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Designing Green: A look at school buildings

10:38:30 AM on 02/18/2010

It's hard to believe we are two months into 2010 and it’s almost March.

For Kawneer, March indicates school construction season is right around the corner. With schools at the top of my mind, I thought I would take some time to discuss a few things you should consider when designing schools. 

I recently read that schools are typically built to meet code and nothing more. This could be problematic for occupants, especially when proper ventilation and lighting are not taken into consideration. Cost is often cited as a reason that schools are designed to only meet code; however, I’ve also read that building a green school doesn’t necessarily cost more than a school built just to meet code.

So if building a high-performance school doesn't have to cost more than a conventionally built school, why not just make all schools green?

First, let’s define: What is a green school?

According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a “green school” is defined as a school building or facility that creates a healthy environment that is conducive to learning while saving energy, resources and money.

We want to build healthy learning environments that are energy efficient and that also combine good lighting, comfort, acoustics and air quality. Several studies have demonstrated that these additions directly benefit student health and performance.

But if we are to include these aspects in school buildings, what does that mean in terms of design?


Daylight can improve the overall performance of a building. It’s important to develop strategies to provide natural lighting. Skylights and large windows allow daylight to stream in, reducing energy costs and improving student concentration and performance.  Light shelves bounce sunlight deep into a room and provide even light distribution. Adjustable blinds and shades help reduce glare. Directional blinds stop direct sunbeams and bounce light deeper into space. An efficient lighting strategy, including natural daylighting, can provide proper levels of illumination and reduce energy costs. Studies have shown that lighting has a positive impact on productivity and well-being of students.

Natural ventilation

Clear indoor air quality can improve health. Comfortable indoor temperatures enhance productivity and keep students more alert. Fresher, cleaner air can be achieved with operable windows or ventilation systems that provide a constant supply of air.

Energy Efficiency

While daylighting and natural ventilation have a direct impact on student and faculty performance, energy efficiency has a direct impact on saving money. When building schools, consider using framing systems with a low U-value. The U-value measures the rate of heat loss (or how well a product prevents heat from escaping).  Thermal breaks should be specified in order to minimize heat transfer and condensation on the frames. And finally, try to incorporate features such as proper shading, insulated glass, and even solar panels.

Heath and Safety

Above all, green schools should deliver on health and safety. By providing adequate ventilation and keeping relative humidity below 60 percent, you can inhibit mold growth. This is important because the presence of mold can lead to serious health concerns, especially in children. Regional needs such as blast resistance and hurricane resistance should also be taken into consideration when selecting products.

Built right, green schools are productive learning environments, complete with ample natural light, high-quality acoustics and air that is safe to breathe. So, as you begin your next school project, make sure that you take all of these factors into consideration. After all, it can be easy being green.

To help you select products and systems for schools and other institutional projects visit the Kawneer's Institutional Solutions web page.

Let me know if you have anything to add regarding challenges associated with designing a "green school".

Best regards,




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