Helping schools get the most out of heat pumps


04 August 2023

As schools across the country face steeply rising energy bills, many are switching from old, fossil fuelled heating to energy efficient, environmentally friendly heat pumps. However, says Franco Cofano, Maintenance Portfolio Manager at LH, even the best heating solutions are useless if they fail to operate effectively; they must be properly installed and maintained.

Schools face skyrocketing costs for teachers and support staff, catering, and especially energy. This has created pressing need for local authorities to identify effective ways to deliver desperately needed financial savings.

A whole host of startling statistics make educational establishments a prime target for energy savings.

For example, heating accounts for at least half of a typical school’s annual fuel use with school buildings consuming, on average, more than 200 kWh/m2/year of heating energy and more than 70 kWh/m2/ year of electricity.

The Carbon Trust has estimated that UK schools spend £543 million annually on their energy bills. And the average primary school in the UK spends £31,000 each year on energy bills, according to financial website https://www., a figure that, it says, increases to £90,000 for secondary schools.

According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, meanwhile, the cost of running a school in 22/23 was predicted to increase by 6% with a large proportion of this accounted for by higher energy costs.

Schools have the potential to reduce energy costs by around 20% and prevent 625,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, according to the Carbon Trust.

The question is: How?

Reducing energy consumption is one of the quickest and simplest ways to deliver direct savings and this is best achieved by installing high efficiency heating systems. The best heating currently available is heat pumps because they are significantly more efficient than traditional boilers and use cleaner electricity, so will reduce a school's carbon footprint.

A side benefit is that today’s pupils are tomorrow’s parents, and involvement in energy efficiency initiatives such as installing heat pumps at an early age is an effective way of changing behaviour in the long term.

However, even the best heating solution is useless if it fails to operate properly and that is why effective installation and maintenance are critical. The best way to ensure both is to work closely with a supplier you can trust.

Maintenance is vital to the smooth running of any business that operates machinery. Good preventive maintenance will cut running costs and reduce the likelihood of potentially expensive breakdowns. It can also extend the lifetime of your equipment and provide peace of mind that you are doing everything you can to keep your process running and downtime at a minimum.

Maintenance agreements help reduce an organisation’s legal liability. And handing the responsibility for maintenance to an expert third party can help to cut inventory costs because it negates the requirement to hold tools and spare parts.

But beware. Not all maintenance contracts are equal – it pays to be selective when it comes to choosing the right one for you.

Essentially, there are four maintenance contract options – an in-house service and maintenance team, OEM (original equipment manufacturer) specialists, a third-party maintenance provider, or a blend of these.

In-house maintenance teams are expensive in terms of staffing, training costs, and managing inventory. And employing an OEM specialist doesn’t always allow the building occupier the opportunity to capitalise quickly on the latest technology.

That means that the third option – contracting a third-party to perform maintenance tasks as and when necessary – can offer the best value for money.

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Our company, LH, provides specialist heat pump servicing and maintenance services to schools – among other commercial enterprises – throughout the UK.

But we also go further, providing a comprehensive range of services that support the maintenance we offer, including fault finding, commissioning & decommissioning, and specialist maintenance. It does so by employing cutting-edge technology to diagnose faults, including sophisticated infrared thermal imaging cameras which help identify and quantify heat sources.


Heat of the moment – the case for low carbon heating

A study called ‘The School Decarbonisation Challenge’ was conducted in 2021 by the Energy Systems Catapult, an independent, not-for-profit centre of excellence set up to accelerate the transformation of the UK's energy system towards Net Zero, on behalf of the Department for Education and former and BEIS.

It concluded: “The decarbonisation of gas fuelled space heating is the biggest challenge faced by the school estate. In practical terms this means a two-phase approach of firstly reducing energy needs (by improving building energy efficiency) followed by a transition to a low carbon heating solution.”

The study determined that there are several options for low carbon heating, including district heat, CHP, heat pumps, hydrogen with the ‘best’ option for any individual school being strongly related to the building envelope, the building management and control, the occupants’ behaviour, and the installation quality.

And, it established that space heating and hot water provision is by far the largest consumer of energy in the school estate.

It added: “Any realistic plan to reach a target of net zero carbon has to tackle this issue which means ensuring that effective control systems are in place which school staff know how to operate, combined with the undertaking of significant upgrades of heating systems, moving to low carbon heating alternatives (for example, heat pumps), and reducing energy use through fabric retrofit of the building stock.


What to look for in a third-party contractor

There are several important features that building services consultants should look for when identifying potential third-party contractors. They include:

- Quality and reliability – An ability to respond quickly to changing customer demands and unexpected crises.

- Flexibility – The capacity of the supplier to respond to the changing demands of the buyer so it is important that suppliers do not prioritise their larger customers at the expense of the smaller.

- Value for money – Cheapest does not always correlate with the best value for money. Customers must decide the balance they want to strike between cost, reliability, quality, and service.

- Strong service and clear communication – The aptitude of the supplier to deliver on time, or to be honest and give plenty of warning if they are unable to. The best suppliers encourage regular contact with their customers to discover their needs and how they can best be served.