This post was written 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.
I am not an environmentalist. I believe there are many worse things in this world happening that are a bigger priority than being energy efficient. But I can’t help being practical and smart either. My Reformed Dutch upbringing screams at inefficiency and waste.
I found myself planting a new church for Christian Reformed Home Mission in Las Vegas where summers will average over 100 F for more than three months of the year and another 3 months still need air-conditioning to keep people from drenching our cloth chairs. Nine years into our church plant we purchased our first property and 2 years after that, completed our first worship space owned by the congregation of GVCRC (with a LOT of help from the CRC Loan Fund).
The house on the property was a simple “ranch” style that we could use for worship the two years we were on property before we moved into our worship space. After that period we turned the house into an educational building with kitchen, class rooms, and an office.
Something striking hit us when we started getting the bills for the two buildings on site. The brand new worship space is a little over 4000 square ft. and the house is only 1600, yet the electric (we have no gas onsite, so heat and AC is electric) in the house was twice the amount of the worship space. The house was/is old for Vegas, being built in 1960’s but it still should not be that bad. We had work to do …
A member of our small church had access to a thermal scanner from his job and on an especially hot day he “looked” at the walls, windows, and doors of the house. He found our biggest problem to be the spot where the wall met the floor. There are no basements in Vegas because of a stone layer close to the surface, so all houses are built on slabs. Ours was not level and true; air escaped easily under our walls. Our second biggest issue was single pained windows. With a fundraiser to ask people to buy a window or part of a window, we replaced all the windows around the house. While we had the walls in disarray anyway from the new window installation, we decided to blow more insulation into the walls and up into the attic. Lastly we boxed in the eaves with stucco (a staple of homes in the desert) making sure we had proper ventilation.
With all these logical improvements, we succeeded in lowering our electric bills from averaging $220 per month down to $120 per month. Most of these savings come from those two to three months of extreme Vegas heat where we would have bills up to $500 in one month; that bill is now rarely over $200.
When we built our worship space we left room on the south facing roof for solar panels. Desert roofs are tile so we sealed it with rolled roofing, expecting to have the solar panels donated or bought within the 5 year warranty on the roofing. We still do not. While a donor was willing to purchase them if the numbers worked out, they still haven’t worked out. If he took the necessary $40,000 and simply put it in CD’s instead of purchasing the panels, we would be able to pay our power bills from that deposit for longer than the solar panels would last. There are no tax benefits for churches going solar and we have applied to our power company for a grant but at this point, there are no practical and economical ways to get them. Someday I hope the cost for solar will come down and our roof can be complete.
As stated above, I am not an environmentalist; I am not a “tree hugger”; but I am a practical Dutchman. It just makes sense to be as efficient as possible with your energy consumption and to use renewables whenever possible and practical. Vegas has an abundance of sun and that is a blessing and a curse. A curse BECAUSE we have to seal everything from the heat but a blessing because it is a resource. Because we don’t have to pay to heat our facilities, we can spend much of our community time outside, and someday we will harness the sun for power to eliminate our electric bills. That is smart and practical, and most important of all: it is stewardship.