Energy efficiency design at schools

Information, advice and resources for designing energy efficient upgrades and new buildings.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Boards
  • Proprietors
  • Architects and designers
  • Principals and tumuaki
  • Project managers
  • Other contractors

School boards need to consider energy efficiency needs and how they can be designed into both new buildings and existing buildings and systems at schools.

Designing energy-efficient buildings

The most cost-effective time to improve energy performance is at the design stage of a new building. As a board, consider energy efficiency in any building project, including an upgrade.

Look at the entire life cycle of products and building systems. You can then make decisions on which heating and cooling systems to use in terms of their whole-of-life cost. Whole-of-life considers the costs and benefits of getting the best performance, reliability and safety over the life of an asset.

The best value for money might be in a high-performance building ‘envelope’. In this way, energy efficiency is incorporated in every aspect of the building design. The aim is to reduce the need for heating and cooling as much as possible.

Green Star-rated schools

A number of New Zealand schools now have Green Star ratings for sustainability. For more information about the programme and a list of accredited professionals, go to the New Zealand Green Building Council website.

New Zealand Green Building Council(external link)

Choosing sustainable school assets

When deciding whether to replace or upgrade an asset, you should weigh up:

  • immediate costs – where a cheaper option might save money in the short term – against
  • long-term sustainability and savings – where a more efficient option might result in bigger savings over time through lower running costs and long-term sustainability.

For example, you might decide:

  • not to spend any of your 5 Year Agreement funding to join a mains water system, but mains connection would cost less than the long-term costs of servicing a septic tank
  • not to install a solar water heater due to the upfront cost, but solar might be cheaper to run than electricity.

5 Year agreement funding

Upgrading or converting coal heating systems

Many schools with boilers and central heating use coal. Generally, it’s a relatively cheap energy source. However, because of tougher local emissions standards and concerns about pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, many schools are considering replacing or decommissioning coal boilers.

Switching to renewable wood energy may be a cost-effective alternative to coal. Most coal boilers can be converted to burn wood fuel. It tends to be a cost-effective option for heating the whole school. Although its costs vary by region, wood fuel has lower ongoing energy costs than natural gas or electricity.

Boilers for school heating

Installing energy or building management systems

Energy or building management systems are information technology (IT) systems and software that can completely automate the energy use of a building. They:

  • switch power to different appliances and areas of a building on and off as needed
  • work with heating, lighting, IT and other energy uses.

A number of systems suitable for schools are available. Their upfront costs are quite high, but they can cut energy costs significantly. An energy manager or auditor can advise you on how long it would take to recoup capital costs through energy savings.

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