Review school heating timings

10 Investigating energy usage KS1, KS2, KS3

 Aim
Find out whether the school heating is running when the school is closed. Reducing out of hours gas use 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?
Many schools have their heating coming on too early in the morning. Generally heating boilers shouldn’t be turning on before 5am in cold weather and 7am in milder weather. If your school heating comes on before this, you might be able to make changes to the heating controls to save energy and lots of money.

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 on 'School Day Closed'. This is the gas used on Mondays to Fridays in term times when the school is closed to pupils. For many schools this is the gas used before 8.50am and after 3.20pm, but it could be different times if your school has before or after school clubs.
  3. How much could you save if you reduced the amount of gas used when the school is closed? The school will always need to use some gas before the start of the school day, so that it is warm for when teachers and pupils arrive, but most schools could reduce the amount of gas they use.
  4.  Now go back to your school's home page on Energy Sparks, and choose to 'View Usage by Day' for Gas.  Look at a selection of week days in term time during the winter. When does your school heating come on? Is it the same time each day, or does it change? Are you surprised how early the heating comes on? 
  5. When does your school heating turn off? Do you think there are still people in the building at that time? Buildings normally keep their heat for a while, so if a few teachers are working late, you might not need to keep the heating on across the whole school. 
  6. Look at some dates for last winter. Does the heating come on at the same time as this year, or a different time? 
  7. What happens in the warmer months? Look at some dates in May and in July. You may use some gas for heating hot water during the summer, but it should be a lot less than in the winter. Compare a winter weekday with a summer weekday in term time. Can you see a big difference in gas use between summer and winter?

What to do next
  1. Talk to the school caretaker or head teacher about changing the boiler controls so the heating doesn't come on so early in the morning. You could write them a letter telling them how much the school could save if the heating came on later.
  2. You could also ask them to switch the heating off 30 minutes or an hour earlier in the day. If someone is working in the school later in the evenings it is usually more efficient just to heat that room with a fan heater or other small electric heater than the whole school.
  3. The caretaker may be reluctant to change the boiler controls if they think the teachers might complain the school is too cold in the mornings. You could agree to change the heating start time by 30 minutes or 1 hour first and then do the Energy Sparks activity 'Measure classroom temperatures'. Check both classroom temperatures and pupil and staff comfort levels at the start of the school day. Ask pupils and staff whether they feel too hot or cold or just right. If they feel hot or comfortable, you could try changing the heating start time some more.
Advanced knowledge 
Most larger schools have a feature of the boiler controller called ‘optimum start control’ which automatically turns the boiler on earlier in the day in cold weather and later in warmer weather. However, at many schools this automation doesn’t work properly, and turns the boiler on too early. The most common cause is if the boiler thermostat  is positioned in a cold area of the school such as the school hall or a corridor. The boiler thermostat tells the boiler the temperature of the school.  If the thermostat is in an area which doesn't have enough radiators or is near a door which is often open, then the thermostat never gets up to the heating set temperature. This means it tells the heating to come on earlier and earlier in the morning, while the classrooms get hotter and hotter. You could ask your school caretaker to try moving the boiler thermostat to another area of the school or to set the thermostat to a lower temperature. 



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