COVID, Energy Management, and Church Buildings

by | Building Health, Facilities

By Colby May, Energy with a Mission

What interesting years 2020 and 2021 have been, right? COVID has changed the world we know in many different ways. Not only has it has changed the way we do church, when we go to church, and how we should structure the church, but it has also changed the way we manage energy at our church. We have done numerous energy audits over the past year and a half, and we have seen many different practices, good and bad. We’d like to address them here. 

HVAC Usage

In some extreme cases many churches will operate 24 hours a day with outside air dampers open 100%, while in other cases some churches turn everything off. While these are extreme examples, we believe the answer lies in between. Keeping your HVAC on all the time while a church is unoccupied, is what we would consider an inefficient practice. On the other end of the scope, keeping everything off can be damaging to parts of the church (for example, humidity can be disastrous to audio equipment, organs and more).

Below are a number of energy efficiency practices for churches to consider while we still feel the effects of COVID.

  • Minimize HVAC Use – Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning can be 50-60% of our energy use. Minimize energy use during unoccupied times, while keeping the building, organ and audio equipment healthy. Examples include:
    • Keep unoccupied temperatures at 80° for cooling and 50° for heating.
    • Use a zone conditioned by a smaller sized unit.
    • Keep the HVAC off during peak summer hours.
  • Lighting – Suggestions to conserve energy with your lighting include:
    • Keep lighting OFF as much as possible.
    • Use outside lighting if possible.
    • Consider de-lamping a 4-lamp fixture by 1 bulb.
  • Plug Load – Up to 70% of the plug load is considered phantom load, meaning even if a device is not in use, it is still drawing power.
    • Consider installing smart power strips.
    • If possible, unplug a device (example: window unit).
  • Domestic Hotwater Unit – Typical hot water units are on 24 hours a day, holding temperatures of 120-140°. Consider adding a time clock, which will act like a thermostat, allowing the temperature to come down. Note: be careful of colder climates, as pipes could burst based on location and condition of the unit.
  • Benchmark – Consider looking and analyzing your energy use per month and compare it to the same month of the previous year (compare January 2021 to January 2020). Benchmarking works like a gas-gage to a car, when you know what you have in the tank you make better informed decisions.
  • Outside Air – Different states have different requirements, but outside air can work if done properly. However, allowing outside air to come into the building 24/7 is a very inefficient practice. Outside air requires simultaneous heating and cooling for dehumidification purposes and can be extremely expensive.
    • When the building is unoccupied, close or minimize outside dampers (if possible).
    • When the building is occupied, outside air is recommended. We recommend following ASHRAE recommendations.
  • Get an energy audit – In order to start a business, you need a business plan; in order to build a house, you need blueprints. The same can be said about energy audits. In order to effectively save energy, it is good to develop a plan.

Some churches are cautious to do too much during these unique times, and understandably so. However, since buildings are oftentimes mostly empty, this is actually the best time to develop an energy plan for your facility. Firms like ours (www.consultlit.com) specialize in audits for churches, but many times your utility company will also offer a free energy audit.

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