No-Cost Energy Practices That Can Have a Deep Impact on Your Church

by | Facilities, Operations

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 30% of the energy we use in our churches is wasted.  Churches in the US spend nearly $5B in energy per year. What if we could capture that 30% at no cost and redirect the savings to global missions, to reach the unreached?  I am a Certified Energy Manager, a Mission Pastor, and an alumnus of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. I love missions and I love energy management; it seems like an odd pairing, but in the next few paragraphs I hope you see that is not the case.

What Does Energy Management Mean for Your Church?

When I am discussing energy audits or energy management with churches, their first response is around new lighting or budgets for capital expense projects.  While this is certainly part of the process, most of the opportunity regarding energy management is behavior-related.  We have performed over 5,000 energy audits, and every single one of those properties has potential to save energy at no cost.  We do not need to spend money to save money. 

The average church facility manager wears 10 different hats.  As a result, they are in reactive mode rather than proactive mode.  The average facility manager does not have the time or resources to do and see everything.  Consequently, things go unseen and can cause maintenance, costs and projects to pile up.   While there are a number of things we can do to make an impact now, I would like to focus on the HVAC portion of that impact.

HVAC Practices to Implement

On average HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) makes up about 60% of your facility’s energy use. The way we control that HVAC is vital.  Below are immediate practices for you to consider for your churches, businesses or homes.

1. Thermostat Setpoint

The EPA recommends a cooling setpoint ranging from 74-78°, and a heating setpoint from 66-70°.  While these setpoints might be a little past your comfort zone, it’s worth noting that each degree you change can impact the HVAC portion of your energy use by as much as 1.5%.

2. Deadband

Keep a 5° temperature difference between your heating and cooling set points.  Anything lower could cause simultaneous heating and cooling as the temperature setpoints fight against each other.

3. Outside Air

We are required to bring in outside air into our facilities when our facilities are occupied. However, many facilities keep their outside air dampers open at all times.  This is a very expensive practice, especially in very humid areas, as it requires the HVAC to run much longer and harder as the cooling dehumidifies.  If your facility is unoccupied, close or minimize damper position.

4. Unoccupied Temperatures

If you are unoccupied longer than 4 hours, set back your temperatures to 80-85° for cooling and 50-55° for heating.  Many facilities do not have unoccupied temperatures or only set back a degree or two.  This could call on your HVAC to run continuously throughout the day.  This can be an expensive practice. 

5. Zone

If your facility has more than one zone, only condition the zones that are occupied.  There’s no need to condition 10 zones if you are only occupying two.

6. Smaller Zones

If possible, schedule a meeting in a zone that is conditioned by a 2-ton unit versus a 10-ton unit. The 10-ton unit could cost 5x more to condition.

7. Conditioned Zone

If possible, use a zone that is already conditioned versus conditioning another zone, which could take 2 hours to reach setpoint.

8. Peak Hours

If possible, minimize HVAC during peak summer hours, which is typically between 2pm and 6pm Monday through Friday.

9. Thermostat Location

Be careful not to set a thermostat over a coffee pot, behind a shelf, or near direct sunlight, as these could cause the thermostat to misread.

10. Common Zone

Be careful to set thermostats that share a common zone (example: in a gym) to similar setpoints.  Many times, one thermostat might heat while the other cools, which will cause simultaneous heating and cooling.

The above action items are recommendations for your facility to consider.  Remember, nobody knows your building better than you do.  You might not be able to do all the above, but perhaps you can begin implementing a few.  Facilities in Texas, for instance, find a cooling setting of 80 degrees to be acceptable, while those in northern parts of the country find that to be far too warm. If HVAC makes up 60% of our energy use, then we need to do the best we can to control that use while keeping the building healthy and people comfortable.

About the author

Colby May is founder of Energy with a Purpose, a consulting group that uses energy management and sustainability principles in ministries as a means to increase missions funding, through redirected energy savings.

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As the founder and Executive Director of ShareBuilt, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting construction professionals with charitable groups in need, I am driven by a profound desire to make a meaningful impact on communities. The inception of ShareBuilt...