How to turn your school into a unique learning resource

Bidwells’ Ian Wakeling looks at what changes can be made to independent school buildings to help improve their green credentials

Going green is so much more than just improving the window performance. Today within the construction industry, it is about making real changes inside and out, not only to the building, but also to the way it is used as well.

Although you could be initially daunted by the thought of extra capital costs, adapting your school to be more environmentally friendly can also help to save money. This, of course, is a welcome incentive, especially as energy prices remain unpredictable and are more likely to rise in the future than fall.

To improve the energy efficiency of your school building, no matter what its age, you first have to understand the type of energy it uses.

There are two strands of energy within a building, first is the energy which is used to run it (regulated) – which is typically garnered by the Building Regulations, secondly the occupier energy (unregulated).

To tackle the first, you need to in effect put a ‘duvet’ around your building, which means improving the thermal performance of the fabric. This can be done by installing new windows, insulating the roof and, if you can afford it, installing wall-cladding or lining. These steps ensure it will become super insulated and air tight and as such it no longer ‘leaks’.

When it comes to heating, old boilers are likely to be inefficient, so consider installing a biomass boiler, which uses energy from green sources rather than fossil fuels. Alternatively, you can harness ‘free energy’ from photovoltaics, ground and air sources or even wind energy. You could take it a step further and install an energy centre, which is one heating system for a number of buildings, rather than having a separate boiler in each building. It can save on maintenance costs and also opens up the viability of different heat sources. Larger school estates could also maximise their savings by using shared energy sources. Lighting is also by far the largest user of electricity. Simple steps can be taken including installing more efficient lights – LED lights (for example) are really pushing the boundaries and some can last years

The building itself can become a unique learning resource – through the education of how the building works and teaching pupils how to be more energy efficient and fulfilling STEM agenda

Then you need to look at your occupier energy, it is also important to look at the equipment you use within your school, for example printers, photocopiers computers and kitchen facilities. There is a huge array of newer energy-efficient products on the market, which consume less energy.

Other positive steps include measuring the energy performance of your school buildings with a Building Energy Performance Certificate assessment, which looks at the energy use of a building and in turn provides active steps on how you can make improvements.

Of course there is always a sliding scale of investment when considering going green, but the benefits of it are, without doubt, huge. Not only are there greater cost efficiencies, but it will also give your school a unique selling point especially to prospective parents who want their children to experience an environmentally friendly school. And, the building itself can become a unique learning resource – through the education of how the building works and teaching pupils how to be more energy efficient and fulfilling STEM agenda.

Within the construction industry, we are now finding that as building designs move ever closer to reaching their peak energy-saving potential there is a shift in focus to the wellbeing of users. In time, this is likely to translate into the schools as well – and can only be good news for students and parents alike.

Some of the key steps you can do to improve the green-standard of your school are:

  • Thermal improvement 
  • Reducing air leakage
  • Improving lighting
  • Changing to renewable resources 
  • Reviewing your energy consumption and changing the way you use that energy
  • Early selection of advisors to assist in understanding your true energy use and what changes are possible within the budget you have allocated 


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