Solar panels, living walls and heat pumps: schools are leading the way in sustainable investments


      *Solar panels, buildings using modern methods of construction and green living walls and roofs are the top sustainable investments schools are making within the next year

       *Four in five UK schools are constructing or planning to construct new buildings

       *Schools are encouraged to speak to their insurer when planning new school buildings and sustainability projects


New research1 commissioned by specialist education insurer Ecclesiastical has revealed schools are responding to the climate crisis by investing in sustainable technologies and improving the efficiency of existing buildings.


Ecclesiastical Insurance has published new guidance to help schools planning to invest in new buildings and sustainable projects manage the risks they face.


Investing in sustainable school buildings


The survey of UK school leaders discovered the most popular investments schools are making within the next year are solar PV or heating panels (45%), buildings using modern methods of construction (MMC) such as cross laminated timber and rainscreen cladding (31%), and green / living walls or roofs (31%). This is closely followed by electric vehicle charging points (31%) and triple glazing (29%).


Looking ahead to the next one to two years, schools are planning to invest in smart building management systems (46%), solar PV to battery storage (41%) and air source / ground source heat pumps (39%). Triple glazing (37%) and increased insulation such as re-cladding and insulating older buildings (37%)   are also popular planned investments within the next few years.


In the medium term, having a renewable energy supplier (32%), buildings constructed from sustainable materials (29%)   and air source / ground source heat pumps (28%)     are the top three investments schools plan to make within three to four years. Followed by wind turbines (26%)   and increased insulation (22%). 


St Andrews Church of England Primary School in Gloucestershire2 has dramatically reduced its energy consumption by installing motion sensor low energy LED lights, adding ceilings in two classrooms, adding insulation, replacing single glazed windows, and installing PV panels and air source heat pumps. These investments have helped the school improve its sustainability and achieve Net Zero carbon.


Schools under construction


Four in five (86%) of UK schools surveyed are constructing or planning to construct new buildings. Of which one in five (21%) school leaders said construction is currently taking place, while more than half (53%) will have new buildings constructed within the next one to five years. One in 10 (11%) schools plan to construct new buildings in more than five years time.


As many schools across the UK are investing in new buildings, in Wales it was recently announced that all new schools have to meet net zero targets from January 2022 and refurbishments, extensions and new builds at existing schools need to improve energy efficiency3.


Faith Kitchen, Customer Segment Director at Ecclesiastical Insurance, said: “As one of the leading insurers of schools in the UK, Ecclesiastical is passionate about supporting the education sector. Our latest research has found schools are investing in a variety of sustainable technologies and four in five are constructing or planning to construct new buildings. Improving the energy efficiency and sustainability of school buildings is hugely important and can present risks and challenges, particularly around combustibility, which need to be carefully managed.”


Guidance for schools investing in new buildings and sustainable projects


·         When considering a new school building or sustainability project, consult all interested parties, including your insurers at the earliest stage. Your insurer’s requirements for fire protection and building resilience may be higher than building regulations. Involve your insurer at the design and planning stage so they can work with you to mitigate risks and advise you on the fire or other protection measures needed.

·         Some materials used in MMC construction such as timber framing and sheathing boards, insulation and cladding materials are combustible. Where possible, look for alternative non-combustible materials to achieve the same sustainable results.

·         Natural materials such as hemp, wool and straw and foam based insulation products are all classified as combustible materials and used in conjunction with timber framing, or combustible cladding systems can have serious consequences for a buildings ability to withstand the effects of fire. Where possible, use a non-combustible material such as mineral wool or cellular glass to insulate your buildings.

·         When planning to install solar panels, always investigate the structural suitability of the building/roof and liaise with fire and rescue services on the location of panels and isolation switches.

·         Always use an accredited installer for the installation of any solar panels and / or biomass heating systems.    

·         Biomass heating systems can present fire and carbon monoxide poisoning risks. To reduce these risks ensure they are contained in their own fire-resisting compartment which is separated from the fuel store. Restrict access to fuel stores to authorised persons only. Clean out the boiler house regularly and remove all combustible waste, clear out fuel stores regularly, and get flues to boilers inspected and cleaned regularly by a competent person.


Ecclesiastical Insurance offers a range of risk management support and guidance to help schools manage the risks they face. For more information, visit the Hub for Education.


Ecclesiastical recently launched a new proposition, Ecclesiastical Smart Properties, which uses cutting-edge technology to discreetly monitor for escape of water and electrical fire risks in real-time. Schools piloting the technology will also have the option to expand the system to monitor other types of risks and solve a range of problems including improving energy consumption and carbon footprint reduction at an additional cost.