Building Energy Efficiency into Church

[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]

Close-up of a compact=

Switching to energy efficient light bulbs is just the start of energy efficiency for your church. (cc image courtesy fangleman via flickr)

So let’s just say that, according to last week’s article on doing energy audits at church, you congregation has caulked every window, replaced every incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb, and programmed every thermostat to increase your energy efficiency. Where do you go from here?

Obedience to God’s call to care for creation digs deep into our lives, actions, and relationships. It can dig deep into the management of your church facilities, too. A “green” facility is a great witness to the world of your church’s commitment to following every aspect of God’s will. Implement the following changes in your church grounds and facilities as part of that commitment.

Heating Up and Cooling Down
Maintenance: Although it’s good stewardship and plain commonsense to keep your facility’s heating and cooling systems in

Roll of insulation.

Seal in the temperatures you do want and keep out the weather you don't with effective insulation. (cc image courtesy chimothy27 via flickr)

good working order, doing regular maintenance on them also increases their energy efficiency.

  • Engage a qualified HVAC firm in a maintenance contract with seasonal tune-ups. During these tune-ups, a technician should check combustion efficiency, refrigerant charge, and belt tension as applicable.
  • Replace air filters regularly. Accumulated dirt and dust make your fans work harder and reduce airflow. Clean or replace filters as recommended by your system’s manufacturer.
  • Clean the evaporator and condenser coils on your heat pump, air-conditioner, or chiller. Dirty coils inhibit heat transfer; by keeping them clean, you save energy.
  • Inspect ducts and piping for leakage or damaged insulation. Leaky ductwork is one of the biggest contributors to cooling loss in buildings. Apply duct sealer, tape, and insulation as needed.
  • Repair old valves and steam traps. These can waste hundreds of dollars and are low-cost parts.

New Systems: Heating and cooling systems have advanced significantly in design and efficiency. For example, today’s air conditioners use less energy to produce the same amount of cooling as older air conditioners. Even if your air conditioner is relatively new, you can still save on your cooling energy costs by replacing it with a more efficient model.

  • Avoid over-sizing equipment at all costs. Over-sizing equipment increases the cost of installing and operating the equipment. Request that your HVAC professional conduct an Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s (ACCA) Commercial Load Calculation to ensure proper sizing.
  • When selecting a new cooling system, have your HVAC professional provide you with a quote and specifications for both standard-efficiency and high-efficiency units, including the lifecycle costs of each unit. If the lifecycle cost is less on the high-efficiency unit, purchase it.
  • When purchasing room air conditioners or light commercial heating and cooling units, select units that are ENERGY STAR qualified.
  • Consider energy recovery ventilation systems to reclaim waste energy from the exhaust air stream and use it to condition the incoming fresh air.
  • For areas such as the sanctuary space, and facilities with warehouses and garages, consider installing radiant heating. Radiant heating warms objects instead of the air, and requires less fuel. Radiant heat is also useful for warming exterior areas that require heating, such as patios and waiting areas.
  • Many buildings are impacted by what goes on inside the building just as much as (and sometimes even more than) the weather conditions outside. That is why it is important to properly size equipment and consider the use of a demand controlled ventilation system, coupled with economizers, to meet the internal loads of the building.

Let There Be Light
Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs): CFLs are fluorescent lamps that have been specifically made in a compact form to replace incandescent lamps in traditional screw-in fixtures. These energy-efficient lamps come in a variety of styles and sizes and are suitable for a variety of applications. CFLs use 75% less energy than a standard incandescent bulb and last up to 10 times longer. Replacing a 100-watt incandescent with a 32-watt CFL can save approximately $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.

The long life of CFLs makes them ideal to use in hard-to-reach places where changing them can be a hassle. In addition, CFLs are cool to the touch, making them safer than incandescent and halogen lamps.

Fluorescent Lighting: Fluorescent lighting is the “standard” technology for lighting spaces such as offices and classrooms, and is up to four times more efficient than the incandescent lamp. However, older, obsolete fluorescent lighting systems can result in poor light quality. Advancements in fluorescent lighting systems have resulted in the introduction of new systems that provide improved energy efficiency, lighting quality, and design flexibility.

  • Traditional Systems:
    • T12 Fluorescent Lamps (the light’s bulb or tube): One of the most common, but least efficient fluorescent systems. T12 lamps can be identified by their 1.5-inch diameter.
    • Magnetic Ballasts (the ballasat modifies incoming voltage and controls electrical current): Magnetic ballasts are common and still used extensively today due to their low initial cost. However, these ballasts are considerably less efficient than new electronic ballast designs and are prone to flicker and humming (particularly as they age).
  • Energy-Efficient Fluorescent Lighting Systems: These systems, using T8 (1″ in diameter) and T5 (5/8″ in diameter) lamps, offer improved efficiency, higher intensity, and potentially longer life due to reduced degradation in light output over time. T8 and T5 lighting systems are constantly increasing in flexibility and are now applicable to a variety of task and accent lighting applications, as well as general lighting of larger spaces.
  • Energy-Efficient Electronic Ballasts: When specifying a fluorescent lighting system, always specify electronic ballasts. These ballasts provide near flicker-free operation while using up to 30% less energy than magnetic ballasts.

Exit Signs: Exit signs present an excellent low-cost, low-labor opportunity for increasing the energy efficiency and safety of your facility. Replacing incandescent exit signs that operate at about 40 watts per sign, or fluorescent exit signs that operate between 12 and 20 watts per sign, with an ENERGY STAR-qualified exit sign can increase the energy efficiency of your exit signs by 3 to 8 times. Many ENERGY STAR-qualified exit signs are based on light-emitting diode (LED) technology, while others are based on photoluminescent and electroluminescent technology.

Lighting Controls: Controls are a key part of any lighting system. Specify controls that maximize the flexibility of your system while eliminating light usage, often automatically. Common controls include:

  • Bi-level Switching: Bi-level switching saves energy by allowing you to turn half of the lights in a room off when full illumination is not required. Bi-level switching is commonly used in offices, conference rooms, and classrooms.
  • Dimmers: Dimming lighting systems allow you to control the amount of light needed in a room. Dimmers are available for fluorescent and incandescent systems. Daylight dimmers are special sensors that automatically dim room lights based on the amount of free and natural daylight available. Dimmers are commonly used in conference rooms, classrooms, eating areas, and libraries.
  • Occupancy Sensors: These sensors detect the motion of room occupants, turning off lights in unoccupied areas and turning them back on when movement is detected. Occupancy sensors are commonly used in restrooms, classrooms, and warehouses.
  • Daylight Sensor (Photocells): A common inefficiency of exterior lighting systems is a tendency to “dayburn.” This is when lights are on during the day, wasting energy and money. This problem can be prevented by installing light-sensitive controls that turn lights on and off automatically based on daylight.

Building Efficiency from Top to Bottom

Sun rays shining between trees and clouds.

The sun provides the best, most energy-efficient heat around! And capturing it is becoming easier. (cc image courtesy Denis Collette via flickr)

Roofing: Some areas that should be considered when upgrading your roof include:

  • Insulation: When specifying or replacing a roof, insulation can be placed under the roof. Choose an insulation material with minimal negative impact on the environment.
  • Radiant Barriers: In addition to traditional insulation, radiant barriers save energy both in the summer and winter by re-directing radiant energy in the facility.
  • Cool Roofing: These systems lower heat gain for facilities by reflecting the sun’s radiant energy, saving energy on air-conditioning.

Walls: Exterior walls (and those connected to unconditioned spaces) should be insulated. When exterior walls are being constructed or are bare during a renovation, consider a quality building wrap. These materials have a low cost per square foot of material and can help drastically reduce air and moisture infiltration into the conditioned space.

Windows: A single-paned window has an R-value (measure of the ability to prevent heat flow) of 1, making it little more than a hole in the wall. Fortunately, in recent years, double-paned windows, along with other energy-efficient features, have become more standard. Older facilities can likely benefit from improvements to windows. Improvements you should consider when upgrading your windows and frames include:

  • Purchasing ENERGY STAR-qualified windows, which feature a combination of new technologies that save you energy and money
  • Double or triple-paned glass
  • Inert gas (e.g., krypton, argon, or nitrogen) fill
  • Low-emissivity, advertised as Low-E, glass/film or other advanced coatings/films
  • Window tinting appropriate for your region and facility orientation
  • Insulated frames, low-conductivity materials
  • Many vendors are now promoting the advantages of window films—ranging from simple tints that block incoming light, to films that provide performance similar to Low-E glass, and advanced coatings that block specific wavelengths of light.

Passive Solar Design and Orientation: The orientation of a facility can affect energy consumption, particularly the energy used for heating and cooling. For a new congregational facility, consider passive solar design or positioning a facility to take advantage of the sun’s natural heating and light energy, and to shade a facility from the sun where desirable.

Related Posts at Flourish
Audit and Fix It: The First Two Steps to Becoming an Energy-Efficient Church

Further Reading


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    [...] Building Church Energy Efficiency:  The Flourish Blog provides many helpful recommendations that will produce energy savings in your church facilities. This is a comprehensive article and a [...]

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