Everyone knows that in the business world, time is money. While the same doesn’t necessarily apply to houses of worship, one thing is definitely true: the longer facilities managers spend on managing church infrastructure, the less time they have to strategize and work toward the future. Taking the time to implement efficient systems can actually save both time and money down the road, enabling organizations to invest in the reason they were established in the first place: ministering to their congregations, communities and to those far from God.
With this in mind, a number of companies offer systems that are increasingly tailored to a church’s unique needs. Today, facilities have access to audio-visual and lighting control packages, event management and administrative planning technology and HVAC systems designed to provide user-friendly monitoring and management of a building’s backbone with the touch of a button or the click of a mouse—allowing for significant economies of energy, both the electrical and human kind.
Lighting Leads the Way
The lighting industry has addressed the issue of energy conservation for a while now, with the creation of zone-based systems that enable users to program the lighting in different areas of a building according to the level of activity in specific spaces. Michael Garrison, president of Fresno, Calif.-based audio-visual design firm Michael Garrison Associates (MGA), notes that manufacturers such as ETC, Strand and Colortran, among others, offer systems that provide this level of control, eliminating the concern that lights will continue burning through the night if someone forgets to turn them off before leaving. “For instance, an office area may be programmed to be in operation from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then it goes off, and you would have to override the computer to turn it back on,” Garrison explains. “You don’t necessarily get caught in the dark, but if you’ve left lights on in the building and you leave, it automatically shuts down.”
Zone lighting control also allows church staff to go about their business without having to fire up the entire system when it’s not required. For example, systems can be programmed to accommodate a work light setting for custodial services, or a stage lighting-only preset for choir rehearsals.
In addition, Garrison notes that the technological progress currently being made in LED lighting has the potential to make a significant impact on how churches light their facilities in the near future. “The technology is evolving to get brighter and brighter, and to provide more colorful fixtures,” he says. “At some point, we anticipate that LED will probably replace incandescent.” This is good news for those seeking to cut their electricity bills: LED fixtures use a fraction of the energy that traditional bulbs do, and they produce far less heat—resulting in less need for air conditioning during the hot months. “We expect LED lighting technology to eventually replace house lighting as well as theatrical stage lighting, and to have a great impact on the cost of operating these buildings.”
Lutron, based in Coopersburg, Pa., offers a number of lighting control solutions applicable for use in sanctuaries, multipurpose spaces, classrooms and exteriors, including Grafik Eye 3000/4000/QS preset lighting control systems, LCP128 lighting control systems, RadioRA RF lighting control, EcoSystem lighting management systems (which include digital addressable dimming ballasts and luminaires) as well as Radio Powr Savr wireless occupant sensors, and Sivoia QS window shading systems.
Jim Yorgey, technical applications manager at Lutron, notes that the company’s lighting control systems are designed to address the needs of both churches large and small. “Lutron energy-saving lighting controls are available in a variety of sizes and costs, starting with simple low-cost occupant sensors,” he says. “Many Lutron systems are scalable, and a worship facility can start with a basic system, [then] expand as needs and budget allow.”
Manufacturers such as AMX and Crestron have addressed audio control for a long time, but Steve Shewlakow, senior audio/video designer at MGA, notes that now these systems can be integrated more easily. “You can actually control more parameters,” he says. And he adds that a number of today’s digital signal processing products offer controllability from external devices. “For example, you can change the configuration of a loudspeaker system. If you are in an auditorium that has multiple zones, you can now, via [Digital Signal Processing] (DSP), turn the different zones on and off.”
Self-powered speakers also offer energy savings, as well as less cumbersome installation. “The installation is becoming more efficient because of this, so you don’t have equipment rooms and lots of cooling because the amplifiers are in the speakers,” Shewlakow says.
Audio-Visual Systems Integration
Aurora Multimedia, based in Morganville, N.J., offers non-proprietary, cross-platform Internet Protocol or IP-based control that integrate a facility’s audio-visual systems. Designed to accommodate users with varying degrees of technical knowledge, the company offers a number of tools that simplify the programming and control of a building’s various systems. “All of the engines that we use to control all of the peripherals are mini websites, and they serve up web pages that allow you to control everything,” explains Paul Harris, CEO. “Even if you don’t set up a website, it will still control things, but the whole premise of it is like building a website.” If you know how to build a website, you’re well-equipped to write code for Aurora’s system, and if you don’t, the manufacturer offers tools to help you.
Harris emphasizes that automated control provides peace of mind when it comes to energy savings. “With everyone trying to go green, one of the advantages of control systems today is that you can automate them to go on and off at specific times, so even if people forget to turn something off, you can ensure that it will be properly turned off,” he says. The system’s IP infrastructure allows for this to happen anywhere, at any time. “I could be halfway around the world and [I could] have forgotten to do something, and as long as I’ve got a browser I can log in and start modifying things,” he says.
HVAC Solutions and Even Smartphones
Remote access and control goes beyond audio-visual technology, and In2 Networks, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is addressing this with its managed heating and cooling system that is connected to the company’s network, accessible via Internet browser. “What we developed is a technology that allows the user to go onto our Internet website from anywhere in the world, log into the system and effectively program every thermostat in the building on a very simple web page,” explains In2 President Daren Orth. The system, which encompasses an In2 module connected to a Honeywell thermostat, runs about $500 to $700 per thermostat. A web connectivity account starts at $200 a year, with the price increasing depending on the number of thermostats that are integrated with the system.
NetworkThermostat of Grapevine, Texas, (a product that’s integrated with ServiceU’s EventU Green, mentioned above) also offers facilities managers a reportedly simple way to control their HVAC systems. “Our product solutions include both wired and wireless communicating network thermostats that are very easy to install. Most churches install the systems themselves,” says Jerry Drew, the company’s president.
“For the wireless systems, the tasks are simply to replace the existing thermostats with [our] NetX thermostats, add the front-end network controllers, link the thermostats wirelessly with the press of a button, and connect to their Local Area Network [LAN] or Internet,” Drew says. “The included software allows point-and-click scheduling, control and real-time updates of any or all of their HVAC units.”
What about the cost? Drew reports that small churches can also benefit from HVAC control. “We discount to churches very steeply,” he says. In addition, he says, “On average, a church will be able to pay for a [NetworkThermostat] system within six months or less, simply from the reduced energy costs.”
Yet another superb—and small—piece of technology promises to help give facilities managers and pastors greater control from a distance. According to Clay Gandy, CEO of Green Arch Design Group in Greenville, S.C., an architectural firm that specializes in design and green issues, smartphones are where the mobile phone market is heading, and where time- and energy-conscious church staff will find appreciable benefits. Smartphones are little mini computers hooked to the Internet at very fast speeds. Facility audio, video, lighting—even water—can be controlled, Gandy reports. “Say you’re a pastor and you’re away from the church visiting someone at a hospital, and you see it’s raining. You can go on your smartphone to a web page at the church and turn off the sprinkler,” he says. The fact that pastors wouldn’t have to drive back and forth to control the water—another green benefit.
Linking Up Scheduling and Maintenance
Since 1998, Memphis, Tenn.-based ServiceU has offered EventU, an event management system that automates everything from room scheduling and support to registration, ticketing and online payments. EventU Green, one of the company’s latest additions, is the middleware that connects scheduling with a facility’s HVAC system. “In real time, it issues the commands to the heating and air conditioning system to turn on and off just the exact rooms that are associated with the event,” explains Tim Whitehorn, founder and CEO of ServiceU. “With this, the inevitable last changes—such as the need to add an ancillary room at the last minute because more people are attending than projected—can be done easily, within one minute, and the heating and air conditioning controls are updated.”
EventU Green works in conjunction with high-end HVAC systems as well as mechanical thermostats. The scheduling system begins at $55 a month, and Whitehorn claims that some users have reported a 20%-30% savings on electricity bills with EventU Green.
FacilityTree, based in Carol Stream, Ill., assists facilities managers with a different type of control: one that is related to keeping costs in check not only from a day-to-day operations perspective, but also down the road. “We want [church staff] to be able to predict the future as best as they can in terms of capital projections,” explains John Conlon, president. Designed to track and manage assets and the maintenance, the system is served out of FacilityTree’s data center. Once equipped with a module, churches can sign up for the application that best suits their needs. (The core product starts at about $100.) Conlon notes that this helps facilities establish benchmarks in a number of areas, such as how much electricity they are consuming, so that they can make future purchasing decisions based on solid data.
“Then, you can put that into executive reporting so that, as a facility manager, you can turn around and say, ‘If we go ahead and do a lighting upgrade, or if we slowly phase in a new energy-efficient furnace, we will be able to see these kinds of savings on our utility bill,’” Conlon explains.
FacilityTree also facilitates the budgeting process, enabling managers to set aside the funds required for future upgrades. “People want to give money to ministries, not to get a new boiler,” Conlon says. “If the church’s administration is doing their job, they will have that money reserved so that they can take care of things when that time comes.” The key element, however, is that with this system, churches can determine how to best utilize what they already have. “To be a good steward, you need to be more efficient. If you use less and use what you have well, that’s a good thing,” he concludes.