When you are planning a new nursery building, there is obviously much to consider and a multitude of decisions to be taken. Aside from a desire to create a healthy, safe and nurturing environment, peopled by a top-notch team of staff, you will, no doubt, be mindful of the day-to-day running costs once the nursery is up and running. And one of the largest components of your non-wage monthly outgoings will be your energy bills, what with all those little bodies to be kept warm, well lit and clean.
Despite the fact that the world oil price has plummeted by more than 50% since last June and wholesale costs to energy suppliers have been slashed, energy bills remain much higher than, say, four years ago. During the years of rising oil prices and costs, retail energy prices were very quick to respond, but they are proving woefully sticky on the downtrend as energy retailers drag their heels and boost their profit margins. It is unlikely that the retail price and your bills will ever fully reflect the slide in wholesale costs, and before we know it, oil prices will be on the up once more. So it makes sense to ensure that your nursery building uses, and wastes, as little energy as possible from the outset, in order to insulate your future budget from the vagaries of the oil price.
The best form of illumination in any environment where young minds are moulded is natural sunlight, which means lots of windows – appropriately toughened and insulated, of course. Sunlight is easy on the purse (and the planet) but just as importantly, it is good for the building’s occupants physically, behaviourally and cognitively. Good daylighting should be supplemented with a smart interior lighting system that senses when the sun is not up to the job and gives out just the right amount of illumination, at the right time. Ideally, the luminaires should be intrinsically energy efficient, whilst also giving the interior a natural, uniformly day-lit appearance.
Another good way of reducing reliance upon electrical lighting is the inclusion of sun pipes. These ultra-reflective tubes can be installed in parts of the interior furthest from the windows and they literally funnel sunlight inside. And while considering harnessing the sun’s energy, it is worth examining the merits of installing solar panels. Full electrical self-sufficiency may be prohibitively expensive for some, but a simple system that heats water need not cost a great deal.
Ideally, a high insulation value should be inherent in the building’s design and woven into its fabric at every available opportunity. Walls, windows, ceilings and floors should all be fabricated to keep the elements out and heat in on chilly days, but should also protect against over-heating during a hot spell. Glass features should be double-glazed, ideally with an argon cavity fill to further improve thermal performance, and specially coated to ensure low emissivity.
Lighting has already been discussed, but the space needs to be heated to keep everyone toasty, as does the water to clean up after all that hard, mess-making play. An instantaneous hot water unit that only heats water on demand uses significantly less energy than traditional storage units, and if solar panels are included, need only to be used on really dull days. Don’t forget to ensure the system includes a thermostatically set maximum, not only to reduce energy bills but also to keep little hands safe from scalding.
Choose a space heating option that is as energy efficient as your budget allows and try not to settle for anything less than an A rating. Why not consider an AA-rated air source system (which doubles as an air conditioning unit) that extracts heat from the atmosphere to provide warmth inside, rather like a fridge in reverse.
You will find that an eco-nursery specialist will have already considered all of the above and will have designed its buildings with the environment in mind, utilising the very latest in ecologically sound and energy-efficient technology and construction practices. At The Learning Escape, for example, we use high-quality, sustainable materials to create inspirational nursery buildings with a very high degree of energy efficiency: most of our recent projects achieved an A-rated EPC. Many of the features mentioned above are a standard part of our bespoke buildings and we offer a wide range of optional extras to further enhance energy efficiency, including sedum roofs and wind turbines. As an eco-nursery is often more affordable than traditional buildings and intrinsically better insulated, you might find your planned investment spend stretches to include a great deal of energy-saving features, giving you peace of mind about future running costs, whatever happens to energy prices.