Becoming more energy efficient in schools

With reports that schools are having to find innovative ways to raise money and deal with funding cuts, energy charity Carbon Trust has found ways schools can cut back and save money on energy, as well as reduce carbon emissions

The proposed national funding formula aims to ensure that funding is consistent in schools throughout the country. However, there are concerns that if this were to be implemented, some schools would face significant changes to their finances, which could leave some institutions worse off.

This, added to the apparent education funding crisis, teacher retention and recruitment issues, means many schools are potentially feeling the pressure to save money where they can.

In light of this, there are a number of ways in which schools can tweak their energy usage in order to cut down costs, while at the same time become more environmental friendly.

A report by the Carbon Trust explains that UK schools could reduce energy costs by about £44 million per year. It is estimated that schools could prevent around 625,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere if this cut-back were to take place.

This would not only help tackle the growing financial constraints of schools but also encourage them to become more eco-friendly.


According to the Carbon Trust, lighting accounts for around 10 per cent of the total energy used in schools, but there are ways savings can be made.

General advice to help schools to keep on top of their energy bills would be to encourage staff to switch lights off where possible. For example, instead of having the blinds down and the lights on, use the blinds to direct daylight onto the ceilings and walls. This should minimise the need for electric lighting whilst reducing glare.

Suitable lighting controls should also be considered in order to ensure that lights are switched off as and when they need to be. Time switches with a manual override for teaching areas and occupancy sensors in intermittently occupied spaces would be beneficial.

Priorlee Primary School in Telford previously had under-lit classrooms as a result of recessed light fittings. But, the local authority later invested in more efficient ceiling-mounted lighting and new occupancy daylight controls.

As a result of this, lighting costs were reduced by 30 per cent, and light levels were increased.


Usually, heating is the largest and most expensive energy user in schools, and savings in this area can have a positive impact on energy bills even through introducing simple low-cost measures.

Heating requirements change throughout the day so it is important that the heating system’s operating hours match the times in which it is required.

Teachers are advised to review time settings every month in order to make sure that they are correct. Systems can function inefficiently if a short-term adjustment is made and not put back to the original settings, so in addition to checking the levels, fitting a tamper-proof thermostatic radiator valve can stop this from happening.

A serviced boiler can save up to 10 per cent on annual heating costs, so it is important to ensure that boilers and pipework are maintained. Gas-fired boilers should be serviced once a year and oil-based ones should be serviced twice a year.

Generally, hot water tanks, pipes and boilers should be properly insulated in order to prevent heat escaping and payback for this measure can usually be expected within a few months, yet again making savings.

Heating system controls can also pose a problem if they are old and not updated. Upgrades can sometimes pay for themselves through energy and cost savings. A compensator is a form of control for heating systems that automatically regulates the heating temperature based on the weather.

There is also an optimum start controller, which learns how quickly the building can reach its preferred temperature and turns the heating on at optimum time prior to building occupancy, again depending on the weather.

An example of this is Richard Whittington School in Bishop’s Stortford. The school had not updated its system since 1977 and so controls were old and incorrectly set. Thermostats and timers were also broken or faulty making the system inefficient.

A £6,000 investment in boiler controls helped to improve the school’s heating costs by reducing them by 21 per cent in operational savings. The initial cost to install the system was ultimately paid off within four years. This method not only helped the school to save energy, but the money that was spent was regenerated back into the school’s funds.


Wasting hot water actually penalises a school twice over. Once for the energy used to heat the water, but again for the actual water used.

However, there are ways to ensure that pupils are not wasting water when they do not have to, without compromising their hygiene.

Percussion taps can be fitted which means that the water will turn off automatically, eliminating the need for pupils to make sure that taps are turned off. Schools should also consider dealing with dripping taps and leaks to prevent water wastage. Insulating hot water storage tanks and their distribution pipework can help minimise heat up time for water, which reduces the amount of energy used and money required.

Other tips include fitting and checking time switches to ensure that water is heated only when needed; rationalising the system to reduce long distribution pipe runs, and providing cleaning staff with point-of-use water heaters for use during the holidays.


Around two-thirds of heat is lost through the building fabric in a typical school building, so making improvements to walls, floors and ceilings is important if savings are to be made.

The best way to keep on top of needed repairs is to compile a checklist to address where energy is lost in the building structure and appoint a member of staff to check the school regularly. This would include checking window panes and frames, skylights, roofs and skirting.

Any gaps found should be repaired straight away and draught stripping can be installed to windows and doors. Any doors which are unused could potentially be sealed shut to ensure that a draught is not entering the school and heat is not lost.

In addition to this, draught lobbies can be installed at frequently used entrances in order to reduce heating costs and draughts. They should be large enough to provide unrestricted access and enable one set of doors to be closed before the other is opened.

An example of this is Welsh primary school, Ysgol Gynradd Gymraes, which suffered from cold draughts through external doors at each end of the main corridor. The doors were regularly opened to allow pupils to come through to other classrooms and as a result of this draught, lobbies were put in place. The initial cost of the investment is expected to be paid back within four years.


School kitchens can consume a lot of energy as the equipment needs to be powered and water needs to be heated. However, there is still potential to make savings in this department without spoiling the quality of food for pupils.

Large amounts of power is needed to operate ovens and hobs because a large secondary school typically uses this equipment for more than 10 hours a week. In order to save energy and money ensure that ovens, grills, fryers and hobs are switched off immediately after use.

In addition to this, make sure that they are not turned on too soon before they are needed. Most catering equipment can reach its maximum temperature quickly, so label equipment with its preheat time to best understand when to switch equipment on.


To sum up, schools should ensure that there is an understanding of its energy use, identify where savings can be made, and seek specialist help where required. In addition to this, schools need to discuss energy efficiency,make the needed changes and measure the savings, and continue to manage the school’s energy use by enforcing necessary procedures.

Further Information: