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Strengthening the shell of your school

What administrators need to know about roofing, windows and insulation
  • insulation systems on school buildings is key to making a district’s investment last. Below, a maintenance worker repairs flashing adhesives on a school roof, which help seal the roof and prevent water leaks.
  • Before windows were replaced at the Harmony School in Bloomington, Ind.
  • After the windows were installed. Marvin Windows and Doors made sure the new and functional windows were also aesthetically pleasing, matching the school’s building style.

Administrators budgeting for construction have the tools and access to ensure their buildings’ shells—the roofs, windows and insulation—are energy-efficient and easy to maintain.

“School administrators have gone from not really thinking much about roofs and other exteriors to thinking how they can maximize the performance of buildings and lower costs,” Jared Blum, president of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association, told DA.

There are many issues to consider when selecting roofs, windows and insulation that lower energy costs. Here are some guidelines:

Where should you start when replacing roofs, windows and insulation?

Districts might update these exterior elements if they’re leaking or old, or if energy costs are high. Roofs, windows and insulation systems typically last 15 years or more, and administrators should look for new systems with similar or greater life spans.

“Life cycle is a major concern for most school districts,” says Peter D’Antonio, national sales manager for educational facilities at Sika Sarnafil Roofing. “Districts want to get the most bang for the buck, especially if they’re requesting bond money from taxpayers. Administrators will want to look for roofs that will last 15, even 20-plus years.”

Before any materials are selected, district leaders should hire a roofing, windows and insulation specialist to fully assess a building’s needs. When administrators at Westfield Public Schools in New Jersey wanted to add solar panels to their 10 school buildings, the architect they hired found some complications.

“Having an architect come in for a full analysis of our roofs was key, as we learned our roofs were in bad shape and that we were not able to install solar panels right away,” says Dana Sullivan, Westfield’s business officer. “He was able to tell us exactly what needed to be done to our roofs, which were leaky, old and beyond their useful life.”

The architect found that many roofs needed to be completely redone and that they would not be able to support solar panels. After a bond referendum was passed, Westfield’s $13.6 million roofing project started in the summer of 2013.

The three buildings with the worst problems were updated with a complete roofing system. One company provided the materials, insulation and metal to secure the roofs in place, says Sullivan. The district plans to replace the rest of the roofs in the summer months so as not to disrupt students during the school year.

What are some industry trends or materials to consider?

Roofs: While solar panels are popular, there are other options in energy efficiency, says D’Antonio. Schools have shifted from black roofs to white, and are also using reflective materials. This is beneficial, especially in warm climates, as white roofs absorb less heat and reflective roofs rebound UV rays and sunlight to keep heat out, he says.

So called “green” roofs—or roofs that have plants and vegetation—can be used to teach environmental lessons and also to help control stormwater. Many urban school districts such as D.C. Public Schools, Baltimore City Public Schools and The Syracuse City School District have installed green roofs, D’Antonio says.

“The plants and soil on school roofs absorb rainwater and reduce the amount of water runoff,” he explains. “Teachers can also use the vegetation and gardens on green roofs as a teaching tool in science classrooms.”

Insulation: Roofs and insulation often go hand in hand, Blum says. School administrators may come across Polyiso, which is in 70 to 80 percent of all commercial insulation materials across the nation.

“Before 1989, there were very few options for insulation,” he says. “Over the last 20 years, legal standards for insulation have been adapted many times to increase performance and safety, while decreasing damage to the environment.”

For example, many insulation materials today keep buildings warm or cool and have little or no impact to the ozone layer or global warming, says Blum. All insulation manufactured by PIMA companies contains an EPA-compliant material that does not contribute to ozone depletion or global warming.

Windows: Low maintenance, durability and cost are key drivers when selecting windows, says Steve Lien, senior commercial sales representative at Marvin Windows and Doors. And energy performance is also a newer trend, as schools in northern, colder regions want to retain more sunlight and heat.

“We’ve moved from simple, single-paned windows to windows that are triple-paned, reducing the amount of heat lost in buildings located in colder climates,” Lien says.

For southern, warmer climates, other popular models have bronze- or silver-tinted glass that reflects UV rays. And laminated glass can block outside sounds to prevent students from getting easily distracted.

In an energy savings initiative last year, Savannah Public Schools in Missouri worked with Schneider Electric to replace old windows and broken seals with new, double-paned glass in all eight of its schools.

This, along with new doors, thermostats, lights and sensors, will likely save the district more than $90,000 a year, which will pay for the $1.1 million project in 15 years. The district saved $130,000 in energy costs in the first year—$40,000 more than had been estimated, Superintendent David Brax says.

“The administration and school board were glad to see that guaranteed energy savings were actually greater than anticipated,” he says.

What can I do to properly maintain the investment?

Once a district has new exteriors in place, it’s important to perform regular maintenance inspections to support a long life cycle, says Bob Spreat, director of messaging and marketing communications for Tremco Roofing and Building Maintenance.

“Once you incorporate a good roof system and other good building exteriors, you want them to function correctly,” Spreat says. “If you want to keep that long-term investment, it’s better to make small repairs than end up replacing them prematurely.”

If energy efficiency is a priority, windows and roofs should be tested on a regular basis to ensure they are not allowing energy to leak out, he adds. Common repairs for windows and roofs include removing weather-related debris, tightening loose screws and patching up water leaks.

In colder climates, roofs should be inspected twice per year—just before and after winter—as major snowstorms can take a toll on exteriors. Roof flashings—the metal pieces that prevent leaks—can loosen in extreme weather and allow rainwater to drip into walls and insulation, Spreat says.

Safety is also important—both for maintenance workers looking for any problems and to prevent debris from falling, he adds. Inspectors should ensure there are screens over skylights, gated railings around hatch covers on roofs and that guardrails are securely installed around perimeters.

“Overall, if all these parts of your roofs and windows aren’t properly maintained, you’re losing money,” Spreat says. “Updating these exteriors is one of the best ways to prevent energy loss, keep costs low and positively contribute to a district’s individual objectives when it comes to energy efficiency.”

Lauren Williams is special projects editor.