Learning to improve energy efficiency in Schools

How can you benefit from energy efficiency?

The school manager will benefit from reduced costs and enhanced learning environments.

Staff and students will have improved comfort conditions which can boost productivity and morale.

Students can learn about and experience ‘real world’ activities when exploring energy efficiency in lessons. Parents and the wider community could reduce their own energy use as a result of pupil action and awareness. The environment will benefit from reductions in energy use / carbon emissions which will enhance school image.

Breakdown of energy costs in a typical school

Energy consumption in schools can vary depending on the age of the buildings, their state of repair, occupancy hours and the amount and type of electrical equipment installed. Generally, secondary schools will have higher energy costs than primary schools.



Heat only when needed.

Heating needs vary throughout the day so check that the system operating hours match the times when heating and ventilation are required. Review time settings every month or so to check that they are correct. Many systems function inefficiently because someone made a short-term adjustment and then forgot about it. Fitting tamper-proof thermostatic radiator valves can prevent this from happening.

Check thermostats regularly

Discourage staff from using them as on/off switches —turning to maximum does not speed up the heating process ,it usually just results in an overheated space. It is important to ensure thermostats are not influenced by draughts, sunlight or internal heat sources like radiators or ICT equipment. Settings should reflect the activity taking place in the space.

Keep systems clear and unobstructed

Schools always have lots of activities going on and furniture is constantly being rearranged to accommodate students’ needs. Make sure radiators and vents are not obstructed by any equipment and that filters are kept clean and  free of dust. This ensures better circulation of heat into the space and reduces the energy required to meet the heating demand.

Maintain boilers and pipework

Have boilers serviced regularly by a reputable firm. Gas-fired boilers should be serviced once a year; oil boilers twice a year. A regularly serviced boiler can save as much as 10% on annual heating costs. Boilers, hot water tanks, pipes and valves should be insulated to prevent heat escaping. Payback can usually be expected within a few months of installation, with additional savings in subsequent years.

Hot water

Costs can be reduced without compromising hygiene by: Fitting push taps, which turn off automatically. Dealing with dripping taps and leaks promptly Insulating hot water storage tanks and their distribution pipework. Making sure hot water is generated using the most effective heat source. Fitting and checking time switches to ensure that water is heated only where and when it is needed .Rationalising the system to reduce long distribution pipe runs. Providing cleaning staff with point-of-use water heaters for use during holidays. Wasting hot water penalises a school twice: once for the energy used to heat the water and again for the actual water used.

Building Fabric

Around two-thirds of heat from a typical school building is lost through the building fabric (walls, floors and ceilings) so it makes good sense to make improvements in this area.

Establish a housekeeping schedule

Compile a checklist to address areas where energy is lost via the building structure. It is a good idea to appoint a specific staff member to  conduct regular walk rounds using the  checklist — a comprehensive schedule should include checking window panes and frames, skylights, roofs, skirting and eaves. Involve students too, so they can obtain first-hand experience of the benefits of saving energy.

Undertake regular maintenance

Good building maintenance requires for potential problems to be identified and dealt with promptly. In particular, gaps in the building fabric should be repaired immediately. Install draught stripping to windows and doors, check for signs of damage or damp and replace when required. Keep windows and external doors closed as much as possible when heating is on and consider sealing unused doors or windows to further reduce draughts. Make sure that automatic door-closers operate. Regularly check buildings for damp. Repair split downpipes, faulty gutters and leaky roof tiles. Check for signs of damp and condensation at least once a year, preferably Prior to winter months. Check and maintain insulation. Hot water and heating pipes should be insulated, as should any accessible loft spaces. Check insulation is in good condition and replace if required. Insulating pipes can also improve internal comfort by reducing the risk of overheating. Shade for comfort: Curtains and blinds can be used to keep rooms comfortable. Closing them at the end of the day during winter months will reduce draughts and help the room retain more of its residual heat overnight. This same process can help in summer to reduce heat in rooms that receive early evening direct sunlight. Blinds can also be an effective way of controlling daylight and glare problems;

Improved glazing

Some schools were built to maximise the light and so have highly glazed areas; however, the heat gained through these can make staff and students uncomfortable. Consider replacing some of the panes with blank panels. Although it will reduce the light, the improved temperature and minimal glare will be appreciated.

Building fabric


Install more insulation during refurbishment. 25% of a building’s heat will escape via an uninsulated roof, which adds hundreds of pounds per year to heating bills. Insulating any roof spaces and unfilled external cavity walls is an effective and inexpensive way of reducing heat losses. Unfortunately most school buildings have flat roofs and single external walls making insulation measures more difficult, disruptive and costly. Improvements to these are most cost effective during refurbishment projects and should always be considered when the opportunity arises.

Draught lobbies

Installing a draught lobby at frequently used entrances can reduce heating costs and draughts. Lobbies should be large enough to provide unrestricted access and enable one set of doors to be closed before the other is opened. If possible, the 2 sets of doors should have automatic control lighting.

MYTH — It is better to leave fluorescent lights permanently switched on as starting them up each time wastes more energy.

REALITY! — Fluorescent tubes use only a few seconds worth of power in start up. Switching them off when leaving a room always saves energy. Well-lit spaces are essential for effective teaching and  learning environment. As a result, lighting accounts for 20-25% of the total energy used in schools. However, there is considerable scope for making savings by implementing some simple good housekeeping measures.

Switch off.

Staff and students should be involved in making savings— this can be achieved through raising awareness during assembly and non-teaching class time, placing stickers above light switches and posters around the building.

Replace failing lamps.

All teaching and activity areas should be well lit in order to create an environment conducive to learning. Encourage staff and students to report any failing lamps and replace them immediately to help maintain the desired light output and optimum comfort levels.

Label light switches.

Help staff and students to select only those lights they need by attaching labels to every bank of light switches. Turn off lights that are not needed but remember to consider health and safety implications, particularly in corridors and stairwells.

Avoid blinds down and lights on.

A familiar scene in classrooms is the use of blinds to control glare when it is bright outside. Where possible, encourage staff to use blinds to direct daylight onto the ceiling and walls instead. This should reduce the need for electric lighting in the classroom whilst reducing glare. Daylight blinds are particularly effective. They enable the natural light to enter the space by re-directing the light onto the ceiling, thereby allowing the ‘free’ daylight to enter the space, alleviating discomfort felt by the occupants from glare.


Design and follow a maintenance schedule which includes: cleaning windows, skylights and fittings. Checking and replacing old and dim lamps. Ensuring controls are in good order and set properly. Cleaning occupancy sensors. Without regular maintenance, light levels can fall by 30% in 2–3 years. Install low-energy lighting Choose the most efficient lighting possible. Upgrade standard tungsten light bulbs to energy saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) which use 75% less energy, produce less unwanted heat and last 8 to 10 times longer. Replace blackened, flickering, dim or failed fluorescent tubes with triphosphor coated ones (this is stated on the packaging). If the tubes are 38mm(1.5
inch), replace them with slimmer 26mm (1 inch) tubes. Specify high frequency 6 fluorescent lighting systems and mirror reflectors whenever fluorescent lighting is to be replaced. High frequency tubes reduce energy use and heat  output, eliminate flicker and hum, extend lamp life (by up to 50%) and can allow dimming — all of which can make a classroom more comfortable. Make sure this happens by including it in the school’s purchasing policy.

Get students involved

Appoint ‘light monitors’ from each year group to ensure that lights are not left on at break times or at the end of the day. Classes could even compete with each other to see who is the most energy efficient Run an awareness campaign on switching off lighting and equipment. Students can design their own stickers and posters in art classes. Create a display and award prizes for the best submissions. For further information go to www.eco-schools.org.uk

School kitchens

These are a major energy consumption area. Raise awareness amongst kitchen staff and reduce energy use by 25%

• Energy is primarily used to power catering equipment and heat hot water; however, these are areas that can offer significant cost savings without compromising hygiene or resources.

• Don’t switch on too soon. Most catering equipment reaches optimum temp

• Label equipment with its preheat time and switch on only when required.

• Switch off ovens, grills, fryers and hobs immediately after use

• avoid overfilling saucepans and kettles and use lids where possible; select
the right size of saucepan to avoid under filling .

• Switch off equipment, lights and extraction fans when they are not being

• Reduce drying time on dishwashers. Allow residual heat to finish the drying process. 

• Move storage fridges and freezers out of kitchen areas into well ventilated, uncooled spaces.

• Avoid using open boiling water steriliser  systems as these are dangerous and wasteful.


Refrigerators and freezers consume significant amounts of energy as they are on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Take the following actions to make sure refrigerators are as efficient as possible:

Position fridges/freezers away from heat sources (such as cookers)

Set the thermostat at the right level for the fridge’s contents. Settings may need adjustment when the fridge is empty. Note that freezers operate more efficiently when full. Check the seals are intact so cold air is not escaping

Defrost regularly. Turn off fridges during holiday periods, where appropriate. Not possible to switch off all fridges,  consolidate the contents of fridges so that some can be turned off.

ICT equipment

The use of electrical equipment in schools is rising, and the growth of
computer suites is having an effect on electricity bills. ICT and audio-visual
equipment are the major energy users; however, the consumption of smaller
apparatus such as water coolers also has an impact. ICT equipment is the
largest single users of electricity in many schools.

Turn off and power down.

Switch off all equipment when not in use and enable power down modes to
reduce energy consumption and heat production. This will also reduce the risk
of overheating in a space, therefore improving occupant comfort. Equipment
should last longer which could mean lower maintenance costs and fewer

Install plug-in seven-day timers.

These only cost a few pounds from most DIY stores and reduce the likelihood
of machines being left on out of hours. They are best fitted to communal
equipment such as photocopiers, printers, and lap top charging trolleys that
can be switched off when not in use. Check with your equipment supplier first
about any service agreements that might be affected.

Match the equipment to the task.

Set default printing to double-sided (duplex) where possible and try to print in
batches to allow the machine to spend more time on standby or off, than in
idling mode. Take care though; machines with a very deep sleep mode can
take longer to reach the right temperature, frustrating users and increasing
the risk of the feature being disabled.

Consider upgrading existing PCs

Some computers can simply be upgraded with newer, more energy efficient
components. Look into this option before purchasing new machines. Flat
screen (LCD) monitors can reduce monitor energy use by over 65%. There
are also obvious space advantages and they are more attractive to use.
Activate the standby mode: Most PCs have an in-built standby mode. When
the PC is not in use but left on, the PC can power down to a low energy
mode. Time to power down can be preset, and usually 15 minutes nine out of
ten PCs do not have the standby mode enabled so it may be worth doing a
full audit on your ICT suite. Demonstrate setting this function in class, and ask
the students to do it then and there, thus ensuring the PCs are set up
properly. Standby should only be used during lessons and when equipment is
being used intermittently. After lessons, equipment should be completely
switched off .
Switch off monitors: This will save over 60% of the energy used by a PC
during break times and when it is not required for a particular lesson.
Screen savers don’t save: Screen savers are designed to increase the
operating life of the screen — NOT to save energy.
If a screensaver is complex and colourful it may actually use more energy
than operating in normal working conditions, while inhibiting the power saving
features of the computer. 9
MYTH — When equipment is on standby, it’s off.
REALITY — Many people assume electrical products are off when they are
on standby, yet in this mode they continue to consume power. Be especially
wary of equipment that has a remote control.This is a tell tale sign that the
equipment is likely to be left on standby while waiting for the ‘on’ signal from
the remote.
A red or green LED light is another sign.
A single computer and monitor left on 24 hours a day will cost around £45 a
year. Switching them off out of hours and enabling standby features could
reduce this to less than £10 a year each and prolong the lifespan of
You could save enough energy to make 30 teachers 6 cups of coffee every

Energy management

Involving staff and students is an ideal way to make sure that energy saving
opportunities are implemented at every level. It is also a great way to equip
them with practical skills and knowledge that they can use on a daily basis,
both in and out of school. Many good housekeeping measures are simple to
carry out and need not require any initial outlay.
Everyone plays a part in becoming energy efficient, so remind the whole
school community that good energy management achieves:
• Environmental benefits
• Healthier and more productive teaching/learning conditions
• Cost savings
• Better communication across the school
• Improved social and environmental credentials with parents, governors and
community groups.
Whether starting an energy conservation programme from scratch or simply
checking the effectiveness of an existing management system, there are a
number of basics to consider.

Responsibility and commitment

As everyone in a school has an impact on energy use, it should be everyone’s responsibility to use energy wisely. Appoint an energy team comprising management, teachers, maintenance staff, cleaners and students to help identify opportunities for savings.

Ask cleaning staff to report any faulty lamps and to only use lighting where it is required.

Ask students to report areas that are overheated, where doors and windows are not closing properly, or where lighting or equipment is being left on unnecessarily.

Ask maintenance staff to monitor and adjust control settings to meet but not exceed internal requirements for heating and ensure all non-essential equipment is
switched off at the end of the day.

Ask managers or administrators to investigate current and past energy use and to continue to monitor energy consumption.

Develop a policy Commitment to energy efficiency has to come from the top and should be
backed up by a mission statement and energy policy. Develop a policy which:

• Makes a clear statement of commitment Specifies clear objectives and targets for energy consumption Identifies responsibilities and resources

• Provides an action plan and states how it will be achieved

• Sets out the review timeframe.

• The energy team should review the policy periodically and report savings and areas for improvement. Undertake regular housekeeping walk rounds It is a good idea to walk round the school and identify where energy might be wasted. Start by checking equipment, lights, heating and building fabric. Walk around at different times of the day, for example during lessons, at break times and after school. Note usage patterns, poor habits and maintenance issues as these can show up obvious savings as well as investment opportunities. 

Record and understand energy consumption

Understand energy consumption by reviewing energy invoices and meter readings. Create meter reading sheets and plot energy use over time. Take meter readings last thing at night and first thing in the morning to find out how much energy is used when no one is there. It is likely that this can be reduced.

Teaching opportunities.

There are many ways to involve students in energy management and all levels of school can participate. Students and teachers will find learning about energy efficiency both practical and creative, and it will raise awareness. Tailored classes could culminate in an energy week where students could participate in the following ways:

• Involve students in carrying out energy walk rounds,

• analysing and interpreting consumption data

• calculating the results of energy saving measures

• Include them in the development and running of ongoing awareness

Create an energy notice board or make use of an existing one to help keep everyone informed of energy related activities in school. Ask students to calculate energy usage and graphs in maths sessions Teach them about energy sources and climate change in science and geography Communicate key messages in English lessons and ask them to design energy saving posters in art classes. Linking energy awareness to existing curricular activity and project work will add value to students’ education and to the school’s energy saving activities. Raise awareness. Everyone in a school can contribute to energy saving, so it is very important to raise awareness throughout the whole school and train everyone in what they can do. Running a campaign for students, teachers, other staff and parents can help by convincing everyone to play their part in the drive to save. Get students involved. A walk round can  provide an opportunity for students to explore their own environment and learn about energy efficiency. Students may assist the energy manager in conducting a walk round of their building. Split the class into teams to look at different aspects such as lighting, building fabric, heating etc. After the walk round, results can be fed back to school managers and used to create an overall picture of the school’s energy use, and to identify wastage. Students can also monitor progress and contribute to the success of energy saving initiatives.

Next steps

There are many easy low and no-cost options to help save money and improve the operation of your school.

Step 1. Understand your energy use. Look around the school and identify the major areas of energy consumption. Check the condition and operation of equipment and monitor the power consumption over, say, one week to obtain a base figure against which energy efficiency improvements can be measured.

Step 2. Identify your opportunities Compile an energy checklist. Walk round the school and complete the checklist at different times of day (including after hours) to identify where energy savings can be made.

Step 3. Prioritise your actions Draw up an action plan detailing a schedule of improvements that need to be made and when, along with who will be responsible for them. Where funding is limited, focus on energy intensive areas or those that are performing badly first.

Step 4. Seek specialist help It may be possible to implement some energy saving measures in-house but others may require specialist assistance. Discuss the more complex or expensive options with a qualified technician or the Local Authority property department.

Step 5. Make the changes and measure the savings. Implement your energy saving actions and measure against original consumption figures. This will assist future management decisions regarding your energy priorities. Setting up a ringfenced energy management budget for efficiency investments could ensure limited funding is available for specific projects. Savings from investments could be fed back into the budget to provide a revolving fund.

Step 6. Continue to manage the school’s energy use Enforce energy policies, systems and procedures to ensure that the school operates efficiently and that savings are maintained in the future