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As Green as it Gets

As Green as it Gets

A look at the state of Green, plus tips and resources to help save both the planet and your church's pocketbook

Today’s churches may not be on the forefront of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, as offered by the Washington, D.C.-based U. S. Green Building Council (USGBC). But they are making serious strides toward being as Green as is economically feasible for non-profit organizations.

“‘Green’ and ‘sustainability’ are the buzz words of the day … the year … the past decade and decades to come,” says Tim Cool, president of Cool Solutions Group in Charlotte, N.C., a company that provides collaborative building and facilities solutions for churches. “This is no longer just a fad, but is real. If we step back and look at the whole Green movement, we see that what we’re really talking about is stewardship. Stewardship of the natural resources that God has given us. I have found that there can be huge savings for churches if they will think Green.”

As an example, Cool points to church facility exit signs—signs that traditionally use incandescent light bulbs requiring 40 watts of power. “An LED exit sign,” by contrast, “only consumes 2.2 watts,” he reports. “So based on studies developed by the [U.S.] Department of Energy (www.energy.gov) as well as our local utility company, you can save $30+ a year by making this change. If you have a facility with over 100,000 square feet, you will have [more than] 50 of these devices. You can do the math … that is real dollars being saved. And the payback on the investment is less than 1.5 years. If you are building new, the cost is a wash right from the start.”

In the move toward Green, what other simple ways can churches help God’s natural world and save money in the process? Worship Facilities Magazine queried a number of experts and Green enthusiasts and found that—from materials and products to building methodology and design of structures themselves—there’s plenty church leadership can do to get almost as Green as it gets.

Material, Product & Design Practicalities

The majority of U.S. churches are considered small churches, or those with less than 300 in average weekly attendance, according to Clay Gandy, president of Green Arch Design Group in Greenville, S.C. “The vast majority of these structures are constructed of wood. These [church] projects (additions, renovations and new construction) are usually less than 10,000 square feet. This makes wood construction more economical than metal stud or pre-cast concrete panels,” Gandy asserts. “Designing and building with certified Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood products assures the church that the wood used has been grown, harvested and milled using sustainable forestry techniques.” For more information, see www.fscus.org.

Yet, changes in building shell materials are on the way. “In the next 12-18 months, new materials will drive the way that anything wood was previously made,” says Michael Williamson, president and CEO of San Francisco’s Green Tek Haus, an ala-carte design/materials/build solution that uses the latest in Green, economical building construction materials.

In the near future, Williamson foresees churches benefitting from bamboo wall systems or straw block systems that offer sweat equity opportunities for active church congregations. These materials will offer churches a significant cost savings as well, Williamson asserts. “[For] any set of plans, we can deliver all of the Building Construction Materials (BCMs) for $75 per square foot—or less in some cases,” he says. When using pre-fabricated parts, delivered pre-cut and ready to be assembled, “it will save congregations hundreds of thousands of dollars and, in some cases, millions over conventional methodologies,” he continues.

Williamson also reports that alternative building materials soon to be available “will produce an 80%-90% reduction in energy usage for a building, and will reduce pollution during the manufacturing stage.” And he adds, “We just need to be more efficient in the materials we use, and design buildings in a way that is more energy efficient. It will promote what we call ‘Double Green’—good for the earth and your pocketbook.”

But even right now there are products available to help a church help the environment. According to Judy DePuy, director of product marketing with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Serious Materials, a developer and manufacturer of sustainable green building materials, window replacement offers a sure-fire way that churches can use Mother Nature wisely to save both energy and money.

“If you are building new construction or need to replace your windows, you should consider super-insulating windows,” DePuy advises. “The best way to measure the insulation value of your window is to look at the R-value. Super-insulating windows of higher R-values can help you save the highest percentage of heating and cooling costs when compared to other ‘energy-saving’ windows available today. SeriousWindows have an R-value up to four times that of Energy Star windows, but are priced similarly.”

In addition, DePuy reports that her company’s SeriousWindows are manufactured in U.S. facilities that were previously closed by other window manufacturers, and recently reopened by her company to make super-insulating SeriousWindows. “We have not yet been able to put all the former employees back to work, but every time you purchase a SeriousWindow, you’re helping us keep our plant workers (and potentially your neighbors if you worship in Colorado, Pennsylvania or Illinois) busy, and hopefully help us put more and more people back to work.”

DePuy also reports that her company uses source materials such as fiberglass in its window frames—materials that take less energy to manufacture and take “decades longer to need replacing when compared to other framing systems.”

As an example of the return-on-investment that churches might see when replacing windows, DePuy points to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Eugene, Ore. “[Local] Stonewood Construction just installed fiberglass SeriousWindows 925 (with an R-value of 9.1, three times that of Energy Star windows),” she says. “The goal of the installation was to replace older windows and create a more thermally comfortable environment for the occupants, but SeriousWindows will help reduce the church’s heating and cooling costs as well.” Depending on geography and other factors, DePuy says the church can save up to 40% on heating and cooling costs. Savings such as these may be more pronounced for churches in very warm or very cold climates, as well as climates with large temperature swings.

Design, too, can help churches reduce lighting needs and can help control a noticeable portion of heating and cooling loads, according to Scott L. Shonk, AIA and LEED AP, an associate partner and project architect with Lancaster, Pa.-based Beers & Hoffman Ltd. Shonk, Schwear & Associates Architecture. Shonk says that daylighting and passive solar design, for instance, are especially gaining traction in churches and other buildings in the

“Site conditions and abiding by solar orientation requirements are critical components that impact the floor plan layout, the building massing, and the exterior wall section detail,” Shonk reports. “Narthex lobbies, fellowship halls, and Christian education spaces can benefit more from this design.” Sanctuary worship spaces, on the other hand, have typically not benefitted as greatly due to higher priorities on programming and liturgical requirements. The worship function of the sacred space and the controllability of light (both natural and artificial) are typically viewed as more important than flooding sunlight into sanctuaries.

“Ground source geo-thermal systems are also becoming more economical, more dependable and, therefore, more common as an alternate heating and cooling solution,” Shonk says. However, “The first cost of numerous wells being drilled needs a reasonable pay-back period or the availability of financial relief from government grants.”

And finally, Shonk predicts that active solar panels will play a greater role in helping churches reduce the number of hot water heaters needed, as well as their operating costs, due to the typical low demand for hot water in churches.

For any church, large or small, Cool reports that there’s a way to save money right now—on cleaning solutions for facilities. “Most Green cleaning products come in tablet form that you dissolve in your own water in bottles or containers that you already own and reuse,” he says. “Here is an example. If you need a case of window cleaner, you can buy a conventional cleaner that will be shipped to you with, say, 24 bottles of cleaner. If you look at what this costs … at what you are buying … you are paying for 24 bottles predominantly filled with water, as well as paying for a sturdy cardboard shipping container and for either shipping or a delivery service.”

And Cool adds, “On the flip side, if you purchased a Green Seal product, you would buy one small bottle of concentrated tablets that costs a fraction of the shipping and packaging. It also uses your water and a bottle or container that you already own. So the total cost of ownership of the product is less. In addition, you are protecting the environment by not having as much waste—bottles and boxes—that end up in the landfill. Not to mention the fuel consumption to deliver the product.”

Promising Methodology

Another important factor affecting church “Green-ness” today is how the building is designed in the first place. A new design and building approach called Integrated Project Delivery, or IPD, is a method of planning, designing and building where church leaders, architects, builders, engineers, and audio-visual and lighting consultants work together from the start of a building project to design a building. Oftentimes IPD is accompanied by the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) software that allows the team to create a 3D virtual building plan as they work. According to the experts, IPD presents a number of benefits to the growing, building church.

With IPD, “The churches are being much more involved in the decision process that [before] was accomplished only by the design team,” says Robert V. Gerber, AIA NCARB, president of GJS Architects LLC in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., outside Charleston. Gerber says that with an IPD approach, church leaders and their building projects benefit from a design scenario where environmental issues and life cycle cost play a strong role in the decision process.

“Churches do not necessarily need to pursue [LEED] certification, but can benefit from the principles of LEED or Energy Star from the EPA. Being better stewards is the primary goal,” Gerber says.

Williamson, too, says IPD is a tool that touts “Double Green” benefits for churches. “An IPD building project, via BIM, aids in the design, materials usage, construction—and then throughout the life of the building in terms of facilities management, which can lead to huge savings,” he says. And he adds, “… through IPD practices, AIA studies have shown that construction contingencies shrank from an average of around 10% down to 2%-3%. This is huge. On a $5 million church, that means a savings of $350,000+ that the congregation didn’t have to come up with.”

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