November 15, 2023

With so many competing priorities for time and money, energy efficiency for schools and universities can easily fall by the wayside.

Fortunately, saving energy doesn’t have to be a big lift. With buildings in near-constant use and budgets relatively consistent year after year, savings are easy to predict and achieve. Those savings free up cash flow that can be used for other initiatives.

Energy efficiency isn’t solely the responsibility of facilities staff anymore, either. Students are increasingly interested in saving energy as a career path or to reduce their carbon footprints. Many schools and universities now have green teams or environmental studies groups looking to get involved in energy conservation efforts.

The bottom line for schools and universities: look for quick efficiency wins and cultivate a team of people that can help carry out energy-saving measures and activities. Below, we share three ways to save money and energy.

Lighting: Prioritize LEDs in high-use spaces

Schools and universities are bustling epicenters of activity between classes, extracurricular activities, and maintenance work. Facilities are often used seven days a week, from early morning until late at night.

“It’s not unusual to see lights on at 11 p.m. in a school building,” said Efficiency Smart energy consultant Tim Stearns. “Typically, the first one in is the head custodian at 5:30 a.m., and the lights don’t get shut off until late at night by the third shift custodial crew.”

To support all this activity, buildings must be reliably well-lit. However, not all lighting is created equal. Many buildings, even those built more recently, use fluorescent lighting. Fluorescent bulbs use more energy than LEDs and burn out more quickly, so staff spend more time purchasing and replacing bulbs, and electricity bills are higher.

Fortunately, fluorescents can easily be upgraded to tube LEDs without installing new fixtures. Doing so in a school setting can deliver a 50 percent reduction in energy use and significant cost savings, especially now that LED technology is more affordable. Stearns suggests upgrading lights in the spaces that get the most use first. Then, work your way through the remainder of the building.

Learn more about commercial lighting.

 HVAC: Make a plan for equipment failure

Maintenance is a simple step to keep HVAC equipment running more smoothly and efficiently.

Make sure that the team in charge of heating and cooling — whether that’s the facilities manager or even the business manager —has a process in place to perform and document regular maintenance activities, including swapping out filters and cleaning vents.

“Adopting a consistent maintenance plan for heating and cooling equipment can increase its longevity by years,” said Stearns.

Eventually, old equipment will fail and will need to be replaced. This is the one chance every decade or two that schools have to replace their existing equipment. There is almost always a standard-efficiency version and a high-efficiency version available that will meet your needs. Based on the lifetime costs to operate, the high-efficiency version is almost always the more cost-effective choice.

Contact your contractor and Efficiency Smart for help with selecting an energy-efficient heating and cooling replacement system that will save the school money over time. Include the equipment and installation costs in a capital needs plan and approve the plan with whoever oversees the school’s budget. Taking these steps in advance reduces the chance that the school gets stuck with whatever replacement equipment your vendor has on hand when equipment fails, which is often a standard efficiency option which costs more to operate.  

Six steps for your commercial HVAC system

Behavior: Get students, teachers, and staff involved

Schools are a great place to employ a behavior campaign to reduce energy use. As teachers create lesson plans, they are well-positioned to educate students about the importance of saving energy at school. Select groups of students can also share the knowledge they gain with the rest of the student body.

Inspire staff and teachers to get creative. Art students can create posters urging people to turn off lights and equipment. Bring different groups of people together to brainstorm ways to make energy efficiency a part of your school’s culture.

For other occupants, such as those renting or using the space during community events, consider placing wall stickers near light switches or heavily used equipment to serve as a reminder to shut it off before they leave.

Finally, consider performing walkthroughs with department managers to find energy conservation measures that can be added to daily and seasonal task checklists. For example, kitchen employees can turn off ovens when not in use or empty walk-ins for the summer before turning off the refrigeration entirely.

Questions? Reach out.

Efficiency Smart helps schools and universities identify and prioritize energy efficiency upgrades based on their administrative goals. We also provide rebates and technical guidance to help you complete projects.

For questions or to get started, contact your local account manager or our customer service team at (877) 889-3777 or [email protected].