Daylighting in Schools

Zach Elementary School, Fort Collins, CO

The Poudre School District, in Fort Collins, used high-performance design, or sustainable design, to get a new prototype elementary school that has lower overall energy bills than the 1990 model -- even though it's 22% larger and fully air-conditioned. Zach Elementary is a showcase for many innovative energy-efficiency features including daylighting design and controls, super insulation, CO2 sensors for ventilation, and thermal ice storage. The school also used dozens of products made of recycled materials, including the carpet, siding, cabinets and more.

School/Daylighting Project Profile

  • Grades: K-6
  • School type: Suburban
  • Demo size: Whole school (24 classrooms)
  • Construction scope: New construction
  • Fenestration: Punched window openings, most North-facing
  • Blinds (upper): North, none; South, venetian
  • Blinds (lower): North, venetian; South, black perf. Shades
  • Lighting: Direct-indirect pendants
  • Photosensor: location Outside
  • Controls type: Switching (not dimming)
  • Controls results: Overlighting in Kindergartens, but maintaining overall
  • Survey scope: 140+ students, grades 4-6

Daylighting Satisfaction Survey Results


  • Windows, blinds, lighting generally well-accepted
  • Window tinting not noticeable
  • Few complaints of switching being noticeable
  • No major concerns about restricted view


  • Insufficient shading on South side, making blinds essential
  • Overlighted in some spaces (Kindergartens)

Cost and Energy Savings

  • Cool Daylighting is recommended as a no or low first cost, simple approach to daylighting schools; Low- or no-first-cost is achieved through incorporation of a downsized HVAC system.
  • Laboratory results indicate the lighting and HVAC operating cost savings for high-performance classrooms was considerable and represented a savings of nearly 25% on operating costs of about $1.13 per square foot
  • Demonstration classrooms successfully adapted the principles of daylighting to create comfortable, bright and cheerful environments. The occupants consider their classrooms to be superior to non-daylit rooms.
  • There is significant potential for reduced lighting and HVAC operating costs, as well as upfront capital costs for chillers, through careful attention to glazing characteristics and lighting configuration.