Schools are great opportunities to implement energy-smart, sustainable and green design elements. Not only do they help work towards energy independence and a more eco-conscious built world, they can become talking points among teachers and students to help inform our youth of the importance of investing in a green future. Planting the idea of environmental friendly materials, design strategies, and electrical and mechanical systems in the minds of students paves the way for them getting more involved as their teeth get longer and their wallets get fatter.
Here are a few ideas existing and new schools can start instituting today to help usher in a new age of green development and sustainability.
1 | Insulated Concrete Blocks
Most schools these days primarily use concrete masonry units (CMUs) for their exterior wall construction. They are monolithic, fairly easy to install, and incredible resistant to fire and weather. However, they are horrible at providing enough insulation to not only meet code, but provide a comfortable interior environment for students to learn in. These walls have to be furred out from the inside and insulated with more traditional methods, which increases cost and still doesn’t provide the best thermal protection.
Insulating concrete blocks, however, are a great alternative to your standard CMU. The blocks have a built-in thermal break and are engineered in a way that allows their cavities to be packed full of either rigid or spray foam insulation. This allows the blocks to exist as a stand-alone wall without the need to furr out the inside, providing more usable square footage and a completely air-tight assembly. Insulated concrete blocks are a no-brainer for new school construction.
2 | Solar Panels
Solar panel integration is among the most ubiquitous and impactful enhancements available to any energy-smart building type. Schools are no different. While insulated concrete blocks might not offer the most educational opportunities for students, solar panels most definitely will. Kids are, by nature, are visual and hands-on learners. Showing a class how a solar panel works – how it absorbs energy from the sun and converts it into electricity – can go a long way towards piquing their scientific interest in green technology and design.
Of course, solar panels are great for energy-smart office buildings and homes, they work double-duty when integrated with schools and institutions. Additionally, schools that have been around for a while can be easily retrofitted with solar panels with systems that are either attached to the roof, or somewhere on ground level where students might have a better chance to observe them in action.
3 | Semi-Shaded Exterior Space
Young people have an exorbitant amount of physical energy, and keeping them confined to the drab confines of a classroom all day would be borderline criminal. That’s why recess was invented, and providing plenty of semi-shaded areas for kids to enjoy the outdoors goes a long way to cultivating a sustainable learning environment. There are even schools implementing outdoor classrooms, and with strategically designed courtyards with wood decks, interconnected canopies, and enough weather protection to keep everyone dry, they are truly beginning to thrive.
4 | Use Green Building Materials
In the past 20 years, material scientists and researchers have gone to great lengths to develop the safest, most sustainably manufactured products available to the construction industry. Today, these ‘alternative’ options to more traditionally used products have become competitive from both a cost and availability standpoint, giving builders little incentive to stay with their tried and true, but ultimately more harmful building practices.
Furthermore, government agencies have increased regulation on what materials construction companies should be using, even going as far as giving tax breaks for low off-gas material specifications. For schools, it makes even more sense, providing teachers and students with the most chemically sterile, healthy interior air environment. Materials can include: untreated wood deck, bamboo veneer furnishings, non-reactive acrylics and plastics, triple pane, low-e rated windows and doors, denim or straw-bale insulation.
5 | Shade For Mechanical Equipment
Schools and institution buildings can be quite large, which means their mechanical systems require massive air handlers in order to meet the demand for fresh, cool or heated air. Typically this equipment is installed on the roof, out of view and out of the reach of a curious 4th grader. The problem is often this equipment is left to bask in the summer sun and wallow in the bitter cold. Providing some sort of environmental protection for your mechanical equipment will not only improve their efficiency and lower your electrical bill, it will increase the durability and life of your system.
6 | Out of Ideas? Ask Your Students!
The collective mind of a group of brainstorming students can come up with some truly innovative green building solutions. In fact, as green and sustainable life and building practices become more and more urgent, entire curriculums can revolve around getting students involved. What better way to do this than surrounding them with the exact ideas they should be learning?