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Net-zero school is a living lesson in conservation

At Richardsville Elementary school, all the electricity is produced self-sufficiently. This is the result of a groundbreaking collaboration between the architects, builder, and suppliers to produce the first net-zero achievable school in the United States. This building in Bowling Green, Kentucky is so energy efficient it is able to produce, on site, as much energy as it uses over the course of a year.

Kids tend to be attracted to good news and hopeful information and it was soon apparent that the students at Richardsville reveled in the innovations that have made their school so special. Pay a visit today and you may be greeted by a student eager to conduct a tour, pointing out all of the energy-saving components and underlining how technology can have such a positive impact on everyday life.

"We believe that the bridge to the future begins with the successful education of our children," says principal architect, Kenny Stanfield at the Louisville location of Sherman, Carter, Barnhart Architects. "So it's appropriate that this building of the future be a public school. A net-zero achievable school, as defined by the federal government, must use 25 kBtus or less per square foot annually, whereas the typical school today consumes 73 kBtus of energy."

So what materials and methods should we be using in future buildings and in our new homes?

To answer this, a student tour guide at Richardsville will first point out that the construction team needed to make many strategic decisions regarding walls, windows, roofing, water management, ventilation, indoor climate control, and kitchen utilities.

"The key to designing and achieving an affordable net-zero building is a focus on strategies that reduce energy consumption," Stanfield explains. "We always begin those design strategies with a high performance building envelope, and for those walls, it is insulated concrete forms that work admirably with this number one goal."

To replace the inefficiency of the standard wall construction methods, insulated concrete forms (ICFs) are delivered to the construction site where, to build the walls quickly and efficiently, they lock together like Lego. The supplier, Nudura, says that their ICF system ( is comprised of stay-in-place, pre-assembled forms that are steel reinforced and then filled with concrete.

"The durability and energy efficiency of this concrete system has shown to reduce energy costs up to 70 percent," says Todd Blyth, a manager with the company. "As compared to wood walls on your home, the Nudura system has shown to be nine times stronger, with far more fire protection, and with far more sound insulation."

Student Tour

Richardsville kids would probably also show you: the 40,000 solar panels on the rooftop that convert solar power to electricity and deliver clean, renewable energy back to the community; the geothermal heating and cooling system; the north-south positioning of the school for effective daylight; the wireless computers; and all of the energy-efficient food preparation because "a standard school kitchen typically accounts for 25 percent of the building's energy drain."