The ongoing challenge that school managers, local authorities and head teachers face to save money whilst improving sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint means it is vital that solutions can model future savings with precision and provide reliable return on investment forecasts.
Few building improvements can deliver this in the way that a washrooms upgrade programme can, in which old energy-hungry hand dryers and paper towels are replaced with the latest generation of low energy hand dryers.
Hand dryer technology has evolved significantly in recent years to a point now where the capital investment is offset by operational savings in a very short period. The key financial savings come through several factors, not least the reduction in power consumption.
With energy costs only likely to increase long term, any technology designed to reduce consumption with eventually payback the investment. With hand dryers, that point will arrive sooner rather than later with the latest generation of products vastly superior to that of those installed twenty, ten or even five years ago.
These old hand dryers may still function, but their energy consumption will typically be 2.6kW compared with 0.9kW today – that’s a saving of two-thirds. Remember too that this cut in energy consumption also means a reduction in the size of a school’s carbon footprint.
CO2 reduction is a significant dimension of the Eco-Schools initiative which aims to support schools to reduce their environmental impact. Aligned to the 2010 Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), schools – who make up for 15% of all public sector CO2 emissions – are tasked with a CO2 reduction target of 53% in the decade between 2010 and 2020. Advanced low energy technology will be instrumental in achieving this target.
Another significant financial and environmental benefit comes for those schools who currently use paper towels in their washrooms – exclusively or as a partial solution.
Paper towels are often marketed as a sustainable solution due to the fact they are not using energy during the drying process and can be recycled. However, it is important to consider the process of manufacturing and supplying paper towels and the whole life cycle energy costs to give a more rounded comparison with hand dryers.
On an operational level, the switch from paper towels to hand dryers cuts the requirement for staff to restock and maintain washrooms and reduces the amount of waste generated. Switching also eliminates a costly problem of children flushing paper towels down toilets rather than placing them in waste bins. The cost of calling out a plumber to unblock a toilet will be at least £80+VAT and if this problem occurs on a regular basis the annual cost will be significant.
A washrooms upgrade project at the Peartree Infants School in Derby illustrates the savings that a switch from paper towels to low energy hand dryers can deliver. In the years up to installation of low energy hand dryers, the school was spending in the region of £2,100 on paper towels per annum.
Nowadays the school spends zero on paper towels, the amount of waste it generates as a whole has reduced and school staff spend have more time to dedicate to other maintenance issues now they don’t have to regularly re-stock towels and empty waste bins.
The timescale for return on investment at Peartree Infants School was just 9.8 months, taking into account the costs associated with paper towel supply, the labour savings in relation to paper towel replenishment and waste disposal and the investment in installing the new low energy hand dryers,
The academic studies completed to date which measure the impact of paper towel usage give us reliable figures to make accurate forecasts regarding CO2 savings as well. Each paper towel produces 0.00775kg of CO2 in its production, according to a 2011 life cycle study by the MIT Materials Systems Laboratory, Massachusetts, and two towels are typically used per dry. We can use this figure to compare with the amount of electricity a hand dryer uses and thus the CO2 it emits.
This is the basis of being able to confidently predict CO2 savings as well as electricity consumption. At Peartree Infants School, they have cut their CO2 emissions by almost 3,000kgs per year as a result of their washrooms upgrade programme.
Finally, let’s not forget the importance of the environment and aesthetics. Any improvement to washroom facilities that will encourage children to adopt a hygienic regime of washing and drying their hands every time is extremely welcome to keep sickness levels down for both students and staff.