Investigate whether the the school's heating and hot water is switched off during the school holidays

10 Investigating energy usage KS1, KS2, KS3

 Aim
Find out whether the school's heating and hot water is running during the school holidays. Reducing gas use in the school holidays is one of the easiest, and cheapest ways of saving lots of energy.
Download this activity as a lesson plan for teachers

Equipment needed
A pencil and paper to write down your findings, ready to share with teachers, the school caretaker and other pupils.

Why are we doing this?
Schools are often unoccupied for more than 6,000 hours a year. Open hours are often less than 2,000 hours per year. If the  school's heating is left on out of hours, then this can be a big waste of energy.

How to carry out this activity
  1. Ask a teacher, the caretaker or school business manager whether your school uses gas as its energy source for heating. Gas is the most common energy source for heating in schools, although some schools use electricity or oil for heating. A gas boiler works by burning gas to heat up water, which is then pumped around the school to heat up the radiators. 
  2. If your school uses gas for heating, find the Analysis pages for your school. On the Overview tab find the pie chart and table which shows you how much gas your school uses at different times. Look at the table to find out how much gas the school uses in the holidays. For most schools there should be no gas use in the school holidays. The only reason gas might be used is to protect the pipes from freezing in very cold weather. 
  3. By getting rid of holiday gas use at your school, how much could you save?
  4. Scroll further down the same web page to find the 'By Week: Gas' chart. The red bars show the gas used during holiday weeks. In which holidays is the most gas used? Does your school remember to turn off the heating in some holidays but not in others?
  5.  Now go back to your school's home page on Energy Sparks, and choose to 'View Usage by Day' for Gas.  More than half of schools leave their heating on on Christmas Day - did your school do this, and do you think there was anyone at school then? Test some other days during the school holidays.

What to do next
  1. Talk to the school caretaker or head teacher about turning the heating and hot water off during the school holidays. You could write them a letter telling them how much the school could save if it turned off its heating and hot water in the  holidays.
  2. If someone is working in the school in the holidays it is usually more efficient just to heat that room with a fan heater or other small electric heater than the whole school.
  3. Sometimes the caretaker is concerned about the school getting too cold and the pipes freezing. This is a very rare event, and because most school boilers can be programmed to automatically turn on in very cold weather (called 'frost protection') it is unnecessary to leave the boiler on all holiday. If the school boiler doesn't have automatic 'frost protection' then the thermostat (that tells the heating when to come on) should be turned down as low as possible to 8°C - this will save 70% of the gas compared with leaving the thermostat at 20°C.
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