Energy efficient surroundings inspire learning

With energy policy and energy demand reduction regularly featuring in the news and the Department of Energy and Climate Change launching its Energy Efficiency Mission, building performance is of paramount importance. Teaching future generations to be environmentally aware is an ever-growing benefit of the curriculum, but if children can be taught in a safe and energy efficient building then that provides a practical example too.

New or refurbished school buildings came to a near halt in 2010 after the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) investment programme worth £55,000m over 20 years. However, after Chancellor of the Exchequer’s autumn financial statement 2012, an additional £1,000m became available alongside the £2,000m Priority School Building Programme (PSBP).

Designing in energy
Schools remain a key business priority for the building services sector. Not only are there huge opportunities for environmental and financial benefits of energy efficient buildings, but recent studies, including the James Review on the procurement of education buildings, have demonstrated the direct link between the quality of school buildings and academic attainment. The following case study, of the Bushbury Hill Primary School in Wolverhampton, illustrates some of the benefits of a well-designed educational building.

Children attending the school have the benefit of a well-engineered exemplar of building performance as a learning environment. Designed by Architype and E3 Consulting Engineers, the school recently won the prestigious Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) Building Performance Award 2013 for the New Build Project of the Year (Value up to £5m). Educational buildings need to meet public needs whilst being energy efficient as so many older schools leave much to be desired when it comes to meeting energy efficient targets.

Created to celebrate exemplars of building performance by measuring rigorously collected data, the Awards show how good engineering can directly affect the amount of energy used in a building and reduction of emissions while taking into account the occupants’ experiences at the same time.

Building Materials
The brief of this project was to design a standard one-form-entry school with a 30-place nursery and facilities for a local multi-agency support team.

From using locally sourced and organic building materials to the user-friendly advice and instructions for heating and cooling the building, the school has been designed to fit brief, budget and reduce energy bills.

Products have been specified with the environment in mind as the brick cladding was sourced locally and recycled tyre barrier matting was used for floor E 
F finish. In addition, organic and non-toxic paints and stains were used to prevent harmful chemicals in this environment.

Occupant Comfort
The considered approach to the air flow helps circulate warm and cool air around the building. Orientation of the building makes full use of winter sun without overheating and all of this contributes to the children and staff’s well-being within the building. This all contributes to occupant comfort which can help boost productivity.

The personal comfort of the teachers, staff and children was taken into account, with users able to control their own room temperature. Far from the humid or cold classrooms of some other schools, Architype and E3 incorporated the Passivhaus system into their design and heating system along with natural ventilation. Passivhaus is a system in which the building uses natural air flow to benefit the heating and cooling of the building therefore reducing the need to constantly use energy wasting and expensive air conditioning. 

Alongside this the occupants were provided with easy to read instructions detailing what steps can be made to alter the temperature in summer and winter. This is particularly important for schools as fresh air at a comfortable temperature reduces distractions from students becoming ‘hot and bothered’ and therefore aids concentration. The school was designed with minimal East and West‑facing glazing to protect against overheating; its longitudinal elevation faces 7 degrees from South to take advantage of the winter sun.

In such a heavily occupied building, overheating can become a problem, so roof overhangs and Brise Soleil protect Bushbury Hill from overheating in the summer months, along with reducing the need for artificial light in the day.

An air tightness level 20 times better than Building Regulations recommend was achieved by running workshops with the designers to develop robust details, helping the contractor, Thomas Vale, to reach this outcome.

Energy Efficiency
Schools often have high energy bills with all of the units needed to heat, cool, and run computers and interactive whiteboards, artificially light classrooms and catering facilities for the children. Through using clear engineering, communication between the engineers, architects and the end users, this building uses approximately 80 per cent less energy than Building Regulations recommend. The runaround coil heat recovery system in the kitchen is 50 per cent more energy efficient and is accompanied by heat induction equipment instead of gas so that the room is less likely to overheat. Creating a building with such thought out heating processes from the outset means the school could be produced with a local authority budget but will continue to conserve energy and money because of its performance capabilities.

Rather than depending on more funding for low-carbon and energy efficient measures, the architects and engineers used a high degree of innovation to suit the brief and budget. The CIBSE Building Performance Awards Judges commented: “The winner demonstrated much lower energy demand for the building, meeting challenging design standards and delivering low-metered energy use. Good energy performance without green bling.”

Inspire a generation
Students and teachers were presented to on behalf of Architype and E3 Engineers in order to best inform them on running the building, how Passivhaus works and how to make any alterations to the temperature. This is one group of children that will be aware of how their surroundings affect them and how they can adapt their surroundings with minimal harm to the environment.
At a time when the energy capacity gap is reaching a critical point, it is particularly important in public sector buildings where the bills are paid for by the State, to reduce energy use in public sector buildings. With almost 50 per cent of our energy being used by buildings in the UK, and with around 20 per cent of that being needlessly wasted, building performance can create much-needed savings. 

Good engineering is not only important because it can directly influence occupant comfort and energy management. However, in the next four years it is projected that there will be a skills gap of 96,300 engineers and scientists. Hopefully more projects like this can inspire people to choose engineering as a valuable career.

CIBSE is passionate about building performance and encourages new engineers through its Young Engineers Network, the Young Engineer Awards and access to the CIBSE Knowledge Portal. Through promoting building performance and continuing to educate people about the positive effects it can have, CIBSE hopes that buildings like this will inspire the uptake of engineering and help to change the behaviour of energy use.

Further information