GW Conducts Comprehensive HVAC Assessment

The university completed a broad evaluation of its current heating and cooling mechanical capabilities as part of an initiative to boost safety.

November 24, 2020

The George Washington University undertook a comprehensive assessment of HVAC systems across its campuses as part of an effort to proactively assess equipment capabilities aligned against COVID-19 recommended guidelines.   

Part of the university’s ReStart initiative, the assessment evaluated campus HVAC systems’ mechanical capabilities based on reopening recommendations and guidance published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Occupational Safety and Health Administration; and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

“We’ve done assessments of all our buildings and the suitability of our current HVAC setup in those buildings compared to the guidelines,” said Scott Burnotes, vice president of safety and facilities. “It has helped us point out where we need to make investment, either in time or resources, to optimize the building operations as much as possible.”

He said although guidelines continue to evolve, the current guidelines focus on outside air, ventilation, temperature, humidity, air flushes and building controls.

The ReStart initiative included the following metrics as the baseline for the assessment:

  • Equipment: The condition and operability of air handling equipment to provide conditioned air to the occupied building spaces.
  • Controls: The ability to provide temperature, fresh air volume control, dehumidification, humidification and other scheduled capabilities.
  • Environment: The ability to maintain space temperature, humidity setpoints and adequate ventilation.
  • Agility: The ability to periodically flush buildings with fresh air to remove or reduce pollutants.
  • Domestic hot water: Identifies compliance with the recommended temperature control settings.

More than 120 buildings across GW’s Foggy Bottom, Mount Vernon and Virginia Science and Technology campuses were included in the assessment.

“We’ve created three categories—high, medium and low suitability to help us look at what are some of the things we can do in the short term and look at potentially longer-term investments,” Mr. Burnotes said. “In the short term, we want to make buildings more suitable in this pandemic environment. They were safe pre-pandemic, but we want to optimize them, and there have been some challenges just because of the age of some equipment or the age of the building or both.”

He said the university is currently developing project and funding plans to prioritize the projects aimed at improving or correcting identified capability deficiencies. And work has already begun in GW’s residence halls.

“We’re doing a very robust preventative maintenance exercise including resetting the equipment controls, making sure all the equipment is operational and working in the way that they should, doing full building air flushes and replacing filters with higher-end filters,” said David Dent, associate vice president of facilities planning, construction and management.

Although Mr. Burnotes said the pandemic has amplified the importance of HVAC systems, in the long-term he said improved environmental control management is also a step toward sustainability.  

“This is a necessary investment, not only for the pandemic but also for other reasons,” he said. “Just as important is sustainability and energy consumption.”

He said optimized HVAC systems will reduce energy consumption and energy costs for the university.

Mr. Burnotes said the ReStart initiative’s enhancement plan will allow the university to stay on track with its execution of its existing HVAC-deferred maintenance plan and commitments made in the area of sustainability as well as comply with upcoming D.C. sustainability regulations.

Overall, he said the assessment has given the university the data needed to address the various issues it has encountered with its heating, cooling and air quality systems.

“For a higher education institution, environmental conditions really correlate to an individual’s ability to be successful in learning and research, and the modernization of that, being able to control those environmental conditions, is important,” Mr. Burnotes said.

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