The reasons for a school to consider improving its air quality in deep, serious ways are plentiful, particularly, oh, since about March of 2020. But while any operation that requires several groups of people inside a building at one time will need to overhaul its health and safety systems for air quality and temperature control to respond to the ongoing pandemic—the answer doesn’t have to be so solemn, or overly complicated, or even multi-syllabic. In fact, all you need to do is look at Big Ass Fans.
In 1999, the plucky start-up HVLS Fan Company (HVLS stands for “high-volume, low-speed”) sought to improve air quality, energy costs, and employee well-being across industries by innovating a humble technology for a surprising benefactor: the ceiling fan, for cows.
“They invented these massive fans that are cheaper to run than other options to move more air in these hot barns, and they noticed that cows effectively make more milk when they're comfortable,” said Big Ass Fans Bilingual Marketing Manager Nick Georgescu. “That’s where the HVLS fan began, to produce productivity within a space that’s kind of stuffy. That has extrapolated out to every different market since.”
22 years later, that company is now Big Ass Fans (BAF), named after a common client exclamation: “Those are some big ass fans!” And since 2014, BAF’s Canadian headquarters, in Oakville, Ontario, has supplied quiet, energy-efficient, powerful ceiling fans to virtually every industry imaginable—from major international airports, to gyms, nightclubs, zoos, and, importantly, to schools.
“If you take that story into schools, students are more comfortable and therefore more productive. And they’re more comfortable because you’re moving the air, like a breeze, versus cooling the air, which is like sitting in a fridge,” said Georgescu.
In the United States, Big Ass Fans has successfully cooled spaces like gymnasiums and classrooms that pack in teachers, students, and community members in hot temperatures, like in California’s Covina-Valley Unified School District. It has also found energy-efficient solutions in Montgomery County High School’s 5,000-seat gym all year round, ensuring that existing A/C and heating systems are truly reaching the whole space. And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the Ottawa Catholic School Board here in Canada realized many schools—some a few decades old—needed an air quality upgrade, P. Engineering Superintendent Miro Vala chose BAF’s UV-C fans, which decontaminate air through UV technology as well as cool it as it moves through the room, to combat not only SARS-CoV-2, but more common afflictions like colds and flus.
“In the last 18 months, there have been a lot of changes to HVAC and renovations to improve air flow. Why not consider the best way to become comfortable, while reducing energy costs, while introducing a way to clean your space, not only for your students but also your staff?” Georgescu points out.
Considering the (not so) humble ceiling fan has multiple benefits to a school’s key priorities—staying open during the pandemic, maintaining the health and safety of those within it, keeping costs manageable while creating the best experience possible for its students—the idea of an industrial-looking fan may not appeal to most schools. But residential-style models bridge the gap between function and style—and there’s even a “Big Fans”-labelled package to avoid any potentially awkward moments with younger audiences.
The way school leaders and staff have been able to adapt to unpredictable upheavals in the classroom and beyond during the pandemic has been commendable, and some changes brought about by digital tools and remote connections are here to stay. However, it’s safe to say that schools are meant to be communities that bring members together, physically, to share space, learn, collaborate, and work together. That’s a big ass purpose—and it needs a big ass solution.