Electrifying K-12 HVAC Systems

Rocky Mountain Institute report makes the case for transitioning schools to systems featuring electric heat pump technology.   February 28, 2023

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor 

The challenges facing the nation’s K-12 schools are numerous and well-documented.  Old and rapidly aging structures. Mounting maintenance backlogs. Outdated critical systems. 

Addressing this last challenge is among the highest priorities for maintenance and engineering managers. As a result, many school districts are in the process of planning and performing updates and replacements of their facilities’ HVAC systems. To give managers guidance in making environmentally friendly decisions, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), an independent nonprofit focusing on energy system transformation, recently released a report on the subject. 

The report, HVAC Choices for Student Health and Learning: What Policymakers, School Leaders, and Advocates Need to Know, makes the case for transitioning schools to systems featuring electric heat pump technology. All-electric HVAC systems are designed to deliver health and learning benefits to students and provide broader climate and economic benefits for school districts. 

“Our original analysis shows that the HVAC systems currently installed in schools result in carbon emissions imposing an estimated $2 billion a year in societal costs,” according to RMI. “To reduce this cost, schools must shift away from outdated, inefficient HVAC systems reliant on polluting fossil fuels in favor of efficient, electric systems. This 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.” 

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

The report includes: 

  • research connecting HVAC systems to student health, learning and equity 
  • six ideas about school HVAC technology, paired with 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. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 


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