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High Performance Classroom

Within a high performance school, the classroom should meet a higher design and construction standard than a typical classroom. This classroom must be energy efficient, healthier for students and staff, resource efficient, and cost effective to build and operate. One option is a high performance classroom.
In 2005, an Oregon design team set out to develop a high performance classroom. The original goal of the designers was to design a classroom that would use less energy, have better daylighting, have good thermal comfort and better acoustics than a traditional classroom. But, incorporating more energy efficiency and daylighting features into a traditional classroom typically increases rather than decreases construction costs. For this reason, the team decided to start from scratch and use an integrated design approach rather than just add high performance features to an existing classroom.

The design team began by critically viewing weather data and determining how energy is used within the classroom (see Figure 1.) They determined that half of the energy consumed for heat is lost through the envelope (walls and ceilings) and half is used for heating incoming fresh air that is required for ventilation. Most (38 percent) of the electric energy use went for lighting, 21 percent went for cooling the walls and ceiling, and 16 percent went for cooling incoming fresh air. Because of this distribution of energy consumption, the designers maximized energy efficiency of the classroom by including these features:
  • High insulation levels (R-60 in ceiling and R-38 in walls)
  • Large amount of thermal mass (concrete in floors and two walls) to retain heat in the winter and retain the “coolth” (from cool nighttime air) during the summer
  • Minimal mechanical systems (natural ventilation and/or small heat exchanger)
  • No space cooling
  • Non traditional space (non-square room with large skylight and a daylight reflector)
Design notes:
The natural cooling feature will perform successfully only in climates with cool nights (e.g., the nighttime temperature is 20 degree F less than daytime average temperature).
The classroom design features are interdependent. If you change one design feature, it is very likely that other features must change. For example, if the skylight material is changed, then the size of the skylight must be modified.
The high performance classroom is 60 percent more efficient than Oregon Energy Code (which is equivalent to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90.1-2004). The daylighting system provides daylighting for the entire room—not just the area near the windows on the outside wall. The daylighting factor is 4 percent—twice the LEED-NC 2.2 Environmental Quality credit 8.1 requirement. In addition, the daylighting system provides very uniform lighting within the classroom. The room is comfortable year-round except after a hot day that is followed by a warm night. Even under these unfavorable circumstances, when the ceiling fans are on, occupants are still within ASHRAE 55 comfort ranges.
Perception Within the Space  
The high performance features result in a unique classroom that does not look or feel like a typical classroom. Instead, the classroom feels open, airy, and bathed in light. On cloudy, bleak days, the room is warm and inviting. Pictures do not do the room justice—one needs to experience the room. When architects and school district staff visited the classroom, several mentioned that the daylighting provided a calming effect within the room.
Current Design and Construction Status
Using the high performance classroom concept, a prototype of the classroom was built at Mount Angel Abbey in 2005 in the warehouse. As of November 2006, the Mount Angel’s new Annunciation Building, the academic and office building, has seven high performance classrooms of various sizes.
For a detailed description of all the design features, click here.
Currently, several Oregon school districts (Portland, Canby, and North Clackamas) are either designing or constructing schools using the high performance classroom concept. The Portland School District is designing a one-room classroom to replace an old portable that is used as a band room. The Canby School District is designing a high school addition that includes five classrooms based on the high performance classroom.  With the passage of their bond, the North Clackamas should begin the design of their new high school that is expected to incorporate high performance classrooms.
Mount Angel Abbey  
The classrooms at Mount Angel Abbey are based on the high performance classroom concept.(See overview and tour presentation.) The only differences between the high performance classroom prototype and the Mount Angel Abbey classrooms are:
  • The amount of insulation (R-28 ceiling rather than R-60; R-23 walls rather than R-38)
  • The addition of hydronic heating on the outside walls
  • Concrete in the ceiling rather than between classroom walls
According to the energy model, the high performance classroom has a simple payback of less than seven years (including incentives). Even without incentives, the simple payback is 11.2 years.
Note: nearly half of the extra costs are associated with the installation of radiant slab heating in the halls.