Green Schools and Thermal Camera:5 Secrets to Be More Energy Efficient This Winter

In a way, a thermal camera may be the last thing on your mind when you talk about learning tools. It’s hard to imagine how an infrared device can help bring about better education for our kids. But the latest rounds of talks on climate change in Glasglow, U.K. aptly dubbed COP26 Summit should give us a clue. Without a shadow of a doubt, a better learning environment churns out far more educated students.

From the onset, getting a grip on our educational reality should do us a favor. While America stands heads higher than most countries in terms of economic power, its educational system is found wanting. A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows millennials in America’s workforce are tied for last in Math and problem-solving tests compared to millennials of the rest of the industrialized nations. In short, our workforce is the worst-educated in the industrialized world.

And such decadence can also be seen in the energy efficiency of our school buildings. Built decades ago, the majority of our school buildings were not designed to stand as “green” as can be. Today, American schools are among the biggest energy wasters in the public sector. Reason enough why making the most of a thermal camera is most opportune this winter. Read on.

The Merits of Green Schools

Indeed, it’s easy to lose sight of the merits of energy efficiency in our educational institutions. After all, in the minds of many, there’s a disconnect between having a green school and quality education. But the numbers cannot be ignored.

Table 1: Energy Smart Schools Report on Energy Consumption in K-12 schools

You can view the full report here. This means that energy expenditure is massive. As the data show it ranks second only to a school’s personnel costs.

There are many ways to make your school greener. For many American schools, utility cost savings were generated from various sources. Some of these are:

  • Energy-efficient HVAC
  • Energy-efficient lighting
  • Daylight strategies
  • Energy-efficient water fixtures

At the heart of it all is the school building itself. What has become apparent is that if schools were constructed or renovated to follow basic energy efficiency protocols, the energy savings would be humongous. As the table above shows it has the potential of reaching up to $20 billion over 10 years. That amount is definitely no joke.

Best Overall Savings

Naturally, school administrators and school boards would want to look at the bottom line. Is the pursuit of energy efficiency worth investing time, effort, and money? What’s increasingly clear over time is green schools have resulted in tremendous savings.

A 2006 report by Capital E Consulting entitled Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits showed green schools utilized 32% less water and 33% less energy compared to schools that had been constructed traditionally. That amounts to substantial savings over time. Take note that the average life cycle of schools is 42 years.

And such savings have been consistent over time. A 2011 study of the schools in Toronto revealed that green LEED-certified schools achieved 28% lower energy expenditure compared to conventional old schools.

So the million-dollar question is does it pay to transform traditional schools into green schools? And how about constructing new green ones? A quick look at recent school builds should be telling.

School District Nature of Activity Green Savings
Virginia Beach City Schools (Virginia) New construction of 9 LEED-certified schools Construction costs the district between 8 to 34% less compared to traditional regional costs
River Crest Elementary School (Wisconsin) New construction of a LEED Gold school Construction costs the district 29% less compared to traditional regional costs
Fossil Ridge High School (Colorado) New construction of a LEED-certified school Was built for $128 per square foot (the least expensive school in the whole district)

Still, there are many who point out that the initial cost of constructing a green school is higher than building a traditional one. A 2013 Pentagon report should douse those flames of doubt. While the research study admits to the possibility of green buildings attaining 0 to 8% higher costs compared to traditional buildings, the energy costs over the life of the structures are more than enough to cover the discrepancy.

Indeed, the upfront increase in cost that may happen when constructing a green building is far outweighed by the tremendous savings one gets in the use of water and energy over time. Said reduction in energy costs in energy-efficient buildings could go as high as 30% compared to conventional structures.

Best for the Student

School districts that prioritize building and operating green buildings are bound to achieve greater savings beyond the usual energy and water savings. It can also boil down to other costs.

A study done by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory showed that green buildings had as much as 20% fewer maintenance costs when compared to your usual commercial structures.

And lest we forget, the students play a central role in green schools. It may sound like a long shot. But green schools encourage students to attend school.

  • Studies show green schools have lesser cases of student absenteeism.
  • Better IAQ (indoor air quality) reduces a school district’s exposure to lawsuits and remediation (EPA study)

Thus, as green buildings provide more energy-efficient learning institutions, the advantages to the students also increase. They want to be at school more. Meaning, such schools attract young learners to education far better than conventional ones.

In this sense, green schools are therefore largely beneficial for the community as a whole. It’s a win-win scenario every educator should pursue. What remains to be seen now is making it all happen. 

man electrical technician with switchboard

Ways Thermal Camera Can Green Your School This Winter

Energy efficiency affects us all in the long run. While the consequences may not be as apparent as we want them to be, choosing green schools over conventional ones can have a ripple effect that lasts for generations to come.

It’s all about doing more with less energy. Take for instance the recent trend by chefs worldwide to ditch the ever-so-popular avocado. Thanks to a team of experts, the Instagram-famous fruit has been found to have a large carbon footprint.

An avocado requires as many as 320 liters of water each to be worth the table.

Partaking in avocado, therefore, means you’re condoning the devastation of the planet. The same holds true for conventional schools. With their massive carbon footprint, such institutions not only do the students and faculty a huge disservice but also contribute to Earth’s sustainability woes.

And this is where a thermal camera can come to the rescue. The infrared device can reveal the energy signatures of a school — betraying possible energy discrepancies in the process.

Additionally, winter poses a most opportune time to find energy vampires in a building. The reason for this is the greater difference. As the gap between the temperature inside a school and outside grows, the ability of a thermal camera to detect energy discrepancies is more pronounced. On the other hand, if temperatures outside and inside are almost similar, a thermal imaging device won’t be as impressive.

Winter, therefore, is spot on when detecting energy losses in a school building. During the sweater weather, when the contrast of the cozy temperature indoors and freezing weather outside is huge, heat loss appears in a flurry of brilliant colors on a thermal camera’s screen.

Below are 5 ways to make the most of the technology in your pursuit of a green school.



Zero in on Roof and Heat Loss

Your school’s roof protects you from the element. In that sense, it bears a huge responsibility that over time weakens the structure. Think of extreme weather, heavy rains and strong winds, and everything and anything that falls on your roof (e.g., snow, hail).

Worse, moisture can weaken the roof. When leaks start to appear in your overhead umbrella, you are experiencing heat loss. As you try to keep all the warmth inside your institution, heat escapes leaving you with a far greater monthly energy bill than needed. That’s because your HVAC will have to work double-time to meet your growing needs.

Take note that heat travels up. Thermodynamics dictates that heat travel to cooler regions which should mean the upper region of your infrastructure. Such a “stack effect” translates to heat escaping through the roof if air leaks are present.

It’s important, therefore, for insulation to be rock solid for the upper corners of your building. When done right, insulation prevents heat from escaping upwards. If not, heat escapes via the roof via the air gaps in the attic space.

Not if a thermal camera can’t help it, of course, With thermal imaging, you can spot such eyebrow-raising heat transfer — especially true during the winter season. As temperatures indoors are warmer, the temperature difference can easily be detected via an infrared device.

Study shows as much as 40% of heat loss in a building happens through the roof. Imagine how much energy savings you’d get if you plug those holes.

Interestingly, there are green ways to plug air leaks in roofs and the inner spaces of your school (e.g., walls). The most common ones are:

  • Spray foam
  • Cotton insulation
  • Aerogel
  • Polystyrene insulation
Here’s a nifty guide to energy leaks you can max on.


Fix Plumbing

The presence of water is hard to track. It simply escapes our eyes. However, a thermal camera can easily identify the heat signature of water or of moisture. In these instances, the cooler temperature of the water would stand out in its surrounding environment.

Thus, an infrared camera isn’t only useful to track heat loss. It can also be used to zero in on water infiltration. Thus, if the basement of your school is always damp that may be because of a water leak or from not-so-apparent water runoff.

By using a thermal imager, you are given a timely lead as to the presence of water. You can then have experts start a more thorough investigation from there. And get your drive to be green in terms of water efficiency going.



Fix HVAC Woes

During the sweater months, HVAC represents up to 42% of a building’s monthly energy use on average, the U.S. Department of Energy details. That means ensuring your heating and airconditioning systems are working as efficiently as can would reduce your overall monthly bill drastically.

Right from the get-go, proper installation of your HVAC systems is key. And this is where a thermal camera can help you. A quick scan using the infrared device will reveal the health (or lack of it) of these systems.

Remember that before these electrical devices fail, heat is bound to build up. A thermal camera can therefore check for traces of overheating. Doing so can pinpoint worn belts and worn motors.

Additionally, hot circuits betray the presence of an electrical short. More importantly, it can alert you of any abnormalities in the system. In short, it assures you your HVAC is working fine. Or is bound to fail.



Electrical Inspection

Electrical integrity is a must for any school. And that cannot happen without proper electrical maintenance. The problem is even more pronounced during the winter months.

As we seek to heat ourselves more and more and shield ourselves from the cold, we tend to overload the system. Many school fires happen during the winter months because of this.

Below are 5 most common causes of electrical fires:

  • Faulty outlets and appliances
  • Space heaters
  • Light fixtures
  • Extension cords
  • Wiring
The sweater months are a time of a lot of merrymaking. With Christmas and the yuletide season, electrical decorations (e.g., Christmas lights) can add an undue burden to your electrical system.

But with a thermal camera, you can diagnose your school’s electrical system giving your students a safer place to learn in the process. Some of the ways the infrared device can help you are:

  • Locate loose or hot electrical connections
  • Zero in on overloaded circuits, wires, and motors
With an impending failure, the electrical circuit is bound to heat up. That’s due to the increased resistance. The good news is regular thermal checks can prevent electrical disasters such as fires to happen. The device should be able to warn you before your electrical system fail.


Inspect Your Building Envelope

You can check the overall integrity of your school building with a thermal camera. That allows you to factor in a non-invasive method to check on the condition of your educational institution.

A thermal camera does this by:

  • Zeroing in on cracks
  • 5) Locating trapped moisture in insulation (roofs, walls)
  • Zero in on thermal bridges
  • Detect failures in construction
  • Zero in on heating disruptions
Again, it must be understood that winter plays a huge role in assuring a thermal inspection is largely viable. Simply put, the difference between outdoor and indoor temperatures matters. It is why observing the best hour where temperature differences are at their height to factor a thermal inspection is wise.

That is what winter puts on the table. The sweater season is most strategic in ensuring your school stays green as possible. And your students are taken care of. All because you have a nifty thermal camera in hand.

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