Plowing Through the Cost Barrier: Zero Energy K-12 Schools for Less: Preprint

Paul Torcellini, Nathaniel Allen, Maureen McIntyre

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


There is a perception that zero energy K–12 schools cost more than conventional schools. Zero energy schools provide a number of unique benefits to school districts, students and staff, and communities. Among other things, a zero energy school requires far less energy to operate than a conventional school and uses on-site renewable energy systems to offset that reduced energy load. The money saved on energy can often be used to enhance educational programs. But does the extra value come at a premium? Research findings indicate that not only can zero energy schools be designed and built on conventional school budgets, they can cost less. In an integrated design and construction process, the cost of zero energy measures can be offset by, for example, downsizing heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, reducing both life cycle and first costs. These findings are based on an examination of 88 zero energy or zero energy ready schools across the United States built during the last 15 years. The data collected on these schools include capital costs and the experiences of owners and design teams. The goal was to understand the perceived cost barrier, given that each building was built with a predetermined budget. The results will help future school stakeholders, program administrators, and design teams counter the perceived cost barriers. Successful strategies for achieving zero energy at no initial cost are presented. The lessons learned from existing zero energy schools can help transform the market such that all new schools can be zero energy.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages17
StatePublished - 2020
Event2020 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings -
Duration: 17 Aug 202021 Aug 2020


Conference2020 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5500-77414


  • K-12
  • net zero energy
  • school
  • school costs
  • zero energy
  • zero net energy


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