What is an Eco-classroom?

The Learning Escape Eco-classroom

The term eco-classroom is an abridgement of the more accurate, but unwieldy, title ecologically friendly classroom. The commonly used phrase eco-friendly can be applied to products (from food and clothing to cars and washing machines), practices and buildings. The most common dictionary definition is “not harmful to the environment”. There is, however, an array of attributes to which a building (product or practice) needs to adhere in order for it to be categorised as authentically eco-friendly.

SENSITIVE TO THE ENVIRONMENT

An eco-friendly building, whether it be a classroom, a commercial property or a family home, should incorporate environmental considerations into every stage of the construction process. From the initial design and site selection, through to the materials and methods used, minimising the environmental impact should be paramount. So too should be the energy efficiency of the finished building once it is in use: an A rated EPC is the standard to which all eco-classroom providers (and procurers) should aspire.

SENSITIVE TO THE OCCUPANTS

Just as importantly, an eco-building should benefit its occupants. Typically it will incorporate superior air quality; abundant natural light; access to views and comfortable acoustics. One could argue, that in a place where young minds are moulded, these features should be an essential part of any teaching space, eco-classroom or otherwise.

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SITE SELECTION AND IMPACT

A traditional bricks and mortar construction requires deep concrete foundations which interfere with nearby tree root systems and the local water table. Furthermore, cement production (the principal ingredient of concrete) is second only to coal powered electricity generation as a green gas emitter.

A light weight, modular eco-classroom will sit upon the chosen site lightly and unobtrusively, both from an aesthetic and an environmental perspective. Ideally, it should require little, or no, concrete in its foundation system. In short, it will have a far smaller impact on both the local and global environment than a traditional build.

MATERIALS

Wherever possible, the materials used in creating the main structure of an eco-classroom should be non-toxic; non-synthetic (unless it is a recycled product) and primarily from sustainable sources. For this reason, given its inherent renewability, durability and non-toxicity, wood is generally the preferred primary construction material in most eco-friendly buildings. Obviously, only wood procured from certified sustainable sources should be used. It should also be of a hardwood variety, eliminating the need to constantly prime it with toxic chemicals in order to ensure durability.

INSULATION VALUES

A high degree of insulation should be woven into the fabric of an eco-classroom. Windows must have a low emissivity coating and walls, floors and ceilings should be layered with highly effective insulation materials, ideally from a recycled source. Door and window seals should be capable of providing full air and vapour barriers.

Extra insulation can be achieved with the addition of a living roof (such as sedum) which will have the added advantage of reducing rain runoff and will afford extra sound insulation in noisy locations.

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CAPITALISE ON NATURE’S POWER

An eco-classroom’s design must ensure that the natural elements are harnessed wherever possible. It sounds simple, but the larger the windows the better the sun’s light can be used to its full potential, although correct building orientation is essential to ensure that the occupants are not subjected to direct glare. In a large space, or one where there are barriers to natural light penetration, sunpipes can be installed in the roof to funnel sunlight inside. In addition, rain runoff can be collected and used in toilet flushing systems.

Nature’s power can be further utilised via solar panels and wind turbines: a combination of both could reduce non-renewable, commercial power needs to a bare minimum.

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ENERGY EFFICIENT APPLIANCES

When the elements are at their most uncooperative, electrical appliances will be needed to step up to the plate. Whether it be hot water, heating and (sadly rarely in the UK) cooling or lighting, an eco-classroom provider will ensure that all the systems installed are of the utmost in energy efficiency. Not only will these be better for the environment, they will be easy on the budget in years to come.