A fenestration system that takes maximum advantage of daylighting can have numerous positive effects not only on a school's learning environment, but also maintenance and operations costs. When schools are pitched an alternative to traditional windows, they should sit up and take notice.

Learning brighter

In 1999, the Heschong Mahone Group, an energy-consulting firm in Fair Oaks, Calif., found a correlation between the use of daylighting and student performance on standardized tests. In the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) in Orange County, Calif., the students in classrooms with daylighting strategies, large windows or well-designed skylights performed 19 to 26 percent better than their peers in classrooms without these features.

Whether the improved performance resulted from increased light, an improved quality of light, or the positive physiological effect natural light had on the students and teachers is unclear. Regardless, this study suggests that students will perform better with daylighting features in place. Some also believe replacing older, inefficient windows with daylighting systems can improve the performance of the school, as well.

Common scenario

Realistically, many schools operate in older buildings with failing window systems. Students cope with unbearable drafts that force them to wear coats during the winter. Because students are distracted by how cold they are, the lessons being taught may not have the same effectiveness.

To address the window-draft problem, a maintenance staff needs to be trained to identify a problematic window and how to repair it. Parts for the window system may be difficult to replace or impossible to locate, depending on the age of the system and if it is a landmark protected by preservation laws. Consequently, non-historical windows are often boarded up, and windows on buildings that are protected have to be restored.

Often the upkeep of fenestration systems falls to the bottom of the “to-do” list with facility maintenance departments. Staff and budgets are limited, and other maintenance issues sometimes are seen as more important. And, many facilities do not have a structured approach for window maintenance. Repairs and cleaning are performed on an as-needed basis, and inspections rarely are performed. If maintenance issues continue to be ignored, over time a building will begin to show its age.

When it comes time to replace window systems, daylighting such as skylights, should not be overlooked. Well-designed daylighting systems can provide more natural light, reduce the usage of artificial light, and result in improved student performance and free-up maintenance staff's workload, allowing more time to focus on cleaning.