Capital Funding to Improve Energy Efficiency in Schools and Academies

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  • Capital Funding to Improve Energy Efficiency in Schools and Academies
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Lucia Glynn


Lucia Glynn


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As we start the spring term, schools and colleges nationwide will be considering how best to spend their allocation of the additional £500m of capital funding made available in December for projects aimed at improving energy efficiency.

The Department for Education’s (DFE) intention is that the funding is spent by the end of March for Local Authority Schools, and by the end of August for Academies, which means that the benefits of the investment will be felt sooner, however the DFE has confirmed that projects with a longer programme duration are also eligible.

To help schools and Trusts spend this funding to achieve maximum benefit – reducing costs and lowering carbon emissions – the RLB Education and Sustainability team has set out below their top 10 tips for obtaining best value from this much-needed funding reducing both energy costs and the carbon footprint:

1. Energy Audit

As part of your Estates Strategy and Asset Management Plan we recommend schools undertake an Energy Audit to help flag areas of high energy usage. This will be your starting point, which will help set priorities for energy efficiency works and help provide a baseline for improvements to be tracked against. You could commit to switching off all but essential appliances over a weekend and see the impact on usage – this strategy may flag any anomalies such as appliances which are drawing significant amounts of power, which might be easily addressed.

2. Lighting

Consider installing smart lighting control within key areas. Smart lighting control regulates the output from each luminaire using a combination of daylight / PIR motion detection, increasing the lifespan of the luminaire while saving energy at the same time.
Replace older light fittings e.g. fluorescent lamps (some of which may soon be obsolete), with high efficiency, low energy LED lighting.

These two measures can reduce costs by 84%. LED lights save up to 90% energy compared to a traditional bulb with the same light output.

3. Heating Systems

Depending on available budget, consider replacing life-expired older gas-fired boilers, reducing or eliminating the reliance on fossil fuels.

Installing air source heat pump systems which would offer a low carbon alternative (depends on electricity supply) with the latest technology offering a low maintenance system which can be used for both heating and cooling.

Energy efficient condensing gas boilers are another option for schools to consider, delivering up to 110% net efficiency, reducing gas bills and emissions. They are easy to install which means that in the event of breakdown or failure they can be easily maintained or replaced, with limited disruption to the school’s operations.

Ensure all radiators in the building have thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) installed – these maintain the room at a set temperature and allow local control of heating. This means if the room isn’t in use, it can be turned off completely.

Where safe to do so, insulate pipes (focusing on pipework and fittings in boiler rooms) to reduce heat loss. This will reduce heat loss by between 50% and 70%, saving money and making a more comfortable environment.

4. Windows

Consider replacing single-glazed windows with double-glazed units to improve thermal efficiency year-round. Single-glazed windows retain heat poorly, meaning the rooms are cold in winter, but become too hot in summer. This leads to high energy costs – boosting the heating in winter and switching on air conditioning in summer to keep the rooms at an ambient temperature. Double glazing can improve the insulation of a building by up to 73% and reduce noise by 70%. Single windows also mean condensation problems, drawing moisture out of the warm air which can mean pools of water gathering on window sills, mould and other damage to buildings.

If your school buildings are listed or in a conservation area which may preclude the installation of new windows, consider secondary glazing as an alternative measure.

5. Roof Replacement Projects

Replacing life-expired roofs with modern high-efficiency and durable roofing materials can generate significant energy and cost savings. In addition, in many cases a re-roofing project allows the opportunity to add insulation under the new roof, further improving the efficiency and creating cost benefits.

6. Solar Panels

Review whether solar panels are an option for your school buildings – solar panels can generate free electricity for up to 40 years, so the cost savings will be made for some time and likely to be substantial. A typical solar panel system will provide free electricity for more than 25 years and pay back installation costs within 6-8 years. Some schemes allow the building owners to pre-purchase electricity at a fixed unit price, which means that the school budget could be protected against increases in wholesale utility costs.

7. HVAC/ Air Handling Units/ Ventilation

With a global focus on the importance of indoor air quality, consider whether your HVAC system should be upgraded. As this equipment ages it costs more to run, and is increasingly likely to fail, so 10-15 years is the recommended replacement cycle. Refurbishing or replacing the systems to include energy-saving fans, or boosting filter performance, will reduce energy costs and create a more comfortable environment for building users.

8. Insulation

Consider how insulation projects might help reduce energy bills when undertaking capital works to the school. Insulating walls when redecorating, installing insulation when undertaking roofing repairs, placing reflective coatings behind radiators, and exploring options to add insulating under suspended timber floors or under solid floors and sealing gaps will see significant benefits in costs and carbon emissions. Constructing a draught lobby at frequently used entrances will have a significant impact in reducing heat loss. Adding draught strips to external doors is a recommended further cost-effective efficiency measure.

9. Upgrade Building Management Systems

Consider making upgrades to Building Management Systems, for example installing timed controls for heating, lighting and ventilation so they are only operating when required will have significant year-round cost-benefits. Making BMS controls ‘tamper-proof’ allows the maintenance team to control the overall services to the building, rather than being adjusted locally. If this isn’t possible, consider simple plug-in timer switches or thermostatic controls to ensure equipment or systems are not operating when not required.

10. Behavioural Changes

Alongside investment in the areas mentioned above, schools should look to both staff and students to make small changes to their behaviours which will reduce their carbon footprint and overall energy costs. Switching off lights and powering down all non-essential appliances when not in use are critical. Closing off or mothballing any unutilised areas of school buildings is also important. Removing anything obstructing radiators or other heating and cooling systems, manually turning off monitors or looking at systems which allow this task to be completed remotely, switching off vending machines will all help schools to make savings.