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Finding Dollars Within Your Existing School District Budget to Re-Invest into Facilities.

Logo By: Ryan Terry, rterry@navitas.us.com

When looking for ways for your school district to operate more efficiently, the “rock” to turn over with the greatest amount of savings is most likely energy management.  All around us, embedded in every building is a vast, untapped energy resource: efficiency.  Many times, this resource is hidden, ignored, or misunderstood by school districts that are sitting on the potential.

Today, school districts in the United States spend about $8 billion annually on energy costs alone, which is more than the cost of textbooks and computers combined. When a school district receives the utility bills, they are sent to Accounts Payable for processing. Often, there isn’t enough time to take a hard look to see where the school district could be saving money.

Every year, K-12 facilities waste millions of dollars in excess energy consumption.  Those dollars may take the form of lost heat through walls, windows, doors, and roofs.  Every dollar used to pay an unnecessary high energy bill could be put to a much greater purpose – educating students

By being intentional about cutting utility costs, school districts can easily reap savings that can be used to help fund greater needs within the district.  Excess funds that districts are sending to the local utility companies can either be invested back into the facilities to address deferred maintenance issues, or possibly as a new source of funding for other pressing instructional needs. 

Top Energy Wasters

Some of the top energy wasters include:

  • Inefficient Energy Managements Systems – a poorly configured energy management system can waste 20% - 25% of your gas and electricity dollars.
  • Lack of Central Plant Optimization – The typical workhorses of your heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning system are boilers, chillers, pumps, and cooling towers. If these systems are not properly optimized, they can be very costly to operate. 
  • Postponed Preventive Maintenance – Even the most routine maintenance, like changing filters, can greatly enhance the energy efficiency of a building system.
  • Inefficient Lighting Systems – Lighting systems have made tremendous advances in technology and efficiency in recent years. Systems with built-in occupancy control, daylight sensors, and automatic dimming are cost-efficient ways to reduce electricity consumption and demand. 
  • Wasteful Boiler Systems – Boilers are sized to meet the greatest potential demand on the system. Unfortunately, this means that for 90% of the year they are oversized.
  • Outdated Plumbing Fixtures – K-12 facilities are large consumers of water. Installing water conserving plumbing fixtures can result in significant savings.

Over the years of conducting energy audits, we have encountered a lot of strange things that leave us scratching our heads.  Some of the time, these items were known to school administrators and facility directors, but the district lacked funds to address them.  Other times, these items were unknown and had been issues for years! 

Below are a few of those “head scratcher” situations. Are any of these occurring in your buildings? What other problems might be lurking and causing issues with your utility bill?

  • Building controls with setback temperatures for the evening that were swapped between summer and winter set points. This meant that during the winter the building was heated to 80°F at night and during the summer it was cooled to 65°F at night.
  • Heating/cooling equipment that was being maintained to exactly 70° This meant the units had to constantly swap between heating and cooling to maintain the temperature at exactly 70°F all year.
  • A snow melt system that was left on during the summer because a breaker was mistakenly switched on.
  • Underground steam piping that leaked so bad that the snow melted and would not build up on the ground above it.
  • A fountain in front of a building that had a water overflow sensor malfunction that caused the fountain to constantly drain and fill for an entire summer.
  • Windows that had air gaps between the window and wall big enough to put your finger through.
  • Underground hot water piping that had such significant leaks it meant continuous refilling and heating of the hot water tanks.
  • Missing filters in the air handlers of a science lab that caused the need for coil replacements because they were being clogged.

Start Saving Money Now

The money to make the appropriate modifications is already available in your current budget, if you are willing to find it. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Conducting an energy audit of your school facilities will help you will find inefficient systems, infrastructure, and equipment that is costly to operate. By gaining a deep understanding of how these systems work, how people interact with them, and keeping the focus on improving performance great savings can be achieved.
  • Providing proper equipment training to your maintenance staff will often pay for itself. When maintenance staff know how and when to provide maintenance and modifications building equipment and the energy management system, it results in energy savings.
  • Many times, the cost to upgrade HVAC systems, lighting, windows and roofs, can be paid for over time with the saving generated in your monthly utility bills.
  • Don’t just pay the utility bills – track them. Ensure that you have developed an energy baseline before you start your projects, so you can track your savings.  Also, when you track utility bills, be sure to benchmark your utility consumption against other K-12 facilities in your geographic area so can compare how you are doing. 
  • Find a professional energy services firm that can help you integrate the process. Ultimately, there are many firms in Missouri that have expertise in the energy field.  Contact your energy services firm to discover how much funding your school could find with improved energy efficiency!