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Indoor Air Quality & Mold Problems – A School District’s Public Relations Nightmare !

What do you think when you see Headlines and Nightly News Stories like this ?

newspaper 3

newspaper 1


Seem to be happening more and more these days..





mold news 2

school mold






What if you’re the Director of Facilities for the one of these School Districts ?

or  Worse yet…….  What if your children attend this one of these schools ?

Besides the obvious health concerns for the Students, Teachers, and other school personnel, this is a Public Relations Nightmare for the Entire School District !!

School Closings disrupt lives, causes doubts, fear, and anxiety.  Responding to this type of crisis costs the school district significant time and money. And even when the situation is rectified, some doubt still remains….  Is my child really safe to go back there??  What about the other schools in the district?? …. and the list of doubts and concerns doesn’t stop.  A public relations nightmare !!

So taking simple, cost effective steps (like properly maintaining the Unit Ventilators) which help avoid these situations is crucial.

Are all Indoor Air Quality issues directly related to Unit Ventilator Cleaning……..  of course not !    However, maintaining clean Air Conditioning and Heating equipment is a very important maintenance fundamental to avoiding many Indoor Air Quality issues.

HVAC System Contamination and Condensate Issues commonly lead to Water Damage, Mold Growth and can cause other “Sick Building Syndrome” type complaints.

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is easily understood by this simple analogy – ” when you are in the building you feel sick, and when you leave the building, you feel better”.  Two very common SBS issues stem from Fungal Contamination (Mold)  and Improper Ventilation (High Carbon Dioxide Levels and Insufficient Fresh Air).

So to recap….

We know dirty Unit Ventilators in classrooms can have severely restricted air flow and cause Improper Ventilation resulting in High CO2 Levels.  We also know that dirty Unit Ventilators clog coils and condensate drains, resulting in water overflow causing water damage and Mold Growth.

A unit ventilator takes about an hour or two to properly clean by an experienced IAQ technician. The cost is less than $200  The savings in energy alone should recoup the cleaning fee very quickly.

There are so many positives from Cleaning Unit Ventilators……

Clean equipment breaks down less, which saves in service repairs.  Clean properly maintained equipment doesn’t leak, which minimizes the potential for Mold growth.  Clean equipment ventilates the classroom properly, brings enough fresh air in to reduce carbon dioxide levels, allowing the Students and Teachers to be more alert with clearer minds to help the learning process. Clean equipment heats and cools the classroom quicker and quieter to increase comfort and cause less of a distraction. Cleaner, more efficient systems use less energy which is even better for our environment !

And Lastly……  Keeping Unit Ventilators Clean can help   KEEP YOUR SCHOOLS OFF THE FRONT PAGE & THE EVENING NEWS !

Unless, of course….      It’s for GOOD NEWS !






Energy & Cost Savings from Cleaning Unit Ventilator in Schools

Unit Ventilator Cleaning is not only good for the health of the students and teachers as noted in the previous blogs, it has many other benefits for the School District as well.

Two very important benefits include:

  1. Energy Savings
  2. Reduced equipment downtime and repair costs

Energy Savings – It is amazing how even a small amount of dirt buildup on the fan and cooling/heating coils can negatively impact the efficiency of the unit ventilator.

The Middle School Project that our company just completed in Delaware County had units that ranged from moderate to heavily contamination and dirt buildup.  Many of the units were so impacted that the air flow could barely be felt, even with your hand directly on top of on the discharge diffuser !!

These unit ventilators with moderate to heavy dirt buildup had an estimated  50% to 75% reduction in operating efficiency.

Unit Ventilator Coil with heavy coating of dust and dirt BEFORE Cleaning

Unit Ventilator Coil with heavy coating of dust and dirt BEFORE Cleaning


....... and AFTER Cleaning

……. and AFTER Cleaning

As noted previously, dirty equipment causes poor air flow and significantly reduces heat transfer of the coil which can equate to huge energy losses in the Unit Ventilator operation.



Then multiplying this “per unit” energy loss by 30, 40, 50 units in each school and the costs become much more significant.

Let’s take it one step further……   Now multiply by 5, 10, 15 schools in a school district and it can add up to an alarming amount of energy loss !

The Director of Maintenance Operations at the Delaware County School project commented that they have already seen a dramatic energy savings in an Elementary School we completed last year. Based on the condition of the Middle School units, the School District should see an even more significant cost savings than the Elementary School.


Another very important benefit of cleaning unit ventilators regularly –  Reduced down time and equipment repairs.

HVAC Service Technician replacing a burned out motor in a unit.

HVAC Service Technician replacing a burned out motor in a unit.


A service call can typically cost $200 to $500 for a simple repair. Replacing burned out motors, fan bearings, compressors, and electrical components can run into the thousands.  Keeping the unit ventilators running clean is imperative to minimizing service calls and repair costs.

Dirty units also lead to condensation problems, which if not corrected can lead to mold growth. Mold remediation is not typically part of a maintenance budget. So, from a budget standpoint, taking cost effective cleaning steps to prevent mold growth is very sound investment.

Bottom Line – Clean equipment runs better, lasts longer, and has less equipment failures.  Repairs are expensive and drain money from maintenance budgets. Properly cleaning units and keeping them clean can literally save thousands of dollars. Money that can be put to much better use !

The next blog will discuss the “dreaded” Public Relations issues that are caused by very preventable Indoor Air Quality Issues.

The ultimate costThe Ultimate Cost !





Health Benefits of Cleaning Unit Ventilators in Schools

Health Benefits of Cleaning Unit Ventilators in Schools

Unfortunately, as we know from the previous post,  dirty unit ventilators are very common in School Districts throughout the Delaware Valley.  We have performed cleaning in many schools in Delaware County and Chester County. In many cases, the school had a very good overall maintenance program, but did not include regular unit ventilator cleaning. In ALL cases, the maintenance personnel had no idea how bad the units had become and were shocked at what they saw.

So…….. Are dirty unit ventilator issues really impacting the Children and Teachers in our schools ?…….. YES!!

Thorough and regular cleaning of these Classroom Unit Ventilators is imperative for the health and welfare of our Children and Teachers. Clean equipment obviously reduces the threat of Mold Contamination and other Dust Allergens in the classroom environment. But more importantly,  it  improves the Indoor Air Quality by significantly increasing  the airflow and  “fresh air” intake to each classroom.

Fresh Air is the key. "The solution to pollution is dilution"

Fresh Air is the key. “The solution to pollution is dilution”

Why is increasing fresh air so important?

When we breathe, we exhale Carbon Dioxide. When the classroom is full of students, the carbon dioxide level can rise quickly. For this reason, the unit ventilators are installed along the exterior walls and are designed to bring in enough fresh air to dilute and reduce the carbon dioxide level.

If carbon dioxide levels get too high, students become oxygen deprived. This commonly leads to symptoms like sleepiness, loss of concentration, headaches, and an overall lethargic feeling. Not a great thing for a school classroom environment.

Fresh air intake shown clogged with leaves, mulch, and debris.

Fresh air intake shown clogged with leaves, mulch, and debris.

Clean unit ventilators operate much more efficiently, which means more airflow and proper “clean fresh air” to the classroom. The result –  more alert and awake children and teachers.

Dirty Unit Ventilator Coils and Fans can also cause other distractions in the classroom.  Clogged coils can reduce the heat transfer of the unit making the classroom “too hot” or “too cold”. Blower fans can also become loud, which is caused by imbalance from the dirt buildup on the fan blades.

Smooth running clean unit ventilators have better heat transfer and climate control to promote a more comfortable, quieter, and more efficient operation, while bringing in sufficient fresh air to the classroom.

Bottomline – Good indoor air quality and proper comfort levels with minimal distractions simply provide a much better and healthier learning environment for the children.

The next post will discuss how Unit Ventilator Cleaning can  positively impact every School in every School District.

Cleaning Classroom Unit Ventilators in Delaware County School District

Benefits of Cleaning of Classroom Unit Ventilators in Schools

Most schools have Air conditioning and Heating units which serve each classroom. These units are called Unit Ventilators, or abbreviated  “Univents”. They are also known as “PTAC” Units, which is an acronym for Packaged Terminal Air Conditioners . Unit ventilators are normally installed along the exterior window wall (as shown),  so that “fresh air” can be drawn into the classroom along with providing heating and cooling to the classroom.

Classroom Unit Ventilator

Unit Ventilator in Middle School Classroom of as Delaware County School.


These units get very dirty over time. Contaminants build up from outside air intakes, dusty school environments, and from students dropping all sorts of things down into the unit through the top grille.  C’mon admit it, you did it too !!!!

Dirty Unit Ventilator Grille

Unit Ventilator Air Supply Grille with heavy debris blocking air flow from unit


Common dust & dirt,  and other contaminants which include mold spore, insects, lint, hair, pencils, leaves, and other debris build up on the grilles, coils, fan blades, motors, condensate pans, fresh air intakes, and also on the unit interior cabinets and insulation.

Unfortunately, this issue is very common and we have found similar or worse conditions in many schools throughout  Delaware County, Chester County, Bucks Co., and Montgomery County School Districts. Most schools do not have a Unit Cleaning Protocol or Maintenance Contract in place for Unit Ventilators, and these units sometimes go for years without proper cleaning.

School maintenance personnel typically change the filters twice a year in these units. However, the typical efficiency of the these air filters is very low, allowing most of the smaller dust particles and contaminants to pass right through the filter and collect on the interior of the unit ventilator. The unit ventilator can also be a damp environment during cooling season, causing common airborne mold spore (seed) to cultivate and grow on the interior surfaces, coils, and condensate pans within the unit.

Dirty Unit Ventilator Fan

Heavy dirt and lint shown clogging the “squirrel cage” fan. Even a small buildup causes a significant reduction in air flow and efficiency.




Dirty Unit Ventilator Coil

Heavy dirt and dust clogging Cooling and Heating Coils also causes a significant reduction of air flow, efficiency,  and thermal transfer.

These conditions are an obvious environmental health issue. They also can have a detrimental impact to the HVAC Maintenance & Repair Budget and Costs. Cleaning also significantly increases the Unit efficiency which reduces energy losses and costs. So, it’s a Win-Win-Win Situation for the Students/Teachers, the School District, and Our Environment. This has become especially important with the growing public awareness of Indoor Air Quality in Schools,  and public interest in promoting “green building operations”.

In our next 2 blogs, we will discuss the Remarkable Benefits of Clean Unit Ventilators, both for the Health & Welfare of Students/Teachers and the School District at large.