Building advice for school managers

By The Helpful Engineer / On / In Existing Building Issues

The school holidays are coming. Schools are unusual in that they can be unoccupied for long periods of time during the summer and winter months. This does not apply to all school buildings as some have summer camps and the like. But where the school is left empty during holidays it has implications for building maintenance and this should be carefully considered. The following are some specific tips for school managers:

1. Water tanks. In a school with large water tanks the water can remain in the tank for a long time during the quite summer months which can have an effect on the water quality. If a large tank is already in place a ‘summer float switch’ can be installed which only allows the tank to fill a small amount during the summer months. Alternatively a number of smaller water storage tanks can be used rather than one large tank. This ensures that the water is still ‘turned over’ during the quite summer months.

2. Regular inspections. As the school building will not be used at certain periods of time, the caretaker should carry out regular inspections to check for problems which might otherwise be left for a period until the school reopened i.e. water leaks or overflowing pipes.

3. Frost switch. All water tanks and pipework should be well insulated to prevent freezing during the cold winter months. The heating system should be fitted with a frost switch to ensure it is activated if the temperature within the building drops close to freezing. This will prevent pipe bursts as a result of freezing during the long and cold Christmas break when the school is unoccupied.

4. Green energy. Consider which green energy solutions are appropriate to a school situation, i.e. what’s the point of having solar panels if the water won’t be used during the hottest months.

5. Automatic water usage. Turn off or reduce automatic water usage when the school is unoccupied i.e. turn off automatic flushing urinals.

6. Septic tanks. I understand that small country schools can have difficulties with their septic tank when the school reopens after the summer holidays, but only after it starts to block. This can happen as the bugs which brake down the waste die during the summer months. A product can be purchased which is simply flushed down the toilet once a year in September to restart the septic tank. However I have no direct experience of this situation and your local engineer should be consulted if there are any problems with the drainage.

7. Use the school breaks. The long school holidays can be used to advantage to carry out necessary disruptive building repairs. Also it can be used to check for water leaks by checking the water meter and before and after any closure. Large usage could identify leakage from underground or otherwise hidden pipework.

8. Contact an engineer. If there is a building related issue where you require help, contact an engineer or architect for professional advice. They will be glad to help.

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