Ventilation in Schools

Schools sought to participate in CEC-funded research on Proposition 39 upgrades

The Western Cooling Efficiency Center (WCEC), an engineering research center at the University of California, Davis, has received a grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to demonstrate promising approaches to improve ventilation, indoor air quality, and energy efficiency in California classrooms. Together with its research partners, the Energy Efficiency Center and Department of Public Health Sciences staff at UC Davis, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the WCEC team will conduct a 3-year study to:

  • Survey the energy efficiency and ventilation characteristics of recent HVAC retrofits in schools,
  • Field test the technical performance of advanced HVAC systems designed to deliver both improved ventilation and energy efficiency;
  • Estimate the potential benefits of widespread adoption of advanced HVAC systems, in terms of student health and performance, and environmental impact; and
  • Identify ways to address market barriers that currently impede broader market adoption of advanced HVAC technologies by California

Schools needed for Phase I
In the first phase, the research team will characterize the energy efficiency and ventilation characteristics of HVAC retrofits in California schools completed in recent years (2013-2016). To do this, we will conduct in-field evaluations of 100 classrooms around the State for which HVAC retrofits have been completed through Proposition 39 since 2013. WCEC engineers will visit each classroom to collect information on the HVAC system and ventilation design, measure the noise the HVAC system generates, and gather information about classroom features. They will also install unobtrusive devices to record temperature, humidity and CO2 levels for one month. Typically, site visits to collect data from classrooms are scheduled on days when students are not present, to minimize disruption.

Teachers who work in the classrooms enrolled in the study will be asked to complete a survey on their experience as an occupant of the room. Questions relate to comfort when the HVAC system is heating and cooling, thermostat control, and air quality. The online survey can be taken any time, at the teachers’ convenience. It should take 15-20 minutes to complete, after which we will send teachers a $25 Target gift card.

As part of the study we are also gathering information on how decisions are made about HVAC equipment purchases and maintenance. For that, we will ask relevant facilities staff from schools enrolled in the study to participate in an interview with one of our researchers. Interviews will be scheduled at the staffs’ convenience, and interviewees will also be offered a $25 Target gift card.

Schools that participate in our study may request a summary of the observations our engineers noted while gathering data from 5-10 classrooms and HVAC systems. The typical problems identified in schools often have simple fixes that can immediately improve air quality, energy efficiency and occupant experience.
The data collected from Phase I will allow the researchers to establish an understanding of the baseline conditions statewide by characterizing the HVAC efficiency, ventilation design, noise, occupant experience, and barriers to adoption of high efficiency systems. These findings will inform our recommendations to synergistically improve ventilation and indoor environmental quality while providing HVAC and whole-building energy efficiency retrofits in California schools.

Who is eligible for the study?
Eligibility for the study is based on several criteria:

  • Schools must be located in SCE, PG&E or SDG&E territory
  • Schools must have installed HVAC system upgrades using Prop 39 funds within the last 3 years
  • HVAC replacements must serve single-zone classrooms
  • At least 5 eligible HVAC replacements must have been made at a single school

If you’re unsure whether your school meets this criteria we would be happy to discuss it with you.

How can schools enroll in the study?
Schools that meet the eligibility criteria outlined above can contact the research team by email at or meet with WCEC researcher Sarah Outcault in person at the Green Schools Summit. She will circulate flyers at sessions related to Prop 39 and meet with attendees at the CEC booth during the Expo on Wednesday and Thursday.