Davis Magnet School Greenovation: Exponential Education

By Guest Blogger Lindsey Engels, Executive Director of the U.S. Green Building Council in Orange County

When we first agreed to partner with Davis Magnet School to start experimenting with two of their classrooms, we were not quite sure what we were going to teach them. The school was already giving the students first hand lessons with regards to recycling, composting, and even growing their own food in a learning garden. The kids were even sorting their trash for recyclables and compost, and weighing it when done so they could track their progress.

To get started, we set up monitoring in the classrooms to see how they were operating in real-time. We monitored temperature, light levels, energy usage per circuit (to track computers, outlets, lights and HVAC separately), and CO2 monitors for air quality. We even put a sensor on the door to show if it was open or closed.

The first thing we noticed, since it was in real-time, was that one teacher had a mini-fridge in her classroom—we could actually see the compressor cycle on and off. The second thing we noticed was that the computers were not going into sleep mode. What a huge energy waster and such a simple and free fix. The school did have automatic shutdown from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., but even still, much additional energy could be saved by changing one simple computer setting—and of course, we let the school know right away.

Davis Magnet School Before and After GreenovationAs we delved deeper into the monitor readings, we found an item that caused more concern: the CO2 levels for the classroom were off the charts, starting after the first half hour of school, and continuing throughout the entire school day, every day. From the energy readings, we quickly realized that the air handling unit turned on briefly in the morning to heat the classroom (this was in December), and then it kicked-in at the very end of the day to cool the classroom from the heat generated from the students, lights and computers.

The air system was set to “On demand/Auto.” Although this setting is perfect for energy savings in your home, the average house is double the square footage of the classroom, yet has only about one tenth the occupants. Classrooms are densely occupied spaces, and their air system needs to run continuously throughout the day to get the proper amount of circulation and fresh air. Without proper air-flow and increased CO2 levels, germs spread easier, and there is less oxygen in the air, which causes drowsiness and lack of focus in all people, not just kids.

As a quick fix, we explained to the school that they could either change the settings to keep the fan continuously on, with the heating and cooling set to auto, or they could leave the door or a window open for the entire day to get fresh air—the air handlers for the classrooms are located on the roof, directly above each classroom, and are pretty loud, so this was not a long term fix.

With the classroom retrofit complete, we are eager to see the new readings as they come in. We will finally be able to see a real-time comparison between the “greenovated” classroom and the control classroom. The students will be able to see and learn from the readings. When the results are compiled into a report, explaining our findings, we will have proven metrics that everyone can learn from. The students and faculty will have the first-hand experience. This information can then be passed on to their families and from their families to their communities. The spread of information becomes exponential. This is how change comes to be. It’s all about communication and education—and we are honored to have served in this worthy effort.

Lindsey Engels is the Executive Director of the U.S. Green Building Council in Orange County, Calif. She’s a LEED accredited professional, and specialist in the design and implementation of corporate buildings and interiors, at California-based LPA Inc.

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