School leaders can keep rooms comfortable, save money and fight climate change

School heating: a guide to cutting bills and carbon

Emma Frost

Communications Manager

By Alex Green, Programme Manager (Awards and Schools)

The winter term is almost over, but the coldest months of the year are still ahead – and come January many schools will be cranking up the heating. As in any shared building with lots of users, school heating choices can quickly
become a battleground issue. So how do schools keep teachers and pupils happy
and comfortable, while limiting carbon emissions and keeping bills as low as
possible?

We’re working with the Department for Education to develop
new energy use guidance and support for schools – including tips on cutting
heating bills. But in the meantime, here are some straightforward tips for school leaders to help
staff find the right balance.

How warm should rooms be?

Remember, one size doesn’t fit all. People will be more or
less active in different rooms – and the temperature in different rooms should
be set to reflect this.

So, in a classroom with 30 active children, generating heat
as they move around, a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius is fine. But school offices
– where people will be moving around less – should be set to 21 degrees. Sports
halls, corridors and toilets can be kept at 16 degrees.

Communicate with staff – and show them you’re following the
plan

Everyone has an opinion about how warm rooms should be. But
let staff know that there is an agreed policy for school heating, overseen by
the building manager, designed to protect budgets and tackle climate change.

Basic thermometers for individual classrooms cost pennies –
using them will confirm the system is working correctly, and that rooms are
being heated to an agreed level. Remember that changes to buildings will affect
how much they retain heat. After repairs, upgrades or additions, check to see
if the heating needs to be adjusted too. 

Make savings at the start and end of the day

Cutting the time heating is on by just an hour – or even 30
minutes – can save thousands of pounds over the course of a year.

Classrooms that have been heated all day will retain their
heat for the last hour, and cleaners probably won’t want the heating on full
blast as they move around classrooms. The handful of staff who arrive extra early
might need to rely on cups of tea and jumpers until their colleagues arrive,
but heating an entire school for the benefit of a few people is bad news for
school finances and the planet.

Make sure the heating’s not going on too early in the autumn,
and as temperatures start to climb in spring, check that you don’t have the
heating on unnecessarily. If your school currently has the heating on for 16
weeks a year, shaving a week off either end of that period would create a 12.5%
saving in emissions and fuel costs.

Think about other ways to keep warm

Cranking up the heating is just one way of keeping warm.
Make sure your school is using every trick in the book to stay cosy. 

Important steps include insulating walls, ceilings and pipes
to retain heat. If you convince students and staff that saving energy is a
whole-school effort, they can help fix the everyday issues around the school. Launch
a school eco-club – where students get involved in saving energy by turning off
lights and computers, and making sure outside doors are closed. It will help
tackle the problem and creates great learning opportunities about tackling
climate change.

Even simple things that take seconds, such as closing windows
to trap heat where it’s needed, make a big difference. And everyone can try and
prevent the crazy contradictions that drive up energy use – like air
conditioning to cool down rooms, instead of turning down the heating. 

Schools of the future

How else might our schools cut heating use in the years
ahead, as the country aims to reach net zero carbon emissions?

Smart software and artificial intelligence is already
helping homes and businesses improve their heating efficiency, by monitoring energy use in
precise detail
– and even using data from other buildings to predict fixes and
improvements
. The initial cost of these systems might put cash-strapped
schools off, but they can deliver huge savings.

New schools should embrace passive design, a
method that creates buildings needing very little, if not no heating or cooling.
It’s not just the preserve of expensive homes and offices – a council housing
project in Norwich that uses passive design has just the Stirling Prize, the
UK’s top architecture award. But given the age of many school buildings, the
answer might be adopting retrofit
techniques
that bring old buildings up to scratch.

Investment can create huge carbon and cash savings. When Home Farm
Primary School
in Essex enclosed its central courtyard and installed a new
building management system, gas use dropped by an astonishing 94%.

But progress is possible without large-scale building work.
At South
Farnborough Infant School
in Hampshire, a new gas boiler and energy saving
initiatives cut gas consumption by 24%. The school was part of the LESS CO2 programme, which helps schools
identify cheap or free ways to cut emissions and lower bills. 

The scheme reveals the simple ways that any school lower
emissions and bills while creating a happy learning environment.

This feature first appeared in Education Business.

  • Want to find out more about energy saving in schools? Explore Ashden’s LESS CO2 programme.

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