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Building Materials with Muscle and a Pretty Face

A look at building materials and finishes that are resonating with small churches today—and making sense for the money

Church leaders (and pretty much anybody else) will say they want these things in their building materials and finishes: durability, efficiency, maintenance, and aesthetics.

“Churches are interested in learning about the new technologies and techniques in order to use inexpensive materials that will still provide them with a beautiful, functional, and low-maintenance worship facility,” says Ryan Regina, co-founder of Big Sky LLC, a church builder in the Northeast. “Most churches we talk to [also] have some sort of desire to build sustainably.”

An important aspect of good design—and sustainable design practices—is paying attention to local materials and regional architectural styles.

According to Joel Forehand, vice president of operations for Visioneering Studios in Charlotte, N.C., overall trends in church materials and finishes are leaning towards the “raw and rough.”

“Many churches are leaving behind the white painted drywall, polished marble, acoustic lay-in ceiling tiles, brick exteriors, steeples, and glulam wood beams of traditional church structures that are surrounded by a sea of parking,” he says. “Instead they are pursuing designs utilizing bold colors, exposed steel, stained concrete, non-traditional siding materials, and inviting ‘outdoor rooms’ that welcome the surrounding community onto the campus.”

Christine Marvin
, director of marketing for Marvin Windows and Doors, Warroad, Minn., says that today’s churches represent building styles in many different eras.

“We’ve found that the classic beauty of wood will serve almost any worship facility well. Older churches often want wood on the interior and exterior for a historic look,” she says. “However, the durability and ease of extruded aluminum cladding makes it an attractive option for older churches, as well.”

Marvin has also seen a wish for large expanses of glass in new construction for worship facilities with a contemporary design.

Durable + cost effective

For churches, it’s important to look at durability, energy efficiency and aesthetics when considering materials to use.

“For durability you can’t beat steel and concrete, and two of the most common structural systems we see around the country are steel buildings (either pre-engineered or conventional) and concrete tilt-wall,” Forehand says. “Not only are these systems durable but they also are some of the most cost-effective, which make them perfect for clear spanning a large worship center.”

Brick, too, is a strong choice for many worship facilities.

“Brick and stone tend to be relatively enduring and a great option especially in worship centers,” says Jeff Needles, an architect with Sixthriver Architects in Austin, Texas. “In Texas, limestone and certain types of brick are readily available, cost effective, and typically maintenance-free. Metal and cement panels, metal shingles and even cementitious plaster offer very durable and cost effective options, depending upon the circumstance.”

The use of metal on roofs and in structures has long provided churches with cost-effective solutions for their facility needs that are both long lasting and visually appealing.

At Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Aberdeen, S.D., winds worked relentlessly to remove the asphalt shingles of its eight-sided roof. According to Steve Casanova, the church’s director of facilities management, replacing the asphalt shingles with metal roof shingles removed the problem.

The First Baptist Church Recreation Outlook Center in Covington, La., used metal to add a two-story expansion to its facility. By using metal, the building looks modern and industrial and saved the church thousands in building costs. “We wanted it to be high-tech, yet warm, inviting and comfortable,” says Clif Smith, education pastor.

Windows & film

One of the most stunning features of a church can be beautiful stained glass windows. However, these windows may not be very energy efficient when compared to more modern options. One solution is the use of window film.

“Through advanced engineering, today’s window film gives consumers energy savings, a reduced carbon footprint, UV blocking, and [a] security benefit. What’s more, it is offered in a range of shades from visually clear to dark,” says Darrell Smith, executive director for the International Window Film Association ( “Some window films can actually reflect as much as 70%-80% of the solar heat that would otherwise pass through a window pane, while others can retain approximately 55% of interior heat.”

Windows and doors are key to a building’s comfort and energy efficiency, while outdated or failing windows are responsible for a large percentage of the wasted energy in churches. Marvin has worked on a variety of church window renovations where the original stained glass was removed, repaired, replaced and made more energy efficient with an additional layer of glazing.

“Where single sheets of clear glass once ruled the day, there are now windows with multiple glass layers. Special coatings on the glass reflect sunlight and ultraviolet rays without dimming the view,” Marvin company representatives report. “Gases injected between panes create extra insulation. Advanced framing materials and innovative design provide further efficiency gains.”

Green thinking

Steel buildings are one of the “greenest” structures available. The steel used to manufacture these buildings is usually made using a large percentage of recycled material. Plus, once the building reaches the end of its lifecycle, 100% of the steel material can be recycled again.

According to Forehand, concrete tilt-walls are also environmentally friendly. They can be made from recycled content and, like steel, the wall panels themselves can be demolished and recycled if the building is later demolished.

Making a statement

Visioneering Studios helped Northside Christian Church in Spring, Texas, create a conventional steel structure overlaid with unconventional materials, including colorful ribbed metal siding arranged vertically and horizontally, license plates, Trex decking, and exaggerated rooflines to create a unique visual statement to house a 600-seat auditorium.

“I ask all of our first time guests why they decided to come to our church and 90% of them said they were driving by and were intrigued by our site and our new building,” Senior Pastor David Garison says. “That is all thanks to the creativity of Visioneering Studios.”

In 2010, stained glass was carefully removed from the pine windows of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Potsdam, N.Y., originally constructed in 1887. Marvin Windows and Doors’ Signature Products and Services group was contracted to replicate the 15 Gothic Revival windows, including a 15-foot by 23-foot rose window. After more than a century of weathering, shifting and settling, measurements for each new window needed to be exact to accommodate fixed stone and glass dimensions.

The result was a rose window, constructed of 816 precisely cut and joined components, with no two openings alike. All other windows were made from Honduran mahogany to ensure longevity and stability.



Did You Know?

Metal Shingles: The primary motivator for choosing metal shingles is the installation process where the shingles are interlocking and screwed down.

Clay Brick: The brick is considered the most sustainable green building material made. Brick is made from naturally abundant materials and do not off-gas volatile organic compounds or other toxic materials. It also exceeds the 34 mph impact resistance requirement for high velocity hurricane zones—and it is fire-resistant.

Bamboo: As flooring and staircase options, bamboo wood creates a dramatic and beautiful entrance for congregants, while decorative wood used as wood panels serves to help acoustics in worship facilities.

Copper: Besides its beauty and appeal, copper is durable, lasts forever and is easy to work with and maintain. Sheet copper is available in many varieties, colors, coatings and textures.

All-Aluminum Cladding: Marvin standard coating reportedly exceeds AAMA 2605-11 for extruded aluminum.

Window Film: Delivers 7x the energy saving benefits per dollar spent compared with installing replacement windows, experts report.

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