Commercial HVAC Equipment

8 Ideas for Reducing Crazy Maintenance and Energy Spikes When School Starts (and all year long)

Tuesday, October 6 2015 2:03 PM
By Jon Goering

An estimated $330 million was spent nationally this year to fix maintenance issues during the first two weeks of school.


It’s early October, meaning most schools have been in session now for at least a month.

And as students and staff settled into a routine those first two weeks, it cost schools big bucks.

It does every year. And it’s all about maintenance.  

An estimated $330 million was spent nationally this year to fix maintenance issues during the first two weeks of school. That figure comes from a report by SchoolDude, a leading education project asset management company. It made the estimation based on a careful examination of 2014 work requests in K-12 schools and higher education nationwide between August 25 and September 10.

In their study, Schooldude found that repair requests at schools increase 65 percent in the first two weeks over summer. The shift moves maintenance teams from completing improvement projects to putting out fires.

And that’s not all.

Nearly 50,000 of the work orders submitted in the first few weeks are reported as “emergencies.” Some are, some aren’t. What’s more, 91 percent of those orders were for deferred maintenance requests. The requests had been postponed, likely to save costs. In reality, they only ended up costing more.

Mechanical breakdowns are inevitable, that’s a given. So schools must turn to proactive measures to help reduce the increased costs of emergencies and maintenance in general.

As an administrator or facility leader, what does that look like?

Here, we’ll examine the high cost of returning students and staff and the impact on your maintenance budget. We also will look at ways you can reduce those costs and make the transition period from summer to school a little less expensive.

Summer Break

Students and teachers enjoy summer vacation in June, July and August. It’s also a time for school facilities and equipment to catch a break for much needed service, repairs or upgrades. But when students return in August and September, everything changes. Suddenly, maintenance requests skyrocket. Building systems must work harder, energy demands increase and projects must be set aside to address emergencies.

And you’re only 10 days in.

HVAC repair requests – estimated at nearly 584,000 this year – led all other maintenance demands the first two weeks of school, according to SchoolDude’s report. The cost? Nearly $170 million. The closest repair request – key/lock – trailed HVAC by more than 417,000 requests, totaling just over $20 million.

Two weeks have passed, and already you find your maintenance budget behind the eight ball. And there’s still eight months to go!

Another sobering fact: heating, air conditioning and lighting alone account for nearly 70 percent of a school’s energy use.

There’s more.

Budgets and Buildings

HVAC and lighting account for more than two-thirds of a school’s energy use. And we haven’t even mentioned the elephants in the room – shrinking budgets and aging buildings.

It’s no secret that many schools have faced shrinking maintenance budgets in recent years. In addition, school facilities and equipment continue to age. Remarkably, nearly half of the nation’s schools were built between 1950 and 1969. In some cases, their building systems aren’t much younger.

And, those aging facilities and building systems often must accommodate increasing student numbers.

School experts estimate it would cost $270 billion to complete all necessary renovations and maintenance to school facilities nationwide. The most recent report on the condition of those school facilities was completed in 1999. In it, researchers found that 76 percent of the nation’s schools needed improvements.


Thirty-five states now provide school funding below 2008 recession levels. In Kansas, over the past 20 years, per-pupil funding generally has remained about 5 percent below the national average.

Kansas schools receive funding from federal, state and local revenue sources. These includes income, sales and property taxes. Fifty-four percent of funding for Kansas schools comes from the state, according a 2014 report. More than 20 percent can be attributed to state income taxes.

If Kansas income tax revenues continue to shrink, the state will be forced turn to sales and / or property taxes to cover the shortfall or reduce school spending or the rate of increase, experts say. 

SchoolDude chart, study.

Develop a Plan

Experts estimate that the average school allocates 15 percent of its budget to planned maintenance. Aggressive schools strive for 30 percent.

As a school leader, you work to provide students, teachers and staff with an environment conducive to learning and working. In so doing, you must face increased maintenance costs and budget cuts head on.

Wherever your school district is at regarding its age and the condition of its building systems, there are steps you can take to reduce costs.

The following solutions can help reduce potential increased maintenance costs during the first weeks of school and save money in general, all without breaking the bank.  

Planned Maintenance

You might consider adopting a scheduled maintenance program. Why? To get ahead of breakdowns – proactive - instead of reacting when they occur - reactive. Doing so can reduce your emergency requests by 55 – 60 percent, experts say.

 In many cases, school leaders consider maintenance an overhead cost to be reduced as much as possible. Therefore, as a facility leader, you must make a case for the importance of investing in planned maintenance. One way to do that is to document how proactive maintenance saves money over reactive maintenance. It also helps you avoid the inconveniences brought on by emergencies.

 In addition, you can track work orders during the first weeks of school to see where maintenance requests increase. Using this data, you can implement planned maintenance schedules to reduce the requests.

 Energy Supply Side

Are you managing your energy supply cost? Consider reviewing your energy contracts annually. Natural gas in Kansas is deregulated. Kansas commercial customers who meet the minimum qualification level have the option to purchase their natural gas from a supplier or marketer. Under deregulation, marketers are free to compete for your business.

Consistent review of current market conditions and long-term gas contracting may allow for operational savings. While electrical generation is a regulated industry in Kansas, opportunities may still exist for cost reduction. An annual review will ensure you are using the best tariff and rate structure available.

Building Envelope

The building envelope forms the primary thermal barrier between the building’s interior and exterior. It plays a key role in comfort, natural lighting, ventilation and the total energy required to heat and cool a building. Building envelope improvements can increase occupant comfort, health and overall building energy efficiency.

Air sealing restricts the passage of air through the building envelope. It also is a key way of increasing energy efficiency and can reduce the need for heating by 20 - 30%. Tightly sealed structures with proper ventilation control can ensure the indoor climate is healthy.

Improving insulation values in roofs and walls also can help reduce energy consumption. So can replacing old doors and windows with new, better insulated materials. Installing a reflective surface on a roof or adding low-e film to windows also are items to consider in lieu of full replacements.


Fresh-air requirements for schools typically make up about 10 percent of the building’s total energy usage. Air brought in from the outside must be cooled or heated - depending on the season - before being delivered into the building’s air distribution system.

In many cases, the design phase determines ventilation amounts for absolute worst-case scenarios. Once the building has been constructed and the HVAC system installed, a damper usually is set to that amount. And then it’s forgotten. Don’t ventilate spaces like classrooms, gyms, auditoriums and cafeterias as if they always were at full capacity. Instead, consider adjusting ventilation levels through controls, based instead on occupancy.

Demand-control ventilation can adjust the amount of fresh air delivered to a space. It’s based on occupancy as measured by the amount of carbon dioxide present in that space. With this method, less energy is consumed because the fans only run when outside air is needed. Additionally, the units only heat or cool the amount of incoming air, which would be reduced from peak requirements.

Installing energy-recovery units to pretreat ventilation air - and take the place of building exhaust fans -also can greatly reduce energy consumption tied to ventilation.

Water Conservation/Efficiency

Most people don’t realize that water bills are energy bills.

Suppliers determine the bulk cost of water delivered to your facility by the amount of energy required to purify and pump the water to you as well as the treatment of sewage. In most cases, schools use electricity or gas to heat water. Therefore, use less water and watch your water and energy bills shrink!

Some items to consider:

  • Repair leaking pipes, fixtures and seals
  • Use low-flow toilets, faucets, showerheads and urinals
  • Install controls for faucets to turn them on/off automatically
  • Set hot-water temperature only as hot as you need it, typically 110-120 degrees.
  • Replace old, storage hot-water tanks with new, high-efficiency “tankless” units
  • Install digital controls on irrigation systems
  • Swimming Pool chemical, dehumidification expense, and heating expense can be greatly

     improved with technology available on the market today.

Performance Commissioning

The building commissioning business has been around since the 1970’s. Since then, numerous organizations have implemented standards and best practices for building commissioning. In general, building commissioning verifies that what you paid for is what you received. Retro commissioning was developed to bring a building back to its original design.

With today’s data technology, a new level of high-performance, continuous commissioning has emerged. Digital controls monitor all operational points, establish long-term trends, and sub-meter equipment and electrical panels. As a result, buildings can be continually fine-tuned to optimize energy usage.

In addition to operational savings, a long-term record of building performance can be established. This allows for a representative baseline. Alarms or operational issues that would contribute to wasted energy use sometimes can be identified and remedied before you know a problem exists. High-performance, continuous commissioning helps to maintain costs and sustain building performance.

Financing & Funding Options

Many times, when building owners and operators evaluate improvements, they concentrate on the first cost only. Thereby, they fail to evaluate the long-term financial landscape of these improvements. Some questions to consider:

What is the net-present worth of this investment?

What is the life-cycle cash flow of this improvement?

How will this investment affect my building operational costs?

Do programs exist for funding assistance?

Several options exist for funding. Some even offer a “budget neutral” approach without any upfront capital expense.

Full-performance contracting, state-run programs, and simple capital-lease projects with or without performance guarantees – these are choices that today’s owners and operators have to consider versus simple capital funding of a project.

Behavioral Study

Sometimes, all you need is a new attitude toward saving energy.

Did you know that simply inspiring behavioral change alone can achieve up to 10 percent annual energy savings? Yeah!

Several options exist for education around conservation. Considerable savings can be achieved with very little cost. Since programs are based on education and change, savings are immediate and sustainable.

Once you, students and staff take ownership of the building and how you fit into the puzzle, great things can happen!


Schools today face increasing challenges. These include the spike in costs following the start of school, reductions in financing, aging facilities and larger class sizes. As a decision maker, it’s critical that you have a plan to meet these challenges. We encourage you to include your facility leader in the creation of the plan, too.

By following the suggestions listed here, you can help reduce the rising costs of maintenance and energy use. You will improve your bottom line. And most importantly, you will provide the best environment possible for your students to learn and teachers to instruct.

For more information on ways to create a scheduled maintenance plan at your school, please contact Curtis Winter at or call 316-265-9655.

For more information, please email Jonathon Goering by clicking here or call 316-265-9655.

Knipp Services works with commercial and industrial building owners to identify solutions to reduce downtime and increase building efficiency. We provide services that enable building owners to have a high performance building.

Topics: Back to School Costs, Scheduled HVAC Maintenance

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Tallman Education Report – Kansas Association of School Boards


Facilitiesnet 2

Facilitiesnet 3

Education Week

SchoolDude Data Matters

SchoolDude Blogs

2013 Report Card for America’s Infastructure – Schools - ASCE

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