Energy Considerations for New Religious Buildings

Building a Mormon church in Phoenix.

By Lawrence Spielvogel and Andrew Rudin

The gathering of a group of people for worship never requires a church, temple, synagogue, or mosque as we presently build it. And certainly no Biblical justification exists for wasteful building use within the religious community. Yet the energy cost in newer non-residential religious buildings exceeds that in older ones.
Dollars that congregations could devote to community service should not be used unnecessarily by their facilities. As congregations enter an era of virtually certain increased energy cost, designers and specifiers should remember that plans for religious buildings require extra care in design.

During the past five years the Interfaith Coalition on Energy (ICE) has examined several hundred religious buildings in the Philadelphia area. In Philadelphia, two-thirds of the energy expense is for fuel. However, our recommendations for energy management of lighting, domestic hot water, and other non-heating-related energy uses are applicable to most other parts of the country. For example, an Interfaith Coalition has begun in Arizona where only five percent of the energy expenses is for fuel.

Much of the information derived from these buildings applies to both new construction and renovation projects, and this article will present to architects, engineers, and specifiers some suggestions for their design. Most of our suggestions concern a building’s invisible aspects, such as system control and lamp choices. Our advice is not a substitute for services provided by local architects or mechanical and lighting engineers, but rather a compendium of the many factors to consider in new building design.

This Episcopal church, now under construction, features seven-day optimal start, Instantaneous hot water, dual residential-sized boilers, and other energy conserving features.

Building a Mormon church in Phoenix.

The Building Committee

Professionals involved in religious building design will probably deal with a building committee composed of several dedicated volunteers who may not possess the expertise found in the business sector. Instead, individual members may be emotionally involved with the building process; structural ideals may not be balanced by knowledge of building use.

Builder adding aluminum covering to fascia of a Mormon church in Phoenix
Remember that neither clergy nor most committee volunteers have any formal training in facility operation. If you find initially that the committee is not able to make clear decisions, you may wish to suggest that the committee be augmented with members who have practical experience in evaluating design options. These may include a construction manager, a mechanical engineer, and a facilities manager.

“Attention to energy considerations in religious buildings brings pennies from heaven back to earth.”

Mormon churches tend to be efficient, heated by multiple, residential-sized furnaces controlled by seven-day clock thermostats.

Heated by multiple, residential-sized furnaces controlled by seven-day clock thermostats.

Once the plans and specifications have been drafted, the architectural firms should retain one set of blueprints and specs (one relatively inexpensive way involves microfiche) and give the other to the congregation. We also recommend that this set be backed with cloth or laminated in plastic to make it permanent. Label it: “Not to leave the premises.” Only copies made from this set should be allowed to “travel.”

Non-residential religious buildings, with which this article is concerned, include houses of  worship used for worship only; houses of worship that have multiple uses; and combinations of worship and education buildings. Other complexes may contain combinations of a church, parochial elementary school, social halls, church office buildings, and modular classrooms. Evaluating the benefits of low first cost in relationship to low operating cost over time will
depend, in large part, on the intended hourly use of the new building.

With very little use, low first cost becomes more important. With long operating hours, low operating cost becomes more important, and higher first cost for more efficient equipment and systems can be justified. It is difficult to justify the energy savings realized with highly efficient boilers or double glazing in a church that is used only one hour each week.

To read the full 10 page article in PDF Format, click on the link below:

constr_spec_oct_88.pdf  (Opens in a new window, file size 2.8 megs)




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