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Tips For Cutting Energy Costs In School Facilities

Tips For Cutting Energy Costs In School Facilities

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools are some of the most seriously impacted institutions. Many schools remain closed, and those that open are facing hundreds of empty seats as kids attend either part-time or via remote learning. Not only do schools have to cope with creating flexible, effective learning plans for distant students and providing a safe learning environment for those who attend in person, but they also have to do so while staring down budget cuts. Fortunately, there's one way that schools can decrease their outgoing expenses: cutting their energy costs.

Public and Private Schools Suffer from Budget Cuts

Schools of every stripe rely on state governments to provide funding. When the pandemic drastically raised the unemployment rate and left business unable to operate, that decreased the amount of tax revenue that states were able to bring in -- sometimes by as much as 30%. Lowered tax revenue translates into budget cuts, and schools all around the country have had to plan around serious budget cuts.

Lowering Energy Costs Helps Schools Make Ends Meet

Heating, cooling, and lighting a building as large as a school costs a lot of money. There are numerous ways that schools can reduce their expenses by paring down their power bills:

1. Undergo a (re)commissioning study. Before making changes to a school's energy consumption, it's a good idea to figure out exactly where and how to reduce expenses. In a commissioning study, an engineer observes a building to see how efficiently it operates, and make recommendations to improve efficiency and cut energy costs. Research shows that monitoring a school's energy systems can lead to as much as a 15% reduction in energy bills -- as much as $14,000 per year for an average school building.

2. Trade fluorescents for sunlight. Fluorescent lighting is inexpensive, but it still costs money. Schools can take advantage of natural lighting by installing blinds, adding skylights, and turning the lights off. While fluorescent lighting can be harsh and distracting, natural sunlight help people relax and focus and improves mood. If natural light isn't an option, consider LED bulbs. Modern LEDs allow lighting in different color temperatures, ranging from the cool of a fluorescent bulb to the warm gold of sunlight. They're also inexpensive to operate and last for a very long time.

3. Seal off unused areas. For schools with reduced class sizes, consider closing off unused classrooms. Block off vents to keep cooled air out of unoccupied rooms. This will keep air conditioning where it's most needed, and keep the HVAC system from consuming more power than is necessary.

4. Perform regular HVAC maintenance. It's easy to underestimate the amount of power an inefficient heating or cooling system can waste. An economizer can help save power by drawing in cool air, but can end up adding to the power bill if the damper linkage jams or breaks. Dirty condenser coils cut an air conditioner's cooling capacity, wasting energy as it struggles to keep the building cool. Dirty filters and dust-choked ducts keep air from circulating where it needs to go. Regular HVAC maintenance keeps heating and cooling systems running efficiently and saves money in the long run. If a school's cooling system is more than 15 years old, it might be time to consider a replacement. Even with regular maintenance, old air conditioning systems consume up to 20% more energy than newer ones. Air conditioning is the second largest energy sink in commercial buildings, and the most efficient air conditioning systems on the market are 52% more efficient than the federal standard.

5. Set up sensors. Automated sensors can turn the power on to occupied rooms, and shut it off as soon as they're empty. In areas like bathrooms, lights are often left on for safety and convenience. With a motion sensor, there's no reason to keep the room lit when it isn't in use -- they can turn on and off as needed, saving energy.

6. Swap out old appliances. While the old adage says, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," there are a lot of ways for appliances to fail before they break. Older refrigerators and microwaves consume far more power than energy-efficient models. Many newer appliances (like convection ovens) also produce healthier foods than conventional fryers at a fraction of the energy cost.

7. Don't forget the water bill. Low-flow faucets and showerheads don't just save water, they also save the power needed to heat that water. It's also a good idea to install sensors that automatically shut off sinks and showers after a specific period of time, to encourage students to reduce water use. Many schools already suffer from underfunding, and it can be hard to figure out how to reduce costs more than they already do. By consulting an energy expert and making a few changes to lighting, water, and HVAC usage, schools can cut their energy costs and better cope with COVID-19-related budget cuts.

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