Day Care


Facilities for daycare centers usually fall into two categories:

Day Care Room

  • Residential homes that are totally or partially converted for the day care of children
  • Commercial buildings designed specifically for day care operation

The overriding issues in these types of facilities are:

  • Safety
  • Building materials
  • Air quality
  • Residential/Converted Homes

Most of the mechanical, ventilation, and electrical systems are already in place for these types of facilities. Further details regarding other issues and options for solutions are discussed in the "Commercial Buildings" section of Day Care.


In regards to retrofitting older homes, some things that should be considered are:

1) Safety

  • Be sure that the wiring is safe and able to handle newer types of loads. There may be a need for audio/visual equipment and computer connections in classrooms. All electrical outlets should have protection covers.
  • Eliminate any open-flame or floor-furnace types of heating systems.
  • Kitchen cabinets and other storage facilities should have locking latches.
  • There is usually a need for significant interior and exterior lighting upgrades. However, care should be taken to minimize light pollution and spill light in residential areas, while still providing security and safety for the facility.
  • Building materials
  • Be sure that any painted surfaces do not contain lead-based paints, as these were commonly utilized in older homes.
  • Carpet tacks around the baseboards in carpeted areas should not protrude.
  • Any stair and/or step areas should have appropriate lighting as well as gating to prevent falls.
  • Doors between rooms should have latches or doorstops to assure that they remain either open or closed and can't be inadvertently swung shut.
  • Be sure to remove all materials, carpeting, drapes, upholstery, and painting and wall coverings that may contain allergens.

2) Air Quality: When whole-house HVAC systems are in use, consider the installation of air cleaning devices. Be sure that kitchens, changing stations, and restrooms have adequate exhaust ventilation. In general, just assure that there is adequate, filtered, fresh air in all areas.

Commercial Buildings -
Designed for Daycare

Most of these buildings are low-rise structures of medium size with an area set aside for offices and administration. There is usually a play area and/or sleeping area (cot room), a changing area, a kitchen, and often small classrooms. Frequently, children are divided into separate rooms by age groups. Teaching and daycare approaches are constantly changing from individual classrooms to open-plan layouts and back again. Open-plans have portable partitions that can be changed as needed, so the HVAC system design must be flexible.

The key building energy systems' electrical loads are lighting and HVAC systems. Cooking and water heating loads can be significant depending on the local availability of natural gas or propane. Regardless of location, adequate electrical circuits must be available to handle any audio/visual needs and computers. However, most of the electricity is still consumed by the lighting and cooling systems. Some key issues to consider in building energy usage for any day care building include:

  • Construction materials (amount of glass areas, insulation, etc.) and orientation to the sun
  • Occupant usage and maximum occupancy characteristics (especially time of day)
  • Lighting levels and lamp source efficiency (which affect the cooling and heating loads)
  • The time of year and seasonal costs of fuel and power when considering options for equipment alternatives


Many day care designs require warm floors. So in addition to determining whether your building has under-floor or perimeter slab insulation, you also need to consider your options regarding the kind of floor heating system you want or have; either embedded heating cable or hot water piping.


All HVAC equipment should be simple to operate and require no skilled personnel. Central or rooftop systems are normally used, with separate zones for administrative areas, common areas, kitchens, and child care facilities.

The types of HVAC systems normally used in daycare facilities are gas heating/electric cooling or heat pumps. This equipment is air-cooled and has a low first cost and ease of operation, which readily adapts them to small facility applications.

Water-cooled cooling equipment is available, but many communities have restrictions on the once-through use of city water and require the installation of a cooling tower or other water-conservation equipment. While water-cooled equipment generally operates more efficiently and economically, it has a higher first cost with a tower and a higher maintenance limit, which limits its application.

Geothermal systems are gaining wide acceptance and popularity in small facilities. They are easily zoned, do not require any exterior equipment, are super efficient to operate, and can provide water heating. With this system, the important thing is to avoid any open flame-type heating systems.

No matter the system, proper ventilation is always necessary in order to control odors and avoid "sick building" syndrome. The selection and design of HVAC systems for small, commercial facilities is normally determined by economics. First cost is usually the predominant determining factor. In general, decisions about the efficiency or type of mechanical systems are based on simple payback or a cash flow analysis rather than a full life-cycle analysis.

Water Heating

Water Heating is not a major energy user, with usage typically limited to hand washing and cleaning purposes. Most water heating is done separate from the building heating system using direct electric resistance or gas heaters, and in some cases, point-of-use heaters or geothermal systems. Central distribution systems with storage and constant re-circulation are seldom used.

Energy Saving Recommendations

In kitchens, hot water is primarily used for dishwashing and food preparation. Provisions to supply 180ºF sanitizing rinse may be necessary depending on the size and type of chemicals used in the dishwashing systems. If it is, a booster heater must be sized according to the temperature of the supply water - usually 140ºF - and the required flow of the dishwasher. A small laundry room may also be in use and require its own water heating system.


Day-Care Kitchen

Food service in day care facilities is usually minimal, but what little there is frequently requires residential-grade ranges and refrigerators. Commercial-grade equipment is occasionally used, but limited to ranges, ovens, and refrigeration. With residential equipment, electric ranges are predominantly used, but commercial equipment has trended towards natural gas where it is available. The overall benefit of electric cooking is due to ventilation reductions and the personal comfort of staff, which often overrides any minimal increases in energy costs.



Interior lighting levels of 50 to 100 footcandles are needed in any rooms designed for teaching. However, play areas require substantially less. The important thing is to minimize glare and veiling reflections. Please see the sections on lighting for more information. Most lighting equipment will be T-8 fluorescent and fluorescent with LED exit signs.

Additional Energy Cost Saving Measures

Exterior lighting should be custom designed for each location. While some may assume that this is a minor issue, daylight savings time changes the lighting requirements, as do cloudy and stormy days, which require additional exterior lighting design. Care should be taken to place the lighting precisely where it is needed and to avoid glare and light pollution issues. The typical building-mounted wall light or flood light aimed into the driveway and/or child pick-up area will, in most cases, be the best option to avoid any safety hazards. In addition, there are security, visual enhancement and advertising benefits to getting your lighting custom designed for your facility.

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