In the United States, K–12 school buildings spend more than $8 billion each year on energy—more than they spend on computers and textbooks combined [i]. Most occupied older buildings demonstrate poor operational performance—for instance, more than 30 percent of schools were built before 1960, and 53 percent of public schools need to spend money on repairs, renovations, and modernization to ensure that the schools’ onsite buildings are in good overall condition. And among public schools with permanent buildings, the environmental factors in the permanent buildings have been rated as unsatisfactory or very unsatisfactory in 5 percent to 17 percent of them. [ii]. On the other hand, indoor environment quality (IEQ) is one of the core issues addressed in the majority of sustainable building certification and design guidelines. Children spend a significant amount of time indoors, in a school environment. And poor IEA can lead to sickness and absenteeism from school and eventually cause a decrease in student performance [iii]. Different building types and their IEQ characteristics can be partly attributed to building age and construction materials. [iv]
Improving the energy performance of school buildings could result in the direct benefit of reduced utility costs, and improving the indoor quality could improve the students’ learning environment. Research also suggests that aging school facilities and inefficient equipment have a detrimental effect on academic performance that can be reversed when schools are upgraded. [v] Several studies have linked better lighting, thermal comfort, and air quality to higher test scores. [[vi] [vii] [viii]] Another benefit of improving the energy efficiency of education buildings is the potential increase in market value through recognition of green building practice and labeling, such as that of a LEED or net zero energy building. In addition, because of their educational function, high-performance or energy-efficient buildings are particularly valuable for institution clients and local government. More and more high-performance buildings, net zero energy buildings, and positive energy buildings serve as living laboratories for educational purposes. Currently, educational/institutional buildings represent the largest portion of NZE (net zero energy) projects. Educational buildings comprise 36 percent of net zero buildings according to a 2014 National New Building Institute report. Of the 58 net zero energy educational buildings, 32 are used for kindergarten through grade 12 (K–12), 21 for higher education, and 5 for general education. [ix]
Finally, because educational buildings account for the third largest amount of building floor space in the United States, super energy-efficient educational buildings could provide other societal and economic benefits beyond the direct energy cost savings for three reasons: 1) educational buildings offer high visibility that can influence community members and the next generation of citizens, 2) success stories of the use of public funds that returns lower operating costs and healthier student learning environments provide documentation that can be used by others, and 3) this sector offers national and regional forums and associations to facilitate the transfer of best design and operational practices.
[i] Environment Protection Agency, Energy Efficiency Programs in K–12 Schools: A Guide to Developing and Implementing Greenhouse Gas Reduction Programs, 2011.
[ii] Department of Education. U.S. Condition of America’s Public School Facilities: 2012–13. 2014
[iii] Daisey, Joan M., William J. Angell, and Michael G. Apte. “Indoor air quality, ventilation and health symptoms in schools: an analysis of existing information.” Indoor air 13, no. 1 (2003): 53–64.
[iv] Turunen, Mari, Oluyemi Toyinbo, Tuula Putus, Aino Nevalainen, Richard Shaughnessy, and Ulla Haverinen-Shaughnessy. “Indoor environmental quality in school buildings, and the health and wellbeing of students." International journal of hygiene and environmental health 217, no. 7 (2014): 733–739.
[v] Schneider, Mark. “Do School Facilities Affect Academic Outcomes?” National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, 2002.
[vi] Chan, T. The impact of school building age on pupil achievement. Greenville, S.C.: Office of School Facilities Planning, Greenville School District. 1979.
[vii] Earthman, G. I., and L. Lemasters. Where children learn: A discussion of how a facility affects learning. Paper presented at the annual meeting of Virginia Educational Facility Planners. Blacksburg, Va., February 1998.
[viii] Phillips, R. Educational facility age and the academic achievement of upper elementary school students. D. Ed. diss., University of Georgia.1997
[ix] National New building institute. 2014 Getting to Zero Status Updates: A look at the projects, policies and programs driving zero net energy performance in commercial buildings. 2014