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Church Building Trends, Materials & Advancements

Church Building Trends, Materials & Advancements

A WFM exclusive Q&A reveals that sustainability is key in building and maintenance considerations

Read on for a review of current best practices—both in building and in maintaining worship facilities. WFM’s roundtable panelists focused on sustainable materials and building practices.


Jeff Phillips, project manager, BRPH Cos. Inc., Melbourne, Fla.  |  www.brph.com/services/construction_services

Shad Traylor, LEED administrator, BRPH Cos. Inc., Melbourne, Fla.  |  www.brph.com/services/construction_services

David Nance, senior project manager, Choate Construction, Atlanta |  www.choateco.com

Jeff Crocker, architect, Brewster & Crocker Architects, Gainesville, Ga.  |  www.brewster-crocker.com/home

Jeff Whittle, president, Ecclesia Construction, Rock Hill, S.C.  |  http://ecclesiaconstruction.com

Ronald E. Antill, COO/general counsel, Quest Contracting Services, West Palm Beach, Fla. |  www.questcontracting.com

WFM: What are the latest building materials being used in church projects that contribute to building envelope efficiency?

Whittle: Highly reflective roofing products, ‘low-E’ coatings on windows and doors, [and] well-installed door thresholds will help maintain the desired temperature. [Low-emittance (low-E) coatings are microscopically thin metal or metallic oxide layers deposited on a window or skylight primarily to reduce heat flow.] Also, the barrier between the conditioned and unconditioned space is important to study. There are many good manufacturers that offer great products to insulate wall cavities.

Nance: Precast insulated wall panels are very efficient and easy to erect; these wall panels allow the project to progress quickly.

Crocker: Engineering has greatly improved TPO [thermoplastic olefin] membranes; the insulation can go up to 3, 4 or 5 inches—thicker than in rigid board insulation. (TPO membranes are single-ply roof membranes constructed from ethylene propylene rubber.)

Traylor: Cool roofs with reflective [surfaces help make the building envelope more efficient]. In the South, we see more wide, light-colored reflective roofs that reflect the radiant heat and, in the North, we see black roofs to capture the heat.

Antill: We use tilt-up concrete panels and cast them on site if we can to minimize transportation costs. Concrete is more fire resistant and performs better during harsh weather, so it lowers insurance premiums.

We also utilize insulation with the highest R-value [a measure of thermal resistance] possible. For example, fiberglass insulation only has an R-value of 3 per square inch, as compared to sprayed urethane foam, which has an R-value of 8.

WFM: Are there any particular areas—windows, doors, HVAC systems, control systems—that stand out when it comes to construction and operational efficiency?

Crocker: Advances in variable refrigerant flow are extremely energy efficient. They eliminate ductwork by placing a small unit in the room’s ceiling. They cost a bit more upfront, but clients are not losing all that conditioned air as it travels through ducts.

Nance: New control software makes it easy to view and control the system remotely. To control lighting costs, [I suggest] using LED lights even if you currently have a standard system. The maintenance staff won’t have to change the bulbs every 140 days, saving on time and scaffolding costs. While LED lights can cost five times as much as standard bulbs, they last an average of five years.

Crocker: LED is so much cheaper to operate. It gives you a dimmable, controllable light with greater longevity. It [also] has color-changing ability, allowing you to go from warm lights to cool lights. Even stage and performance lighting goes a step further with the right design panel….

Antill: We recommend extensive use of daylighting to minimize energy use. A well-designed daylit building is estimated to reduce lighting energy use by 50%-80%.

WFM: What types of savings are possible, both in terms of building costs and in maintenance and operational costs?

Crocker: One older church recently retrofitted [its] campus with the Mitsubishi City-multi systems (variable refrigerant flow) and experienced a total energy savings in the 30% range. This will not be the case for all projects, but was the case for this particular one.

Traylor: We target at 30% below the ASHRAE [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers] baseline. Bigger churches are looking to run facilities more as a business model.

Whittle: Sink faucets are a [quick] way to reduce water usage—by simply installing an automatic shutoff. The larger the congregation, the more savings.

Nance: While people tend to think the steps to achieve LEED certification will result in much higher costs, the reality is [that] obtaining LEED certification costs only about 10%-15% more on average. This small bump can generate greater cost savings in the future, making LEED certification a good return on investment.

WFM: What changes have been possible by technological advances? Advanced climate control software and solutions are readily available, but are there other processes that might speed the building and collaboration process?

Nance: Choate is using Building Information Modeling (BIM) software much more frequently in construction. We can virtually walk a client through their project, room by room.

In addition, utilizing software that allows for download of electronic documents cuts down on the cost of postage and reproduction of plans as much as 50%. PDFs, Skype, GoTo Meeting, and other virtual tools aid in expeditious document dispersal and quick decision-making, [as well].

Phillips: There have been many technical advances in the past five years. BIM over an Internet connection allows everyone to access information they need to see at the client’s office. We’ve also used technology like GoToMeeting.com with clients, including those in Hawaii. This technology flushes out misunderstandings. We don’t have to travel as much but still are able to increase the number of coordination meetings for project effectiveness.

Antill: In addition to BIM, we also use Online Project Management programs, which allow for seamless and instantaneous communication and information sharing between the project owner, contractor, architect, and other project players to speed up the approval process of submittals, requests for information, and value engineering considerations.

WFM: Any final words of wisdom you’d like to share with church leaders and building owners?

Antill: We recommend using solar energy, if applicable to the region, as well as occupancy sensors in classrooms, restrooms and conference rooms. There [are] also low or waterless fixtures and rainwater reclamation tanks. In some cases, it is possible to use native vegetation to reduce irrigation needs and to minimize landscaping costs overall.

Whittle: Building smaller buildings and smaller spaces by multi-purposing the rooms reduces the negative impact to the land by reducing the amount of land needed to build. That then reduces the amount of water run-off into storm systems and [eventually] into streams, ponds, lakes and rivers. [In addition], using packed gravel and permeable concrete (where allowed by code officials) is a great way to eliminate water run-off.

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