Back To School with Energy & Water Efficiency

Back To School

September sees the start of the new school year in England and Wales with schools and colleges in Scotland having already returned for a couple of weeks.  As students and staff head back to their studies, we consider some ideas of ways schools and colleges can save energy and water.  In both cases, lower consumption can reduce running costs and your carbon footprint.

In February 2012, government guidance for good estate management is schools, identified energy and water as major non-staff costs in schools and a major part of a schools’ environmental impact.  Some schools will have greater scope for savings than others.  However, the report highlighted that more than 20% of energy is wasted and fuel bills can be reduced by 10% by simple good housekeeping alone.

These simple tips will help you to:

  • save money, year on year;
  • create a healthier and more comfortable school environment;
  • reduce demand on finite resources; and
  • have a positive impact on climate change by reducing emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use.

Educate staff and children to turn off water and energy-using appliances when not in use

Start with the basics, such as switching off lights and electrical equipment when not in use.  Many schools have groups of ‘eco-champions’, who check at the end of each day for equipment or lights that have been left on, switch them off and inform the staff responsible.

Recognise success.  Where monitoring shows that a difference has been made, celebrate and help to maintain enthusiasm for going further.

Use the building systems properly

Using existing heating or lighting controls effectively can reduce energy wastage, save money and reduce emissions by up to 40%. You should also ensure that they can bee configured properly.  You may be surprised how often our assessors find Building Management Systems (BMS) that have been installed but never properly configured or used!  You can get advice on ways to save energy from:

  • Your local authority or a local controls expert who will be able share simple building management techniques.
  • The installer of the building management system.  Their name is usually on the boiler and heating control panel.
  • The company that installed your heating or lighting system to make sure that you are using it effectively.
  • Specialist energy assessment and efficiency professionals.

Check your Display Energy Certificate & Recommendations Report

Since January 2013 public buildings including schools, colleges and academies are required to show a valid Display Energy Certificate (DEC) indicating the actual energy performance of a building.  These certificates are accompanied by a Recommendations Report providing advice specifically for the building concerned.  If your certificates are out of date or have never been completed, you must arrange for them to be immediately renewed or assessed.  Failure to do so could result in enforcement action, fines and failure of other inspections.

The report contains:

  • recommendations for improving the energy performance of your building(s);
  • a range of possible improvements, including cost effective measures that may improve the energy performance of the building(s);
  • zero and low-cost operational and management improvements;
  • possible upgrades to the building(s) or services; and
  • opportunities for the installation of low and zero carbon technologies.

Use this information to improve your energy management, reduce consumption and CO2 emissions.  You may be able to get funding to help you carry out works.  For example, interest free loans for energy efficiency work are available through the Salix Energy Efficiency Loan Scheme.

Share information with pupils and school staff

Encourage and reward ideas and activities that will reduce energy use.  Many school energy schemes have been created and are managed by pupils, making the most of their enthusiasm and creativity.  Teachers can bring energy information into lesson plans, most obviously within science or maths lessons.  Don’t be afraid to publish targets and consumption information.  Some schools have even run efficiency competitions where sub-metering is present on areas occupied by different groups.  Others have used a portion of any savings seen to help fund budgets for their school councils or other student bodies.

Engaging pupils with meter readings, energy management statistics and comparisons of numerical data helps them to:

  • improve numeracy skills;
  • improve financial literacy;
  • develop their own understanding of energy and how it is used; and
  • influence longer-term behaviour both at school and in the home.

There are lots of additional resources for pupils and staff available including those at Eco Schools and National Energy Foundation Energy Envoys.

Upgrade heating controls

Make sure heating, ventilation and lighting controls:

  • are working properly;
  • are set correctly;
  • provide a comfortable environment for teaching and learning; and
  • match actual occupation times.

Teaching staff need to know how to adjust the temperature, ventilation and lighting in their classroom.  Different staff and pupils may need different temperatures to be comfortable, particularly children with mobility or health problems.  Children generally perform better than adults when temperatures are on the cool side.

Reducing the temperature in a building by 1°C will save 5% to 10% of the heating bill.  Operating the heating systems for an hour less each day will save a similar amount.

Modern heating controls are accurate, tamper-proof and have the facility for 7 day programming.  Heating can be set to operate at different times of the day or week and take account of holiday periods.

Use energy efficient lighting & controls

Lighting accounts for around half of the electricity used in a typical school.  You could reduce your consumption by:

  • Installing modern lighting controls, which are often very economical and can be photosensitive to keep the light in the building at a constant level.
  • Using occupancy lighting sensors in areas that are infrequently used.
  • Replacing failed lamps with modern more energy LED efficient ones, which typically last longer.

Where whole light fittings are being replaced consider using light-emitting diode (LED) types.  LED lights use less energy than more traditional lamps but need careful specification.  You will want to ensure that the correct colour profile is used and will usually need less fittings or the lighting will become too bright.  Use the Annex 2E Daylight Electric Lighting of the Generic Design Brief to ensure that any new lighting will provide a quality lit environment and save energy over the long term.

Daylight and occupancy linked lighting controls per luminaire can save significant amounts of lighting energy in reasonably day lit rooms (up to 80%) but cost benefit calculations need to be done to ensure capital costs can be justified.

Use your meters for energy monitoring

Many schools have sub-meters installed.  Since the 1990s, building regulations have required sub-meters to be installed to monitor at least 90% of the loads in a school.  There are options of how to use your existing sub-meters to monitor different energy end uses, including:

  • manually reading the meters;
  • connecting to the existing building management system; and/or
  • using the inbuilt transmission capabilities of meters.

Automated meter readings can take place at specified time intervals, providing information on patterns of use and levels of demand when buildings are unoccupied.  The data they provide can be used for teaching and learning.

Monitoring meter readings is a low or no cost measure that provides the capability to monitor energy end uses.  Many schools have recently had smart meters installed on their main incoming gas, electric and water supplies.  These provide information about how much energy is used and when.  This will help you to understand your energy use and how it can be reduced.  If you have a smart meter learn how to use it.

You can compare your school performance to benchmarks across the main energy end uses of:

  • lighting
  • small power
  • heating gas
  • kitchen gas

There are many different tools available to help you.  A large number of non-domestic energy brokers will offer this as part of their service.

Manage information and communications technology (ICT) loads

The use of ICT in schools is growing rapidly.  Computing equipment not only uses electricity directly, but often places further demands on electricity needed for lighting and cooling.  The electricity used by ICT can be significantly reduced by selecting energy efficient equipment and enabling power management features.

Organisations often waste excessive power cooling server rooms.  Your server room should not need to be cooled below 24°C with most modern equipment able to operate effectively up to at least 28°C.  IT professionals often seem to like somewhere cool to hide and it is not uncommon to find cooling systems set to 16°C, particularly in summer!

Rooms with interactive white boards should be set up to allow users to quickly and conveniently manage blinds and lighting.

Energy use can be reduced by using ventilation as cooling rather than relying on air conditioning at times of the year when it is cool enough outside.  It is preferable to use natural ventilation (open windows) rather than mechanical ventilation when this is possible.

For further information visit the Energy Star certification website.

Improve insulation

Use draught strips on windows and doors.  This is one of the most effective ways to save money and improve comfort.  Depending on the time of year, the gap between a door or window and its frame can vary by 3mm.  On a standard door this is a hole equivalent to a house brick.  Using draught strips can solve this problem.

Whilst most homes now have insulated cavity walls and lofts where possible, it is not uncommon for non-domestic buildings to lack this insulation.  Typically, all cavity walls should be properly insulated where this is possible.  Loose roll loft insulation should be at least 270mm thick with many buildings now increasing this to 350mm.  Insulation boards may be twice as effective so only half the thickness is required but they are more expensive and may involve other risks requiring mitigation.

Insulate hot water pipes, keeping runs of pipe work short, and lagging pipes properly.  Lagging pipes saves energy and reduces the risk of pipes freezing in the cold months.

Refrigerant pipework for air-conditioning and industrial systems should also be properly insulated.  It is also common for this to be damaged by birds seeking nesting material when used externally.  Damaged sections can make the entire system less effective and should be replaced.  If this becomes a regular issue additional controls can be used e.g. boxing pipework in, covering it with a metallic wrap or using bird netting.

Lag ventilation ducts that act as cold bridges to outside.

All these measures are typically sound financial investments with relatively short payback periods.  It is also possible to obtain more environmentally friendly insulation.  Sometimes this is made from recycled materials.  Speak to your local authority, purchasing consortia or energy assessor for advice.

Consider renewable energy

Small-scale renewable energy systems are pollution-free and will help to reduce energy bills.  They can also generate interest in energy efficiency amongst pupils and provide a valuable teaching resource.  This is particularly true where they include live displays to show how much energy is being generated.  Renewable energy systems that can be appropriate for schools include:

  • wind turbines;
  • biomass;
  • solar heat and power; and
  • heat pumps.

You may need approvals to install equipment on the land and buildings.  Different tenures or controlling interests can affect how you can use the land and buildings.  You should also consider potential liabilities associated with leasing out part of the premises or structure if you decided to go down this route.

Find out more about land and building tenures for schools and colleges on the Gov.uk website.

Understand your bill and energy use

Energy use in school and college buildings is very much under the control of the individual school.  You should know how much electricity you use, alongside other fuels for heating and hot water.  Understanding your energy bills will help you:

  • check they’re accurate and based on actual meter readings; and
  • understand if energy usage is up or down compared to previous years.

You will also be able to use your Display Energy Certificate, produced annually, to:

  • compare your energy use to national averages; and
  • see how energy use has changed from the previous year.

The amount you pay for electricity may depend on when you use it.  Using off peak (night time) electricity through timers and reducing peak demand can save significant amounts of money.  When you receive a bill, check it to make sure that it reflects the correct tariff.  Check your energy consumption to see if it seems reasonable for the:

  • time of year;
  • severity of the weather; and
  • consumption of water related to the number of people.

Water economy measures

Water is a scarce resource and costs are rising rapidly.  A school that is equipped with water conservation devices may use less than half the amount of water used in other schools. Installations such as cistern dams, urinal controllers, flow restrictors and self-closing taps save water and money.  They are all proven, simple to apply and economical.

Check for and repair water leaks

Underground leaking pipes can mean a huge loss of water, which will cost your school money.  Check your water meter regularly.  If you suspect a leak, take a meter reading last thing at night when everyone has gone home and first thing in the morning before everyone arrives. If the reading has changed, indicating consumption, this is likely to be a leak.  If you need help, ask your local water company about their free leak detection service.

Dripping taps are another common source of wasted water.  This is particularly serious if they are hot taps as you will not only being paying for the water but also the energy to heat it.  All taps should be checked regularly and any not working properly should be quickly repaired.

Similarly, ensure tank and cistern overflows are regularly checked.  An overfilling tank can quickly waste large quantities of water.

Further Information

Further information and advice about energy and water management is available from the Gov.uk website.