Zero-Energy Schools: How Innovative Concrete Systems are Making It Possible

Sponsored by Build with Strength, a coalition of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association
1 AIA LU/HSW; 0.1 IACET CEU*; 1 AIBD P-CE; AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; AANB 1 Hour of Core Learning; AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.; MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; NLAA 1 Hour of Core Learning; NSAA 1 Hour of Core Learning; NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; OAA 1 Learning Hour; SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify the principles and strategies behind zero-energy school design and construction.
  2. Discuss how innovative concrete systems such as insulated concrete forms (ICFs) contribute to energy-efficient and resilient buildings that protect the health, safety, and welfare of students.
  3. Assess how a combination of energy-efficiency strategies, high-performance building envelopes, and solar power is used to meet zero-energy criteria.
  4. Describe the contribution that concrete makes to safe and productive schools by providing energy-efficient, quiet, and resilient structures.

This course is part of the Concrete Academy

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Low-Impact Development Strategies

Conserving water is another way to reduce environmental impact and construction cost. The following low-impact development strategies help meet zero-energy goals:

  • Utilizing native plantings and rain gardens helps reduce irrigation demands.
  • Using permeable pavements reduces stormwater runoff, filters stormwater, and reduces the need for expensive stormwater infrastructure.
  • Permeable pavements and rain gardens can eliminate the need for detention basins, leaving more space for athletic fields and outdoor education opportunities for students.

Energize the Curriculum

Finally, make sure you engage the students and teachers by providing learning opportunities about energy efficiency and how the zero-energy building is helping reduce environmental impacts. Richardsville Elementary School used the following displays and interactive stations to help students visualize their contributions to reducing environmental impacts:

  • Geothermal energy: Provide detail on how geothermal energy works, and expose piping with a temperature gauge so that students can monitor the system’s performance.
  • Solar energy: Provide detail on how solar energy is captured and converted to electricity for use in the building. Provide a gauge to show how much energy is being produced. Provide a laptop computer battery-charging station where students can see the energy being received from the solar panels.
  • Water conservation: Provide a station on water conservation that enables students to monitor the amount of rainwater collected and used in the rain garden.

Beyond Zero-Energy Schools

Schools are not the only building type going zero energy, nor are they the only building type using ICF construction. There are examples of high-performance ICF buildings all over the United States and Canada, including single-family residential, multifamily residential, hotels, dormitories, assisted living facilities, offices, health-care facilities, and manufacturing and warehouse buildings. Theaters are also trending toward ICF construction for superior sound attenuation.

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Originally published in May 2021

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