Wed, Jan 25, 2023 - 2:01pm

It's probably no secret that many schools across the country have outdated HVAC systems, most of which rely on fossil fuels. But the true scope of the impact of those outdated systems on student health and learning, as well as on the environment and district budgets, is overwhelming to say the least. 

"CHPS works with one school district that closes a school a month because of suspected leaks," said CHPS Executive Director Craig Schiller. "There's only one way to avoid that, and that's to take out the gas entirely."

The many benefits to switching to all-electric HVAC systems is the focus of a new report from RMI and UndauntedK12. This report, HVAC Health for Student Health and Learning: What Policymakers, School Leaders and Advocates Need to Know, makes the case for transitioning to modern systems most often featuring electric heat pump technology as a centerpiece.

his choice directly serves schools and their students by meeting growing cooling needs, improving air quality, and reducing school operational costs, among other benefits. Stark inequities in the condition of school facilities from chronic underinvestment in low-income communities and communities of color make it even more urgent that these schools can access these technologies.

"It’s important for school districts to understand that the upfront investment in these high-performance systems will have payback not just in terms of operating costs," said CHPS Technical Lead Alex Buchanan. "All-electric systems with robust filters and adequate ventilation air will also have a lasting impact on occupant health and safety while mitigating climate change and allowing a school to thrive on renewable energy."

The potential impact on student health and learning, both in the present and future, shouldn't be understated.

"There is also a great opportunity to use the school as a learning tool; arming our students with knowledge of building systems and best practices will help them make better choices in their daily lives and could spark ideas for future innovations'" said Buchanan. "For example, understanding how an economizer works might encourage a student to open a window at home when conditions allow rather than turning on the air conditioner."

Highlighted in the report are funding opportunities, such as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, that give school district leaders a generational opportunity to make HVAC investments to better support their students and communities.

The report introduces:

Research connecting HVAC systems to student health, learning, and equity

Six big ideas about school HVAC technology, paired with original analysis profiling school HVAC systems nationwide

Six benefits of selecting all-electric, high-performance HVAC systems

A framework for evaluating costs and approaches to funding HVAC investments

"At CHPS, we rely on this type of thought leadership, analysis, and research since it is the catalyst for creating a new 'best practice' which we can disseminate to all school district partners," Schiller said. "The benefits outlined in this report can be realized, by students and communities everywhere, if they are first codified into 3rd party standards (like CHPS and LEED) then embedded into updated building codes. 

"Regularly repeating this process is necessary for health and sustainability of our students and schools," he said. 

This report is available for download from RMI.