ESSER Funds provide large amounts of emergency aid available to school districts across the country that can be used to improve energy efficiency.
What are ESSER Funds?
In 2020 and 2021, Congress passed three stimulus bills that provided close to $190.5 billion to the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Education Relief (ESSER) Fund.
ESSER Fund Availability
The funding from the three bills is available to State Education Agencies (SEAs) through September 2023. The application process varies by state, but usually requires a LEA (Local Education Agency) to submit a budget for approval to their SEA. The last chance to receive any funding from the first bill is approaching in September 2021, which means the time to apply is now.
What Qualifies for ESSER Fund Spending
ESSER funds can be put toward many initiatives aimed at improving indoor air quality. These permanent upgrades to the building can include:
• Filtration, ventilation, purification, and other air cleaning systems
• Inspections, testing, maintenance, repair, and replacement of aging building controls and HVAC systems
• Technologies related to temperature scanning, occupancy counting, access control, and security systems
• Outdoor learning infrastructure
• Energy performance contracting and modernization services that increase financial flexibility for upgrades
• Any other improvements that “enable operation of schools to reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health
Impact of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Health Recent research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the incidence of COVID-19 was 39% lower in schools that improved ventilation by opening windows, opening doors or using fans, or those tactics in combination with air filtration methods.
Energy Even before the impact of COVID-19 in schools, poor IAQ has long been costing schools more in the long run by accelerating deterioration of physical plants and equipment. This inevitably leads to expensive repairs on systems that are already among the largest energy users in schools. New requirements for increased IAQ mean more equipment is running and increased energy costs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, K-12 schools and higher education institutions spend a combined $14 billion on utility costs annually.
Pollutants, temperature, and relative humidity of indoor air also affect students. Researchers found higher air temperatures resulted in lower grades on tests that evaluated students’ reading and math skills.
Effective IAQ Strategies
Effective ventilation requires both bringing in oxygenated air from outdoors and removing stale indoor air. To adjust ventilation within school buildings:
- Increase the number of air exchanges per hour to provide fresh air to closed spaces. This can be achieved through natural or mechanical ventilation.
- Fresh air intake should also be increased to 100% or the maximum amount possible.
- Relative humidity is an important factor in maintaining optimal air quality and comfort, and IAQ sensors can provide a real-time understanding of this as occupancy increases. IAQ sensors that determine a building’s environmental state and air quality status offer an effective, automated solution to monitor the presence of a range of pollutants as well as humidity and temperature. Integrating these sensors into an HVAC system allows the system to detect contaminants and then automatically clean the air and adjust ventilation as needed.
IAQ and ESSER Funds
Analyzing air distribution systems to improve indoor air quality and minimize the spread of viruses and other pollutants in the classroom is critical. One of the smartest investments schools can make toward this goal is ESSER-funded HVAC improvement. ESSER-funded HVAC initiatives are an extremely effective way to protect your district’s students and staff from the dangers of COVID-19 and can include upgrades or repairs to existing HVAC systems.
Using ESSER Funds to Offset IAQ Budget Expenses
Revised IAQ requirements due to COVID are increasing cooling needs and energy costs. As facility teams work together with school administrators to recommend the best improvements for their individual buildings, there are ways to ensure that you are not using more energy than needed.
Implementing changes in the way these facilities are operated, schools can more efficiently use taxpayer dollars and resources, conserve energy, and increase student and staff comfort and productivity. Most importantly, the resulting cost reductions can be used to support other budget areas.
How tekWorx Can Help
ESSER funds can be used on systems and solutions that improve Indoor Air Quality, including optimizing existing HVAC systems
tekWorx solutions connect school HVAC systems to Xpress® optimization software and analytics tools that give facilities team real-time visibility into asset health and performance. Facility managers can pinpoint faulty equipment, track energy use, and shift from reactive to proactive maintenance all while significantly reducing energy consumption and associated expenses.
Optimizing cooling equipment requires the appropriate hydronic and control design to permanently improve overall HVAC efficiency.