Going Back To School

The consequences of the recent COVID-19 outbreak have been far-reaching for the construction industry, with many companies and sites being forced to close. As we look ahead to what the future may hold, Senior Architectural Systems’ sales director James Keeling-Heane draws on the manufacturer’s expertise in delivering education contracts to help fabricators prepare themselves to be able to make the most of the emerging opportunities in this key market.

There’s no denying the fact that the world, and the construction industry, has changed as a result of the disruption and devastation caused by the coronavirus. For the fenestration sector, this means that work that was all but guaranteed may now be in serious question and many fabricators may find themselves having to compete for contracts that are outside of their usual area of experience.

One market where construction has been able to continue, albeit under heavy restrictions, is education. Although work to build and refurbish schools, colleges and universities has understandably slowed down considerably, contracts are still there for the taking and fabricators need to be ready to able to hit the ground running to secure these opportunities.

Teaming up with a supply chain partner like Senior that has proven track record of successfully delivering education contracts is a good place to start but by brushing up on their knowledge of some of key requirements of this complex sector, fabricators and installers can further improve their chances of winning work.

A study in fenestration solutions

When it comes to specifying windows, doors and curtain wall systems for education facilities, the learning curve can be steep. Architects and contractors working in this sector face the challenge of creating educational facilities that move away from a traditional reliance on mechanical heating, ventilation and cooling systems to reduce carbon emissions and lower energy bill costs. As a key aspect of the external envelope, fenestration systems, and windows in particular, have a huge impact on determining the overall energy efficiency of a building as well as helping to influence the internal environment. With multiple boxes to tick, finding a system that can provide the required U-values, acoustic performance, aesthetics, safety, security, durability and cost can be a challenge and this has greatly influenced the way that window systems are both manufactured and specified.

Natural learning environments

To help reduce the use of central heating systems and air conditioning within schools, specifiers must look at alternative solutions to control the internal temperature of a room and create a pleasant environment for both the students and teachers to work. Thermal mass, which refers to a building’s ability to absorb and store heat, is now a key part of school building design and is most effective when combined with appropriate ventilation and shading.

Windows are an obvious way to maximise the flow of natural light and fresh air and as summer overheating is a common problem within schools, night time ventilation and the use of trickle vents can help remove any excess heat and carbon dioxide.

Cutting the carbon

The need to reduce the carbon footprint of a building is a challenge that has long faced specifiers working in the education sector. Cost constraints inevitably mean that this reduction needs to be made, at least in part, before renewable energy solutions are considered. As a result, specifiers are increasingly looking at ways that more traditional products can provide better results. The development of aluminium window systems such as Senior’s own patented PURe® range, which offer low U-values but are competitively priced, are providing the ideal solution by enabling carbon savings to be made across the whole life cycle of the building. Robust enough to stand the test of time and the daily wear and tear of being in a busy school environment, aluminium windows offer cradle-to-cradle recyclability so can be removed, recycled and reused if and when the building is demolished.

By cutting back on CO2 emissions through the specification of low U-value windows, the project team also has the flexibility of looking at making monetary savings in the overall build cost by reducing the need for other, often more expensive, sustainable features such as photovoltaic roof panels or under floor insulation.

Design flexibility

The unique requirements of a school environment also influence the size, shape and positioning of windows. For example, it is vital that all window openings are both safe and secure, particularly at low levels to prevent falls or trapped fingers. Windows must also be of a significant size to provide adequate daylight penetration to reduce lighting costs but also need to be easily operated and controlled by occupants, either via automatic or manual controls, to avoid excessive solar gain.

The development of thermally-efficient aluminium window systems has provided specifiers with the additional advantage of having greater flexibility in terms of the positioning of radiators. Traditionally radiators would be installed in the coldest part of the room which would usually be along an exterior wall where cold air would enter via the windows. The use of more thermally-efficient windows removes these limitations, allowing greater freedom when planning interior layouts.

In the frame

The characteristics of aluminium frame window systems also make them ideally suited for use in school environments. Robust and durable, aluminium frames are easy to maintain and are fully recyclable. High performance frames that provide exceptional thermal performance and require minimal maintenance can also be a cost-effective alternative to using energy efficient triple-glazing which, when used in a high-traffic environment such as school, has a higher risk of breaking and would be more expensive to replace.

With the urgent and ongoing need to create more effective educational establishments and provide additional school places, designing and building schools that are built to last has never been more important. Fortunately, the new generation of aluminium windows systems provide a host of flexible solutions to meet the sector’s often inflexible design challenges.

For more information about Senior, visit www.seniorarchitectural.co.uk