Healthy Schools: Energy Conservation

A Healthy School considers the health of the global environment, as well as the immediate school environment. Reducing energy use reduces pollution and conserves natural resources.


  • Current energy modeling indicates school districts could save up to 50 percent in energy costs by incorporating energy-saving measures – daylighting, energy controls and upgrades in electrical lighting, HVAC systems and the building envelope – into the design and renovation of school buildings.
  • The 118,000 public and private K-12 schools in the nation are spending about $6 billion annually on energy costs – 25 percent to 30 percent more than they need to. That money could be used to hire 30,000 new teachers or purchase 40 million new textbooks each year.


  • Lighting – The Broward County School District in Florida replaced 40-watt incandescent light bulbs in their EXIT signs with 3-watt LED bulbs saving $22.68 per bulb per year, resulting in annual savings of $100,000.
  • Retrofitting – Ohio’s Springfield Local School District retrofitted 521,000 square feet of school building space and reduced its energy costs by 25 percent, saving the district $234,000 each year.
  • Air Quality – Wausau West High School in Wisconsin uses 100 percent outdoor air for heating and cooling, which has improved the school’s indoor air quality and cut the school’s natural gas costs in half, saving $100,000 annually.
  • Integrated Design – The Dalles School in Oregon, which opened in September 2002, was designed to use 50 percent less energy than traditionally built schools. The 97,000 square-foot school incorporates geothermal heating and cooling with a heat recovery system, an adjustable fresh air ventilation system and natural lighting. The use of horizontal sunscreens, light shelves and sensors, combined with solar tubes in each classroom, add up to substantial energy savings.
  • Benchmarking – By benchmarking the 19 buildings in MN’s ISD 622, staff got a clear indication of where to first focus attention.  After about one year of work concentrating on their least performing buildings one of those buildings yielded 31 percent energy savings. The average improvement was 11 percent, made possible by focusing efforts on the buildings with the greatest opportunities for cost effective energy savings.   In 2005, the School District’s energy cost avoidance was a quarter of a million dollars.
  • Reflective “Cool” Roofs – A 100,000 square-foot building outfitted with a reflective cool roof in Austin, Texas, is projected to save $65,000 in energy costs over the life of the roof, according to a study by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Renewable Energy Systems – The nation’s energy needs are expected to grow by 33 percent during the next 20 year. Renewable energy sources not only release less pollutants into the environment than traditional energy sources, but they save school districts money in the long term while also serving as valuable teaching tools for students and faculty. Ground source heat pumps can provide a 20 percent to 50 percent energy cost savings over traditional heating and cooling systems.


Six Steps to a Successful Energy Program

Even the simplest program designed to save energy can be effective and often it’s only a matter of getting people to change wasteful habits. Getting your school district to start saving energy and money may be as simple as putting in writing a few logical energy guidelines.

1. Establish an energy tracking system & appoint a person to maintain.
2. Benchmark past energy performance of all buildings.*
3. Track monthly and yearly energy and electrical power demand and provide monthly reports.
4. Build school board and top level administrative support and develop a supporting policy.
5. Provide training for maintenance and operations staff.
6. Integrate energy education with energy management.



Energy Star for K-12 School Districts – The US Environmental Protection Agency’s website to aide schools with energy issues. Includes curriculum and funding sources. Be sure to check out their Energy Performance Benchmarking Tool– The free, on-line tool is password protected, and rates schools on a scale of 1 to 100.

Energy Smart Schools – US Department of Energy Rebuild America Program – Provides information on energy efficient solutions for school bus transportation, conducting successful building projects and teaching about energy, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

Schools for Energy Efficiency –SEE is a self-implemented program in which each district works at their own pace initiating the SEE systemized plan of operational and behavioral energy efficient strategies.

School Building Survey The Need Project (pdf, 3pgs) – A basic survey to identify potential weaknesses in your school’s current energy program.

Alliance to Save Energy Green Schools Program – The Alliance’s Green Schools Program engages students in creating energy-saving activities in their schools, using hands-on, real-world projects. Through basic changes in the operations, maintenance, and individual behavior, the Green Schools program reduces energy use by an average of 5-15 percent. In addition, Green Schools encourages students to apply the lessons of energy-efficiency message in their homes and communities.  Includes curriculum. Check out their guide, School Operations and Maintenance: Best Practices for Controlling Energy Costs – (pdf, 132pp)

Designing for Shade and Energy Conservation – EcoSchool’s School Ground Greening Guide (pdf, 90pp) – Outlines a five-step process through which you can transform your school grounds. EcoSchools also provides information about Energy Systems on School Grounds

Energy Savings in School Buildings – National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities – Very extensive resource list.

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