The first step towards instilling our future leaders with a sense of responsibility where the environment is concerned is to make them aware of the dangers currently facing our planet and the role they can play in either exacerbating the problem or making the situation better. This could include starting a recycling program in the classroom, discussing the organic movement, and talking about sustainable living practices. You could even get students interested in the concept of conservation by performing an energy audit. But how do you go about doing this without hiring a professional from the power company to come out and do it for you? Here are just a few ways to get the whole class involved in figuring out where energy is being wasted.
First you need to understand the goal of an energy audit; it is not necessarily designed to see how much energy a space is drawing, but rather how much it could be saving. Energy waste is a big problem that few people know about. Sure, kids are told to turn off the lights when they leave a room or power down electronics when they’re not in use. But we use energy in all kinds of unseen ways that kids may not even know about. Take air conditioning, for example. Many schools are in session during the hottest part of summer (the end of August), meaning that throwing open a window will result in a breeze that makes the classroom feel like the inside of an oven. But even when AC is a necessity, still there could be waste that your class can detect.
There are several steps to an energy audit, but let’s start with figuring out where the bought air is leaking out. There are a couple of tests to help determine this type of waste. You can start by shining a light around window and door frames. If students on the other side can see light leaking through cracks then it’s a sure bet that air is leaking out. You might also do a smoke test (if such an experiment is allowed in your classroom). If your classroom has fans that vent to the outside, turn them on when the AC is not running. Then walk around the classroom with an incense stick, holding it up to windows, doors, vents, outlets, and even baseboards. Where the smoke wavers there is a leak. This could provide a fun visual for kids.
Of course, you’ll also want to address lighting and electronics. You can do this by checking labels to see what the kW/hour usage of each item is and then doing the math to see how much is being used in the average day by your classroom. With these calculations in hand you can talk about the energy that could be saved by using natural light or swapping in CFL bulbs, and how much could be saved by powering down a computer when not in use. You might need a masters of urban planning to design a more efficient school, but you can easily use your classroom to run a sample energy audit and teach kids a few ways to cut back on usage.