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Enhancing Learning Environments: Best Practices for Educational Institute Renovations

1 month ago by verkeer

Educational building retrofits and renovations are crucial for providing significantly improved learning environments. Going far beyond cosmetic enhancements, retrofits incorporate sustainable practices and smart technologies and increase safety and accessibility to help future-proof schools and other educational establishments.

This article takes a closer look at the energy efficiency needs of educational buildings in the modern day, retrofitting strategies, the benefits of retrofitting older buildings, and how technology can help provide sustainable energy solutions now and in the future.

Assessing Energy Efficiency Needs in Educational Settings

According to recent research, 120 of the UK’s largest Trusts representing 2,037 schools consume approximately 1.3 billion kWh of energy every year (900 million gas and 400 million electricity). In 2019, the Government claimed the average school paid around £90,000 for energy each year.

Considering the significant leap in energy prices in recent years, a 1p increase in the cost of electricity would add £4.1 million and a 1p increase in gas prices would add an additional £9 million to these schools’ energy bills. Unsurprisingly, there is renewed focus on school energy efficiency in a bid to manage costs.

Some of the key factors that influence educational institutions’ energy needs include:

Building conditions: Older buildings are less efficient at retaining heat.

Technology: Educational institutions require computers, laptops, and projectors to operate, which contributes to high energy usage.

Heating: As most classrooms are in use for several hours every weekday, they require almost constant heating.

Some of the methods of identifying ways to improve school energy efficiency include:

Energy usage checks: Checking heating, lighting, and other high-consumption appliances can help prevent energy wastage, thereby reducing usage.

Detailed meter readings: Taking frequent meter readings can help educational institutions assess their buildings’ energy usage throughout the day and track how their actions are making an impact. This provides easy access to data and is an effective way of monitoring energy usage.

Energy audits: Energy audits can include examining energy bills, making an inventory of all electrical appliances, and using specialised equipment to find where energy usage can be reduced to save money.

Behavioural change is one of the most important factors when it comes to reducing energy usage, and there are various ways to encourage this. Educational institutions can implement spot checks and create informative posters and prompts, educating and encouraging staff and students to conserve energy and reduce energy usage by following a clear set of rules. Institutions should also stimulate open dialogue around energy usage with all stakeholders.

Retrofitting older buildings to follow more energy-efficient practices can also help reduce energy usage. Even though this can be costly, an educational building retrofit can make a significant impact, reducing costs and improving sustainability over the long term.

Strategies for Retrofitting Older Educational Buildings

Approximately 50,000 buildings are demolished in the UK every year, contributing to a significant amount of waste. Construction sites contribute as much as 63% of waste in the UK. Many of those buildings could have been retrofitted and repurposed. Additionally, replacing those buildings with new ones plays a large part in fuelling the ongoing climate crisis. Cement manufacture alone is responsible for 8% of global emissions.

Campus renovations of older buildings should include retrofitting, which can cover a range of areas. Some of the structural changes that can be made to enhance energy efficiency and climate change reliance include:

  • Double glazing
  • Wall insulation
  • Green technologies such as heat pumps and solar panels
  • Reflective or ‘cool’ roofing
  • HVAC system upgrades
  • LED or adaptive lighting
  • Tankless water heaters and efficient boiler systems that provide hot water on demand

The strategic implementation of an educational building retrofit project must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Assessments should consider factors such as whether seismic upgrades are required to meet current standards as well as government requirements, such as the detection and removal of asbestos and other hazardous substances. Assessments also should consider whether campus renovations can be completed in stages to minimise disruption, or whether it can be completed out of term time.

Although the following case study relates to social housing, it illustrates the potential for improvement through retrofitting solutions:

Bell worked on the decarbonisation of 16 social housing properties for three housing providers. Using Energiesprong principles, the project included triple glazing, underfloor insulation, ground source heat pumps for heat and hot water, off site insulated facades, MVHR, PV micro generation and battery storage, and an IoT monitoring platform. Among the results were significant energy savings for residents, the delivery of the nZEB retrofit model, and modernised future-proofed properties with enhanced kerb appeal.

Leveraging Technology for Sustainable Energy Solutions

Innovative technologies can help mitigate some of the challenges that come with introducing sustainable energy solutions as part of educational building retrofits. Some of the challenges include:

Unpredictability and grid stability: Some renewable energy sources are intermittent in nature, such as solar power and wind, and this can be a critical issue which challenges grid stability in terms of electricity supply meeting demand. Addressing this requires significant investment in advanced grid technologies and energy storage.

High upfront costs: Even though renewable energy systems’ operating costs are usually lower than those of fossil fuel-based systems, they normally require substantial initial investment.

Inadequate infrastructure: Transitioning to renewable energy sometimes requires significant alterations to energy infrastructure, such as the installation of more resilient transmission lines.

Regulatory obstacles: The UK’s regulatory climate can present obstacles for renewable energy. For example, obtaining planning permission for some projects can take a long time.

Technologies that can help mitigate some of these challenges include off-grid solar solutions, smart grids and mini-grids, energy storage solutions such as lithium-ion batteries, compressed air energy storage (CAES), and flow batteries, high-efficiency lighting, advanced recycling techniques, and smart heating and cooling systems.

Educational institutions should research the solutions that align with their specific goals, which is where data-driven sustainability comes in. Accessing big data analytics can help guide educational establishments through their sustainability journey with data-driven approaches.

Big data can enhance energy allocation and optimisation, help forecast ecological trends, and anticipate climate change impact. In this regard, big data information can include historical energy consumption profiles from buildings’ energy management system, actual thermal property information from the building information modelling system, and historical weather data.

While the cost of some educational building retrofits can be high, educational institutions in the UK can have recourse to various funding options designed to help them reach carbon emission goals. Among them are:

The Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme: This scheme provides grants to fund energy efficiency measures and decarbonisation.

Government Financing Schemes: The government has made loans available for educational building retrofits, although the funding scale is limited, making these loans suitable for small projects rather than whole-building retrofits.

Local Authority Schemes: Some local authorities support schools in accessing specialised technical expertise, provide loans, or manage service arrangements.

City Hall Scheme for London Schools: Schools in London in clusters of eight from particular boroughs can access the Retrofit Accelerator programme.

Building a Learning Environment

The transformation of educational environments through renovations is not merely about aesthetics, but about fostering an atmosphere conducive to growth, engagement, and innovation. By prioritising flexibility, inclusivity, sustainability, and technological integration, educational institutes can truly enhance the learning experiences of students and educators alike.

Choose Bell for Renovation Services

Contact us for more information about how we can help renovate your educational facility and campus.