February 27, 2017

Green School Building Design

green school building design

Green schools provide a healthy, comfortable and productive learning environment for today’s children. Green schools are also cost-effective. In fact, a study by the Center for Ecoliteracy found that while green school construction costs are no more than two percent higher than conventional school construction (or about $3 a square foot), green schools quickly recoup the costs. Green designed schools use 33 percent less energy than conventionally designed schools. Reducing energy use helps the environment because much of the energy comes from burning fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels has caused an excessive buildup of greenhouse gases, which has created global warming. Adverse impacts of global warming are extensive. A few of the impacts include rising sea levels due to increasing rates of glacial melting, more acidic oceans due to increasing carbon dioxide levels, and more frequent and severe weather events. Green schools are also good for the community because they are designed to provide healthier air quality. Healthy air quality reduces illness and absenteeism of both the students and teachers; ultimately improving test scores and overall performances. The upfront costs of building green schools are slightly higher than conventional buildings. However, architects, contractors, and designers now recognize that the long-term financial, environmental, and community benefits are well worth the extra, upfront expense.

The Green School Design

Green designs for schools are based largely on the U.S. Green Building Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for schools. It is a specific rating system for K-12 schools used to designate LEED certified green schools. The system looks at areas like classroom acoustics, master planning, mold prevention, and environmental site assessment. The rating system addresses the particular needs of classrooms and children's health. The green schools are also rated based on their impact on their sites, material used, sourcing, design, construction, and efficiency of building systems including, water, energy, air quality, lighting, waste and transportation.

In order to become a LEED certified green school, the school must receive a minimum number of points in six specific areas.

Site selection and development

Water and energy use

Environmentally preferred materials, finishes, and furnishings

Waste stream management

Indoor air quality and comfort

Innovation in sustainable design and construction

Designing Effective Acoustical Spaces in Schools

Designing effective acoustical spaces in schools is essential for clear communication between the teacher and students. The learning spaces must not echo or be too noisy. To create effective acoustical spaces in schools, three criteria are considered: reverberation times, STC ratings, and background noise levels. Reverberation time measures sound absorption. Sound Transmission Class (STC) measures how much sound comes through a barrier (like a wall, ceiling, or floor.). Background noise includes AC units, outside noise, furnace, etc.

Careful selection of materials like ceiling tiles and properly designed walls, doors and windows that have high sound transmission coefficients will create an acoustic environment conducive to learning. Additionally, appropriately placed heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning vents and lined ductwork limit noise issues in schools.  

The Bautex Wall System is ideal for creating a learning space that optimizes communication between the students and teacher. The Bautex Block is an insulated concrete exterior and interior wall system that provides high sound reduction. The Bautex Wall System meets the American National Standards Institute criteria for schools and received high Sound Transmission Class and Outdoor-Indoor Transmission Class ratings from ETS-Lindgren Acoustic Research Laboratory. In addition, the Bautex Wall System provides structure, envelope, continuous insulation, fire resistance, and air and moisture protection in a single integrated assembly. Bautex Wall System meets and exceeds many of the requirements for green building design and is an excellent choice for either the interior or exterior of schools.

Lighting Designs in Green Schools

Energy efficient and high-producing schools utilize natural light as much as possible to reduce power consumption and create a pleasant learning environment. It is essential that designers of school strategically place windows so to manage lighting levels, glare and unwanted solar heat gains and losses. Because much of the exterior wall area of schools is often windows, it is essential the windows have the following energy efficient features.  

Low-conductance gas fills that reduce heat transmission through the window

Low-emissivity so that heat in the winter stays inside and heat in the summers stays outside

Solar control coatings to reduce solar gain while maintaining light transmission and clarity

When natural light is not an option, energy efficient fluorescent lights, ideally hooked up to occupant sensors, are a good choice for green school building design. Good, natural lighting is essential to any learning space and will positively impact student and teacher health and sense of well-being.  

Indoor Air Quality in Green School Design

Excellent air quality in schools is essential for creating a healthy environment for teachers and students. Closed up spaces with little ventilation can become incubators for germs and mold. These poorly ventilated spaces can contribute to more illnesses and asthma issues than open, well-ventilated spaces. Proper installation of air and moisture barriers is essential to green school design.The Bautex Air and Moisture Barrier is an excellent product for preventing air and moisture infiltration to the interior of the structure. Bautex Air and Moisture Barrier is easy to apply and ensures a tight and extremely energy-efficient building envelope that meets and even exceeds the requirements of most commercial and residential construction projects.  

Green school building design is only slightly more expensive than conventional design. The benefits to green design well outweigh the initial expense. Green schools are healthier, safer, more comfortable and foster a more successful learning experience for teachers and students.

If you are planning to build a new school and are looking for an experienced architect, here is a directory of Texas-based architects with experience in designing schools.