Designing Schools to Be Efficient, Safe, and Cost-Effective

Across the United States, there are around 131,000 schools, housing around 48 million schoolchildren. 

School buildings are huge users of energy, for heating, cooling, lighting, and computers. With energy costs high and rising, and the use of fossil fuels contributing so highly to climate change, we should seek to reduce our energy use in educational establishments. 

And in the current covid world, with children now being the main demographic spreading the virus, it’s crucial to ensure that our schools are sufficiently sanitized.

Both these goals can be achieved through the design and development of smart school buildings.

What is a smart school building?

Don’t get confused between the terms ‘smart school’ and ‘smart school building’. While both use technology, the aims are different. 

A smart school integrates technology into the mechanics of learning, helping to prepare students for life in the modern world of work.

A smart school building integrates technology into the building itself, to help improve energy efficiency, air quality, school safety, and hygiene. This is the realm of planning and design.

What makes a school building ‘smart’?

When designing and building school buildings, our goals should be to improve energy efficiency, safety, and comfort for students, and reduce the costs of running our schools – the lower the running costs, the more money can be spent on education.

Therefore, when designing a school building, we must consider how we can achieve these goals. This includes the materials and infrastructure elements we use (inside and outside the building itself), as well as ways in which we can use the latest and evolving technologies to enhance how we use the school.

Therefore, from the conceptual stages, we should consider what building materials we use, what technology we can employ within the school, and what other elements we can utilize.

How can we reduce energy consumption in schools?

The energy we use in schools can be reduced by smarter use of materials, by using green energy technologies, and by incorporating suitable technologies into the building.

For example, we can build schools with the latest wall insulation and solar technology. Extruded polystyrene can be used to deliver energy savings and create a more resilient building. Smart concrete enhances durability, improves aesthetics, and protects surfaces from cracking (thus reducing maintenance costs). And those solar panels – free energy.

Other ways we can reduce energy consumption include the use of sensors around a school, measuring and monitoring energy use, and adapting for the number of people in any given area of the building. We should also use energy-efficient, automated LED lighting systems that turn off when they are not needed.

The systems we use can also be integrated into a central data capture system, which can collect information from all parts of the building, and enhance performance according to patterns of occupancy, weather, and energy costs.

We should also consider external elements, such as trees to provide natural shade in the warmer months. And you don’t need to stop there. How about making school transport smarter, and working for the school – utilizing excess energy from electric-powered school buses to provide energy to the school?

How can we make schools cleaner and more hygienic?

The covid pandemic has highlighted the need to improve cleanliness and hygiene in our schools. But rather than employ an army of cleaners, technological solutions are available. UV technology can be used to provide the self-cleaning capability to handrails, and self-cleaning products can be used for often-touched places such as elevator buttons and door handles.

Data analytics – The real power behind smart school buildings

Building operation and maintenance can be vastly improved – with both efficiency and cost benefits – by using digital tools, sensors, and smart IoT devices to collect data and issue commands to heating, cooling, and lighting systems, as well as provide information on air quality, occupancy, and cleaning needs. Sanitization processes can be at least partially automated, too.

A zero-energy school: No longer an ambition, but a reality

Imagine if the education system could save as much as $6 billion each year. That’s how much we spend on utilities in our schools.

By considering the needs of our school building earlier in the design phase, zero-energy schools need no longer be fictional ambitions. Zero-energy design is a thing, promoted by initiatives such as the Zero Energy Schools Accelerator, and resources are available that demonstrate how schools can achieve zero energy and improve within conventional school construction budgets.

For more information about zero energy and smart school building design strategies, contact ACB Consulting today. Together we can deliver a brighter and more sustainable world.

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