This post was written by Henry Brouwer as part of the CRC's Congregational Energy Stewardship Pilot Project. Be on the lookout for more posts like it in the coming weeks and months in the Creation Matters forum.
In 2004, our congregation, which had been meeting in the cafeteria of the local Christian high school, embarked on a building program to acquire our own facilities. In addition to the usual building committee, council also appointed a Creation Stewardship Committee, of which I served as chairperson, tasked with minimizing our impact on the creation. Since heating, cooling and lighting use the most energy, we researched various systems for increasing energy efficiency. This led us to recommend a geothermal system. Even though the additional cost would be at least $60,000 more than a conventional rooftop heating and cooling system, our congregation voted 100% in favour of this more advanced system. By so doing, we became the first church in Ontario to be solely heated and cooled by using 12 geothermal heat pumps linked to about 7 km of ¾ inch pipe under our parking lot. As a bonus, we received a grant of $54,000 from the federal government's Commercial Buildings Initiative for energy efficiency (these grants are no longer available) after completion of the building.
A number of other features were also incorporated into the building:
- Lights in the classrooms and washrooms were controlled using occupancy sensor switches.
- Waterless urinals were used in the men's washroom as well as low-flush toilets in all washrooms to reduce water consumption.
- Additional insulation (more than required by the building code) was incorporated into the ceilings.
- The geothermal units were all installed inside the building, rather than on the roof, thus avoiding extremes of temperature for the units.
- All classrooms have windows beside the door to allow natural light into the interior hallway.
- All exit signs were equipped with LED (light emitting diode) lights. Older exit signs normally use two 15 watt incandescent bulbs, whereas the LEDs draw only about 2 watts. In addition, the LEDs last much longer.
- The sanctuary lights were fitted with 15 watt compact fluorescent lights, rather than the recommended 100 watt incandescent bulbs.
Since 2005 when we first occupied the building, we have made further improvements:
- Modifications were made to the geothermal system so that the four 1200 watt circulating pumps (which move the heat exchange fluid through the pipes to the units) would only kick in when there was a demand for heating or cooling by one of the units; as installed, the pumps were running 24/7 and obviously using a great deal of electricity.
- The so-called interior security hall lights (normally kept on all the time) were placed on a timer, so that the lights could be off during the day and during early morning hours when no one is in the building. (We have a security system installed that will alert us if anyone breaks into the building.)
- Many of the exterior mercury vapour lights were no longer working (due to failure of the bulbs or the ballasts) and so the decision was made to replace them with LED lights. We were able to source suitable lights from China (there are very few suppliers that stock the kind of lights we were looking for) and as a result, our energy consumption for outdoor lighting decreased by about 70%. We were able to use the existing fixtures by disconnecting the ballasts and wiring the sockets directly to the supply lines. The reflectors were also removed or modified to allow the LED lights to fit properly (since LEDs are very directional, no reflector is needed). Through this change, we eliminated the use of mercury and hopefully also decreased maintenance, as LEDs last much longer.
It is difficult to assess the energy savings achieved with the features that we have adopted for our building. Our electricity and water cost per square foot (we have no gas!) is approximately one dollar compared to the cost for commercial buildings of two and three dollars. Our building is used every day, as we have several long-term tenants that rent our facilities.
We have had quite a few church groups visiting our building to view and discuss the geothermal option. For many architects and contractors, this is an unfamiliar system and they are therefore unlikely to recommend it. If your church is considering a renovation or new building, it is extremely important to hire professionals familiar with the latest technologies in building design.