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School HVAC: High Performance School Characteristics

To those of us in the design and construction industry, a high performance school is synonymous with a sustainable school building. However, talk to educators, and they see a high performance school as a school where students excel in their studies. The physical facility and educational outcomes, such as teacher productivity and test scores, certainly are linked. So in a sense, the design professional and the educator have the same goals—they just see them from a different vantage point. Read the full report here.

Characteristics of a High Performance School

  • Health. A high performance building has good air quality, resulting in better health. About 20% of our population spends a significant amount of time in schools, and we need effective outside air ventilation as required by ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2004, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality. Air quality is improved when interior materials are used that do not release harmful chemicals that can off gas into the building. Children are more susceptible to chemical exposures because of their still-developing respiratory systems, making air quality especially important. If teachers and students are sick less often, they are obviously more productive. Absenteeism is a good benchmark for a healthy school.
  • Comfort. High performance schools are more thermally, visually, and acoustically comfortable. Teachers can teach better and students learn better if they are comfortable; if balanced daylight and electric light provide adequate, uniform, and glare-free illumination for all our visual tasks; and if the space is quiet.
  • Efficiency. High performance schools are efficient in the way they use energy, water, and materials. Efficiency translates to lower costs for construction and operation, meaning that more money can be used for educational purposes. Of all the features in a high performance school, energy efficiency is the best understood. Analysis tools, cost effectiveness criteria, and design strategies to improve energy use are mature techniques. Material efficiency is the newcomer to design. While the science of life-cycle assessment is emerging, we do not have complete information about material efficiency or environmental impacts associated with the use of materials and products.
  • Maintenance. Systems in high performance school buildings are easy to use and maintain. Users have control over the temperature, airflow, acoustics, and lighting in the building, and are trained on how to most effectively use the systems. The best high performance schools are based on simple principles.
  • Commissioning. High performance schools are commissioned (ASHRAE Guideline 0-2005, The Commissioning Process). Commissioning must begin during the design phase and continue through construction to ensure key building systems perform properly and at the highest levels of efficiency, air quality and comfort. Modern construction practice is fragmented with many specialists on every project. It is easy for equipment to be installed incorrectly. Commissioning can reduce these problems.
  • Environmentally Responsive. High performance schools are environmentally responsive. To the extent possible, existing natural areas on the site are protected and restored. Storm water runoff is minimized and erosion is controlled. Construction does not introduce pollutants or degrade the site. Materials are selected that minimize the environmental impact related to extraction, harvest, production, and transportation.
  • Security. High performance schools are safe and secure. While this may be difficult in rough neighborhoods, the building can be a positive factor by providing paths for visual surveillance, limiting access to less public areas and by controlling entry points. Ideally occupants and visitors should feel safe anywhere in the building or on the grounds, yet the school building should be open to the community, at least in selected areas.
  • Good Architecture. Finally, high performance schools feature stimulating architecture that invoke a sense of pride and are considered a genuine asset not only for the owner, but also for the entire community.

By Charles Eley, FAIA, P.E., Member ASHRAE
Charles Eley, FAIA, P.E., is a vice-president of Architectural Energy Corporation in San Francisco. He is executive director of the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) and is technical editor of the CHPS Best Practices Manual, the Advanced Lighting Guidelines: Final Report, and Standard 90.1-2004 User’s Manual and Standard 62.1-2004 User’s Manual.
© 2006 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (www.ashrae.org). Published in ASHRAE Journal (Vol. 48, May 2006)

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