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Oh! Say it Ain't So...

Busting seven myths about churches and energy
By Andrew Rudin – Creation Care magazine – Fall 1997

The Interfaith Coalition on Energy has been around since 1980.  After 66 newsletters, 200 workshops, a zillion phone conversations and gobs of correspondence some old myths seem to remain intact.  So, let's take another look at them....

Myth 1. Churches waste a lot of energy -- It may feel that way, but we use about 7% more energy per square foot than the average home, less than a third of the energy used by health care and food service institutions, two-thirds of what offices use, and a fifth more than warehouses.  And we provide more beneficial services to neighborhoods than any of those institutions!

Myth 2. It doesn't make sense to continually turn off lights --  Nope! Research by the US Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory proved that you can save energy by turning off fluorescent lamps if you are out of the room for more than one second.  Research by major fluorescent lamp manufacturers proved that while turning fluorescent lamps on and off will shorten their operating hours, they need to be replaced less often.  For example, if the life of a lamp is shortened by 25% by keeping it off half the time, its life within its light fixture nearly doubles, and the lamp's annual electric use is cut in half.

Myth 3. It takes more heat to heat a building up than to leave it warm all the time -- Only if you want waste money!  When you lower the temperature inside a church, the fabric of the building and its contents give up heat to the surrounding air.  This heat is the same as that from the boiler.  As the air becomes cooler, the heat lost from the space decreases because the leaking air contains less heat energy and the decreased difference between the inside and outside air temperatures slows the conduction and radiation of heat.  If you don't believe this, read the gas meters on similarly cool nights when you turn down the thermostat and when you don't.

Myth 4. Ceiling fans drive the heat down from the ceiling -- Yes, and make the church feel drafty too!  We did careful measurements here in Philadelphia to show that, with lowering temperatures overnight and without a hole in the ceiling, ceiling fans will do little good in reducing heating bills.  Since moving air makes one feel cooler, however, ceiling fans work well during the summer.

Myth 5. Cool temperatures harm pipe organs -- We polled all the American manufacturers of pipe organs to find that when we lower the temperature of the worship space, the relative humidity goes up.  The leather and wood parts of the pipe organs do better with higher humidity.  As long as the organ was tuned at the same temperature at which it is played, cooler temperatures not only save the organ, but lower heating bills as well.

Myth 6. Churches need insulation and secondary glazing -- The myth is that adding wall and ceiling insulation or a layer of glazing over stained glass windows will reduce heating energy.  It will, but the reduction is likely to be very small.

Myth 7. Old buildings use more energy -- The opposite tends to be true.  The energy costs of newer buildings are higher because they use much more electricity than older buildings.

Now, many readers may think we are nuts.  So, we have prepared reports on each one of these myths.  The reports are based on measured data and/or on consensus of expert opinions.  Most of them are on our website www.interfaithenergy.com