Achieving carbon reduction in historical school buildings

New innovation in the building control sector is increasingly catering to the specific carbon reduction pressures heaped upon managers of historical school buildings, says Anders Norén.

A significant proportion of schools and educational establishments in the UK occupy buildings that date back more than a hundred years. Historical tradition is a source of pride for such schools, and there’s no doubt that historical surroundings can enrich the learning environment immeasurably. However, as schools come under increased pressure to reduce carbon, problems are arising for those that inhabit historical buildings.

Since they were designed and built in a very different age, historical school buildings rarely meet modern energy efficiency standards, giving them a larger-than-average carbon footprint and racking up high fuel costs. What’s more, the impulse to protect the delicate fabric of these buildings is traditionally seen as a barrier to improving their energy-efficiency in line with current carbon reduction targets.

Rethinking sustainability

When it comes to school buildings that date back hundreds of years, you can typically throw the sustainability rule book out the window. There is little room for the usual ‘easy wins’ of energy-efficiency. Modern double-glazed windows are typically prohibited by listed building consent. Some insulation work may be carried out, but many historic buildings have interiors that could be seriously affected by the addition of internal insulation on the walls.

In fact, protecting the fabric of the building is top of the list in conservation, throwing up even more problems when installing energy-efficient equipment. Any newly-installed equipment must also be discreet, so that it does not detract from the look of the building. With conservation rules seemingly so fastidious, it’s not surprising that many managers of historic buildings simply give up on reducing their environmental impact. However, this is short-sighted. Though a historical building may never reach the energy-efficiency standards of a new build, there are still significant energy savings to be reaped.

Key principles

When looking to install energy-efficient solutions in historical buildings, it is important to focus on three key principles. Any technology must be:

  1. 1. Unobtrusive.
  2. 2. Non-disruptive.
  3. 3. Flexible.

Maintaining the fabric and integrity of the building are vitally important, and any installed equipment must work with what already exists in the building, not against it.

Identifying sources of energy waste

With temperature control a crucial factor in maintaining a good learning environment, it is unsurprising that many schools are keen to improve energy efficiency by upgrading their building controls. Although it is often assumed that a majority of energy is lost through the fabric of a building, in fact, the crude building management systems (BMS) that historical buildings are often burdened with also contribute to energy waste.

Investigations by leading consultancies, TNO, Senternovem and ISSO, have revealed that energy consumption in buildings is, on average, 25% higher than should be, and this is largely because of incorrect climate system settings. In over 70% of buildings, the climate systems do not work at an optimum level, resulting in energy wastage.

Better monitoring of energy across a school can help to identify areas where excessive energy is being used, and it can also unlock other savings, too. Maintenance costs, in particular, can be higher-than-average within historical schools, due to old-style climate systems that require constant manual input.

Case study: Marlborough College

In the case of Marlborough College, an independent boarding school in Wiltshire that dates back to 1843, an outdated BMS made monitoring and managing energy use extremely difficult.

Marlborough College is spread across more than 40 separate buildings, all with different uses: classrooms, residential blocks, swimming pool, libraries, equipment houses and stores rooms. Each building had a separate controls system, which meant that adjusting heating levels would require an engineer to walk around all of the buildings and change the data manually. If there were leaks or anomalies with energy use, isolating the problem was like finding a needle in a haystack, requiring huge amounts of time and cost.

Marlborough College elected to replace its old stand-alone series of building controllers with a high-spec BMS from Priva Building Intelligence. The change has allowed Marlborough to manage the energy use within every building remotely, via the internet. Now site-wide adjustments to heating systems can be made at the click of a mouse, while easily monitoring and targeting any inefficiencies in energy consumption.

In order to protect the historical character of the buildings, during installation, much of the existing BMS cabling was reused, leaving the delicate interiors relatively untouched. By not disturbing the fabric of the buildings, the installation went forward in the most cost-effective manner possible, with the minimum disruption to the ongoing activities of the school.

“The college liked the fact that with Priva there are no protocol compatibility issues,” said Derrick Lailey, project/commissioning engineer for PA Collacott, the company that installed the new system.

“Important system performance data could also be accessed over the school’s local IT network at three PC points, one in the central boiler house and the other two in the estates office,” Mr Lailey explained. “Additionally, the head mechanical engineer/boiler house manager would have a laptop that would allow him to connect remotely to the system – via the web – and take control of the BMS from anywhere in the world.”

Case study: Charterhouse School

PA Collacott was also instrumental in helping Charterhouse School in Surrey to improve its energy management. Charterhouse, one of the great historic schools of England, dates back to 1611, and it has been located on its current estate in Godalming since 1872. With accommodation blocks, a chapel, classrooms, technology centre, and sports grounds, there’s a lot going on at the school.

When Charterhouse underwent a major refurbishment project, upgrading the existing BMS with state-of-the-art Priva controllers was a big part of responding to new energy efficiency demands. Like Marlborough College, the Priva installation utilised the existing BMS cabling, thereby safeguarding the fabric of historical buildings at Charterhouse.

“Even though the previous BMS and its peripheral equipment was supplied by a different manufacturer, we have been able to utilise the sensors and cabling, because Priva controllers support any temperature sensor; do not require screened cabling; and are equipped to communicate with a range of protocols,” explains Geoff Collacott, Director of PA Collacott. “This has led to savings in capital cost and in installation time.”

In the main, Priva controllers have been a direct replacement for the older building management system providing monitoring and control of the school’s heating, cooling and ventilation systems, and energy savings through its optimum start and weather compensation programs.

Due to Priva’s philosophy of providing in-built, multi-lingual communications as standard and its ability to communicate over a range of networks including Ethernet and the Internet, the new BMS is configured to accommodate future developments in building controls.

Priva technology is also installed in other educational establishments across the UK and Ireland, including the Glasgow School of Art and the Archbishop Ryan School in Dublin.

Embracing new technology

Although many energy-efficiency measures previously seemed out of reach for the managers of historical schools, technology is catching up to the demand for better energy management in listed buildings. Historical estates like Marlborough College and Charterhouse School provide a vital blueprint for how other schools that inhabit historical buildings can contribute to driving down carbon emissions. Without damaging the character of the schools, both sites have reduced their maintenance burden, while allowing for pinpoint accuracy in their energy management.

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