Designing sustainable school buildings for the future

Riverside Primary Academy Improvement Works
Stanton Vale Special School – Roof Refurbishment & Solar Installation

Designing sustainable school buildings for the future

If we are going to meet our goals for the future, the buildings we live, work and learn in need to change. With our net zero aspirations in mind, the environmental impact of all new school buildings must be at the top of the agenda. 

As well as boosting the green credentials of our schools, there’s a growing awareness of the impact school buildings can have on student health and wellbeing, particularly among younger age groups. That means we can also expect to see a greater focus on the actual design of the learning environment, with inspiring, comfortable and safe spaces that are better for teaching and learning.

The appetite for change

The desire for change is clear across schools, and that’s largely driven by the students themselves. Pupils are committed to sustainability challenges, from recycling and producing less waste to reducing their carbon footprint. They want to see their outlook reflected in their learning environments, and the benefits for schools that embrace that challenge are profound. 

The benefits of designing more sustainable school buildings include reduced energy bills, reduced water waste, improvements in children’s respiratory health, longer-lasting buildings and better educational outcomes.

Key design principles for sustainable school buildings

Here are six principles for designing human-conscious and sustainable school buildings that are fit for the future of education. 

1. Create more adaptable classrooms

With budgets squeezed, the challenge for many schools is finding ways to do more with less. One way to do that is by creating more flexible learning spaces. Classrooms, sports halls, libraries, cafeterias and even hallways are being designed to support a greater variety of uses and allow students to switch seamlessly between solo, group and full-class activities. 

Folding walls, modular furniture and movable storage cabinets allow you to incorporate various room designs in a single space. As well as being cheaper, it’s also more eco-friendly to create adaptable spaces that you can use in multiple ways.

2. Embrace energy-efficient resources

We’re already seeing the UK’s first net zero schools start to open, but if net zero is beyond your reach across your estate, you should still prioritise energy efficiency when designing or refurbishing buildings. You can reduce emissions and save money by:

  • Using energy-efficient building materials
  • Switching to renewable energy like solar power
  • Installing energy-efficient heating systems
  • Optimising window size and location
  • Installing smart lights in classrooms and offices 
  • Placing thermostats in low occupancy areas

3. Prioritise indoor air quality

Good indoor air quality in schools can improve student health, alertness, performance and their ability to concentrate, yet most school buildings have only basic natural ventilation systems that are typically inadequate for their needs. This is a big concern in London, where children are almost four times more likely to go to school in an area where air pollution exceeds the World Health Organisation limit.  

To protect students in new school buildings, every material you use should be toxin and chemical free. You can also improve air quality by installing a ventilation system and air purifiers, using weather stripping and growing plants that remove toxins. Strategically placing windows and vents can also enhance natural ventilation and reduce the need for air conditioning.

3. Choose sustainable building materials

Sustainable building materials are now cheaper and more accessible than ever before. They are also attractive and forward-thinking and can turn your buildings into a competitive advantage for your school. 

Sustainable building materials can include recycled or reclaimed materials and rapidly renewable materials like bamboo and cork. As well as being better for the planet, many of these sustainable materials have natural advantages. For example, the wear resistance of cork makes it an excellent choice for floor tiles. It also has excellent shock and noise absorption qualities, making it ideal for school subflooring. 

4. Install water conservation systems   

You can reduce your usage and bills by installing water conservation solutions in your new buildings. Dual-flush toilets and low-flow sinks can put a big dent in your water requirements while installing rainwater harvesting systems can use one natural resource we have an awful lot of for flushing toilets and irrigation.

5. Incorporate more natural light 

Natural light can have a positive impact on your energy bills, learning outcomes and carbon emissions. When designing sustainable buildings, look for ways to incorporate more and bigger windows, such as skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows. For example, pitched roofs with north-facing roof lights can let light pour in while limiting the heating effect of direct sunlight. That can reduce the use of electrical lighting and cooling systems.

Make sustainability a priority

At Eddisons Education, we develop state-of-the-art, sustainable facilities for UK schools, colleges and academies. Find out more about our building services or get in touch to discuss your project with our team. 

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