By Grady Penna

It’s no secret San Francisco uses a lot of energy. In fact, San Francisco uses significantly more energy than the U.S national average, which in turn means higher energy costs. As a result, the city of San Francisco is constantly looking for new ways to minimize the amount of energy and resources needed to run such a dense metropolis.

The City has been working more to improve its energy consumption since 2011 through laws like the Existing Commercial Buildings Energy Performance Ordinance (or “Energy Ordinance” for short), but that doesn’t take into account new structures being built. Some of the largest, and arguably most important of these types of non-residential structures are schools. Schools use a great deal of energy, and although this ordinance will help existing schools save energy costs, future schools could benefit hugely if they are built from the ground up with materials like Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) that are designed to save energy across the board.

Large urban schools require constant heating and cooling to maintain suitable learning conditions for students. This can not only be detrimental to the environment but can lead to high energy costs for the school. ICF structures, however, only need 30-50% less energy to heat and cool when combined with other energy saving methods. ICFs also provide greater protection and resistance from external factors such as wind, fire and rodents. This means the potential savings for a school built with these products are enormous.

Real world examples of these savings can already be found. A recent analysis of school energy use in Escambia County, Florida, yielded some worthwhile data when it comes to ICF materials and energy savings. The report found that Suter Elementary School, which was built using Fox Blocks ICFs, is using .027 million British Thermal Units (MBTU’s) of energy whereas the average for all the elementary schools in the district is .060 MBTU’s. Essentially, the school built from ICFs used less than half the energy of the average school in the district. When looking at the graph comparing the schools’ energy usage, there is clear distinction between Suter and the rest. More than anything, this shows how efficient ICFs can be in reducing overall energy costs for greater sustainability that benefits both the earth and the owner’s wallet. Considering the cost difference between building structures using ICFs and more traditional materials is negligible, the long-term benefits, as seen in the case of Suter Elementary School, make ICF building a highly attractive choice.

Large urban schools require constant heating and cooling to maintain suitable learning conditions for students. This can not only be detrimental to the environment but can lead to high energy costs for the school. ICF structures, however, only need 30-50% less energy to heat and cool when combined with other energy saving methods. ICFs also provide greater protection and resistance from external factors such as wind, fire and rodents. This means the potential savings for a school built with these products are enormous.

Real world examples of these savings can already be found. A recent analysis of school energy use in Escambia County, Florida, yielded some worthwhile data when it comes to ICF materials and energy savings. The report found that Suter Elementary School, which was built using Fox Blocks ICFs, is using .027 million British Thermal Units (MBTU’s) of energy whereas the average for all the elementary schools in the district is .060 MBTU’s. Essentially, the school built from ICFs used less than half the energy of the average school in the district. When looking at the graph comparing the schools’ energy usage, there is clear distinction between Suter and the rest. More than anything, this shows how efficient ICFs can be in reducing overall energy costs for greater sustainability that benefits both the earth and the owner’s wallet. Considering the cost difference between building structures using ICFs and more traditional materials is negligible, the long-term benefits, as seen in the case of Suter Elementary School, make ICF building a highly attractive choice.

*graph provided by Force 5 Walls Inc., the ICF builder of the Suter school. Research shown in the graph was collected independently.

The San Francisco Unified School District has already made big steps toward improving its energy usage in the last decade. The “Shared Savings Program” has caused many schools in the district to reduce their energy consumption by upwards of 30% – but why stop there? If San Francisco decides to implement ICF building going forward with future school campuses or other commercial structures, it could drastically help the City move toward the more sustainable and budget-friendly future it has set out to achieve, all while providing safe, dependable structures in the process.

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