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How to reduce energy use at your school

Updated on July 24, 2012
A kid-created reminder to turn off the lights and save energy.
A kid-created reminder to turn off the lights and save energy. | Source

Some studies estimate that energy use makes up 2% of the average school’s budget. True, it’s not a huge number, but it’s also true that energy spending is one of the few budget line items where reductions won’t affect the quality of kids’ education. And as with any sustainability education or practices in schools, teaching kids to conserve energy will encourage them to do it at home and will make them think about how their actions affect the environment.

Touchstone Energy Cooperatives estimates that electricity used for lighting accounts for 26% of the average school’s electrical bill. Heating, ventilation, and cooling account for approximately 38%, and computers and other office equipment account for about 20%. )

Most major energy conservation measures for schools – replacing windows, upgrading air conditioning units, sealing ducts – require a significant investment and are out of the control of teachers and staff, but there are some easy measures that can be started right away with relatively little or no cost and can result in significant savings.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs like these use about one-fourth the energy as traditional incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs like these use about one-fourth the energy as traditional incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light. | Source

Ways to save energy used for lighting

  • Install motion sensor or timer switches on infrequently used rooms, such as supply rooms, teacher restrooms, and conference rooms.
  • Ask kids to make stickers or small signs to place on or near light switches as a reminder to turn them off when leaving the room.
  • Assign one kid to be the light monitor, turning off lights when everyone leaves the room.
  • Replace any standard incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent or Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs. LED bulbs cost more initially, but they can last up to 40 times longer and use one-tenth of the energy. Savings with compact fluorescent bulbs aren’t quite as dramatic, lasting about six times as long and using about one-fourth the electricity, but they’re a little less expensive.
  • Use natural daylight when possible.

Conserving energy used for air conditioning and heating

  • Request that programmable thermostats be installed and set to reduce heating or cooling at the end of the school day, then back up again in the morning. Heat and AC can also be reduced on weekends. The energy saved will easily pay for the thermostats. If this isn’t possible, recommend that teachers or custodians set systems back manually.
  • Install window film or plant shade trees by windows to reduce cooling loads in warm climates.
  • Set daytime temperatures appropriately. Encourage students to leave a sweater at school during the winter and dress in cooler clothing during warm months.
  • Keep windows and doors closed when AC or heat is operating, or turn off mechanical systems and open windows to ventilate on nice days.
  • Keep office equipment off when not in use, as this will reduce the heat generated and thus the cooling load on the AC system.
  • Request that heating, ventilation, and AC systems be serviced and maintained on a regular basis to be sure that they’re running efficiently.

Reducing energy used by computers and other office equipment

  • Set computers, copiers, faxes, and other equipment to turn off automatically or go into sleep mode if unused for ten minutes or so.
  • Turn everything off at the end of the day and over the weekend.
  • Plug all equipment into one power strip, then switch off the strip. This ensures everything is off, and it reduces phantom loads, electrical use by equipment even when it’s turned off.
  • Look for energy-star rated equipment and consider energy usage when making equipment purchases.
  • Turn off overhead projectors when not in use.
  • Use the chalkboard or whiteboard instead of an overhead projector.

Unplug your kids! An outdoor classroom uses no electricity at all.
Unplug your kids! An outdoor classroom uses no electricity at all. | Source

Teaching kids about saving energy at home may not help your school budget, but it may encourage some families to adopt energy-saving measures at home, which will extend the impact of your sustainability efforts. Call your local electric utility company and see what kinds of educational speakers, presentations, activities, and materials they have to offer.

One final tip: Don’t forget to unplug your kids, too. On a nice day, turn everything off and hold class outside. Connect with nature and the earth.


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