to poor IAQ, and result in substantial repair or replacement costs to HVAC system components,” the guide says.

Mold and Moisture: Schools should conduct routine inspections for moisture, which can lead to indoor mold growth. Mold can grow on any organic surface if enough moisture and oxygen are available, the EPA says. “Facility neglect often leads to moisture problems, especially when roofs, plumbing or ventilation systems are not routinely inspected,” the guide says. “Mold can discolor surfaces, deteriorate building material, and lead to health problems for students and staff.”

Green Cleaning and Materials Selection: School maintenance workers should choose products with few effects on human health and the environment. “Look for products and services that minimize waste, conserve energy or water, or reduce the amount of toxics used or left behind,” the guide says. When new schools are being constructed, administrators should discuss with architects and facility planners about the materials that will be used in the construction..

Integrated Pest Management (IPM):  Schools should adopt IPM strategies that remove things that pests need to survive— food, water and shelter—and block possible entry points to the building. Deferring maintenance of a building can lead to deterioration, which may enable pests to enter through wall cracks and find conditions where their numbers can multiply, such as leaky areas or poorly cleaned spaces. “Through routine inspections and keeping facilities and equipment in good working condition, IPM can keep pests at bay and prevent possible reentry,” the guide says.

Source Control: Schools can minimize the use of hazardous chemicals at schools by using pollution prevention principles and looking for safer alternatives. “Consider the possible health, safety and environmental consequences before buying a particular chemical,” the guide says. “Create a purchasing policy that promotes environmentally preferable products, and conduct periodic inventories of the chemical products in your school to identify hazards.”

Energy Efficiency: Poor energy management can create indoor air quality problems that may result in poorly ventilated spaces. Carrying out preventive maintenance can improve energy efficiency while ensuring that IAQ is protected. School districts also can include IAQ protections in their energy efficiency retrofits and other building upgrade projects to make the best possible improvements without risking student and staff health.

The EPA points out several benefits that schools will see from carrying out or improving a preventive maintenance program:

  • Saves energy and reduces operating costs.
  • Reduces the number of emergency repairs, freeing up resources.
  • Enables flexible maintenance schedules.
  • Prevents premature equipment breakdowns.
  • Enables maintenance staff to identify minor problems quickly, reducing expensive repair costs and unplanned downtime.
  • Ensures the building will run smoothly and not disrupt the educational process.
  • Keeps equipment running efficiently.
  • Contributes to a healthful learning environment for students and staff. 
About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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