Many older schools still use their original single pane windows resulting in energy loss and distracting glare ThinkStock

Many older schools still use their original single pane windows, resulting in energy loss and distracting glare.

Light of Day: Controlling Glare in School Environments

Replacing outdated windows can help schools cut energy costs and provide a better learning environment.


 In the more than 60 years since Wellesley Middle School was built in Wellesley, Mass., students have viewed plenty of things as they’ve stared out the windows of the facility.

The problem is that the windows students were peering through in 1953 are the same ones that students were looking through in 2015. The building still has the windows installed during the original construction, as well as the windows that came with building additions in 1958 and 1966.

That comes to a total of 280 windows, covering 17,700 square feet of the building’s envelope. And over the years, those windows, never energy-efficient to begin with, have aged and deteriorated. Many of the windows no longer can be opened or closed. Cold air from outside the school leaks through in the winter to put greater strain on the school’s heating system, and noise and glare transmitted through the single-pane glazing often distract students from their studies.

But Wellesley Middle now is poised to enter the 21st Century of windows. Bolstered by a Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) program that will subsidize the project, the town has approved a plan to replace all of the windows in the school.

“The new windows are going to be much more energy-efficient,” says Joseph McDonough, director of facilities for Wellesley schools. “Our energy manager estimates we’ll save 5 to 10 percent in energy costs.”

The percentage savings is modest, but the amount will be significant, considering that the 230,000-square-foot facility is one of the largest middle schools in New England. McDonough points out that Wellesley’s high school, built in 2012, uses about half the natural gas that the middle school does, even though the high school has about 20 percent more space.

The district says that the middle school’s Energy Star score, a measure of a building’s performance, was 57 out of 100 in 2013, compared with the high school’s score of 94 out of 100. Wellesley estimates that the new windows will boost the middle school’s score to the high 80s or low 90s.

The MSBA approved the Wellesley project in January as part of the state’s Accelerated Repair Program, which helps districts make critical repairs of roofs, windows and doors, and boilers. Replacing the windows at Wellesley Middle will cost about $5 million; a state grant will cover $1.42 million of the cost.

School officials had hoped to complete the replacements this summer, but McDonough says it is likely that most of the work will be done in the summer of 2016.

Over the years, town and school officials have recognized the need to upgrade the windows at the middle school, but other improvements claimed a higher priority or promised a more immediate benefit. 

“People want to see a payback right away,” says McDonough.

New windows can cut energy costs, but the payback may take 25 or 30 years, McDonough says. Window upgrades had been included in a renovation of the middle school in 2006-07, but when the project had to be scaled back, work on the windows was deferred.

When school and town officials weighed the energy savings together with the improved school environment and the availability of state funding, they decided to move forward with an upgrade to double-pane high-efficiency windows.

“The impact on the learning environment is a big factor,” says McDonough. “There will be less air infiltration, cold breezes, glare and outside noise."

Mike Kennedy is the staff writer for American School & University

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.