These days, school districts face several challenges to maintaining energy-efficient facilities while also providing a safe and healthy learning environment. Among these challenges are:
- Constantly-changing student needs
- Security issues and compliance requirements
- Evolving technology and increased energy use
- Aging physical infrastructure and deferred maintenance needs
- Budgetary strain
Since education is a school district’s first priority, though, these facility challenges are often overlooked. Even when identified, they can be difficult to afford. However, we at McKinstry know there’s a great opportunity for school districts to simultaneously lower their utility bills and have more money available for teachers, students, and classrooms.
As with any environment, it’s impossible to make a change without first identifying and then finding solutions for the problem. In most cases, administration, occupants and operators are not taught what to do and how they can make a difference. So how do schools waste energy and money? How do they make changes to save?
The Savings Solution
At McKinstry, we’ve found that a holistic approach that incorporates three strategies—efficient systems, efficient operations, and engaged occupants—is the most effective way for schools to reduce energy use.
When you have systems designed to be energy efficient, operate facilities and equipment with energy efficiency in mind, and educate the people who use your facilities on how their energy actions impact the big picture, you are doing everything possible to drive out waste.
You’d be amazed by how much energy waste there is to drive out for school. Key causes of waste really run the gamut:
- Energy is being used during unoccupied times
- Lights are left on and daylight is not being used in its place
- Mechanical systems are being run unnecessarily for 4-6 hours per day before and after the typical school day
- Building automation schedules are constantly being changed and are not monitored
- Hallways, classrooms & cafeterias are over lit
- Temperature set-points are outside of acceptable ranges
- Computers and electronics are being left on when not in use
- Occupants are not aware of how their actions waste energy
Efficient Systems: Replacing heating, cooling, lighting, plumbing, and other systems with high-efficiency equipment
Efficient Operations: Low/no cost operational changes, operator awareness/training, and energy use policy
Engaged Occupants: Changing habits of building occupants to reduce energy consumption
When all three energy performance methods come together, schools and districts can operate at top efficiency and drive down their utility costs significantly.
A healthy, thriving school is a dynamic environment dependent on many interconnected building systems. These systems need to excel today, tomorrow, and—with the threat of budget cuts always looming—for another 20 years. Districts need to ensure that they have quality, reliable systems in all of their schools, both new and existing. Energy efficiency should be taken into account when planning for facility infrastructure upgrades.
A school can have the best building systems money can buy, but they don’t do any good unless they’re operated properly. The majority of commercial buildings are operated in a way that uses more energy than necessary and run equipment longer than needed. Schools are no different. Operational changes that accumulate over time place added stress on aging systems and reduce overall efficiency.
Training and ongoing education for building operators is an important element of facility operational excellence. Engaging your building operators in energy waste reduction strategies through education on optimal operations and various energy savings strategies are key to utility savings. An energy policy and building guidelines should also be adopted to provide a framework for efficient operations.
Students, teachers and building operators all play an important role in maintaining energy efficiency. Building occupants should be made aware of the importance of energy efficiency and the impact of individual efforts to reduce waste.
Behavioral strategies should be built on community-based social marketing (CBSM) as a guiding principle. CBSM is based upon social science research that demonstrates that behavior change is often most effectively achieved through initiatives that focus on removing barriers to an activity while simultaneously enhancing the activity’s benefits. CBSM merges knowledge from the social sciences with the principles of social marketing. This social marketing should emphasize understanding what impedes and motivates a target audience to act.
CBSM uses the following strategies to prompt behavior change:
· Targeted behaviors
|· Peer influence
Wrapping it up
Keep in mind, efficiency isn’t everything. Schools also need to think about how these changes affect the learning environment. Research shows that school facilities affect students’ ability to learn.
Factors such as air quality, levels of thermal comfort, daylight, noise, overcrowded classrooms and the condition of the school building all impact the learning experience—and can either help or hurt student performance. Careful consideration should be taken that efficiency strategies must also benefit, not harm the learning environment.
In summary, school districts have the opportunity to reduce their total energy consumption significantly through three primary methods. Reducing energy spending on an annual basis will lower total operating costs and will also allow school districts to reinvest in programming for students.
Ultimately, this will also help to address issues with an aging physical infrastructure, ensure the best learning environmental possible, and dramatically reduce utility costs. It’s a winning combination.