An Alternative to Building Management Systems for Smarter, Safer, and More Efficient Schools

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There’s an old recipe for educational success – the basics of any educational foundation. It’s known as the three “Rs” … Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. Well, I’d like to add one more to the mix! Schools now have one more “R” to consider … Reduce.

Why reduction is so important…

Reduction is vital because primary (K-12) schools spend more on energy than anything except personnel. And a lot of that spending, up to 30%, is wasted. The savings from going green in terms of energy usage comes to about $12 a square foot, or close to $700,000 annually for the average-sized school. That money could be used hire to more teachers, buy more computers, and purchase more textbooks. I like that thinking!

Of course, reduction is most effective if done in a smart way. Traditionally, energy use is managed with a simple thermostat that allows heating or air conditioning to be adjusted on a schedule. But classrooms aren’t full or empty on a rigid timetable. They may be vacant due to field trips, assemblies, holidays, and bad weather. Many rooms may be heated and cooled with nobody in them. Wasted energy = wasted money.

The smarter alternative…

One answer is to invest in building management systems (BMS). While that can be a good choice for new schools with flexible budgets – it’s oftentimes not practical for older ones facing stringent budgets.

So, what’s a facility manager and/or school administration to do?  Put technology – the right technology – to work.

SE8000_RCOne alternative is to install an application-specific, integrated room controller. Think of it as a brainy thermostat. Integrated room controllers have occupancy and motion sensors to detect when students are present. If the classroom is empty, an integrated room controller will sense it and adjust the temperature accordingly. That can really cut costs, for instance, during those pesky snow days. (Being from Boston, I know those days all too well!)

Did you know that schools save 5% for every degree they lower the temperature in winter or raise it in summer? Most schools can move temperature settings by 6 degrees or more. Bingo! They’ve just reduced their heating and cooling costs by a whopping 30%!

Additionally, integrated room controllers can turn off lights when a classroom is empty. That can cut lighting costs by as much as 20%. These savings really begin to add up. As do the benefits…

Capture2Room controllers can even include CO2 sensors and the ability to adjust ventilation fans. Now, getting the right amount of fresh air in a room is important. Air quality has proven to play an important role in student and faculty comfort and performance. For instance, better air quality boosts student attendance by 5% and building improvements can up standardized test scores by as much as 4%. But, outside air is costly to heat or cool, so the smart thing to do is run ventilation intelligently. That’s where an integrated room controller comes in.

Finally,  integrated room controllers can also tie into door and window sensors. So, you’ll know when they’re open, saving energy and improving security.

Getting started…

While room controllers do pay for themselves over time, how do you pay for them now? First, do your homework (Ha! I couldn’t resist that.) and, second, stage and manage costs.

First and foremost, check out the vendors. Look for one that offers a full range of products and services, such as occupancy, lighting, and door/window sensors. Find out if the vendor supports wireless communication. Going wireless is one way to cut installation and deployment costs. Solutions should be flexible and scalable. That allows for growth without having to start all over again.  (Contrary to some opinion, wireless solutions are in fact reliable and strategic – a ton of info is captured in this white paper published by Schneider Electric experts.)

Capture3Ask questions. Does the vendor also offer an intuitive BMS for scaling later on – or for those schools that require a bit more complexity in their solution? And is wired and wireless communication done using standard protocols? Does the vendor have a proven track record in schools? The answers can ensure the vendor offers the services and support needed to ensure success.

As for staging and managing costs, identify schools and buildings with the most need. Install integrated room controllers in them first to prove the idea and measure the ROI. Then expand to other buildings or sites.

And don’t forget about government incentive programs and funding packages. They’re available from many local and state governments, as well as the federal government. Utility companies also offer rebates and low-interest loans.

Putting the right technology to work (focusing on my self-proclaimed fourth “R”) can help save energy and money. At the same time, it can also help students concentrate on their three Rs – and the rest of their education.

For more information on how all of this can apply to your primary or K-12 school, download this brand new white paper titled, “Impact of Building Automation and Energy Efficiency Measures on K-12 School ROI.”

Let’s talk more! Leave your thoughts below…

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