Improving energy management creates a number of opportunities for a house of worship. More efficient operations and systems create costs savings, sometimes dramatic savings, an important consideration in any regard but especially so when considering a building’s facility costs over its lifecycle are double or triple the original cost to build the property. From a staffing perspective, improved energy management can relieve a few tedious burdens on your facilities’ staff. What’s more, improving energy management and efficiency enables us to be better environmental stewards of the resources we have been given.
Perhaps the most surprising thing, though, is that it doesn’t have to be so complex or so expensive, and the time it takes to recoup your investment is gradually shrinking as prices decrease for new systems and products such as LED lighting.
“The neat thing about energy efficiency is that it’s really not rocket science,” says Charles Dietrick, a principal at Basic Architecture + Interiors in Dallas. “A lot of it is common sense.”
Dietrick points to client Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, whose staff worked with an energy consultant and performed an energy audit to improve energy management and efficiency at the church, which has more than 26,000 members and facilities totaling approximately 1 million square feet. Enhancing the staff and congregation’s awareness of energy usage patterns was a big part of Prestonwood’s efforts, but it also installed occupancy sensors in 90 restrooms, installed compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs throughout facilities, reduced hot water temperature settings and upgraded energy management systems while continuing to tune and service HVAC systems to optimize performance. The results netted savings of $750,000 annually on energy and more than $1 million per year on all utilities, including water.
Prestonwood’s efforts earned it an Energy Star Award from the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., which brings us to another point. With facility and technological issues, the non-secular community tends to lag the secular. Churches should benchmark energy efficiency efforts with commercial properties and not their peers, says Tim Cool, president and chief solutions officer of Charlotte, N.C.-based Cool Solutions Group. Cool suggests that organizations such as the National Association of Church Facilities Managers (www.nacfm.org) and the International Facility Management Association (www.ifma.org) can be good resources and starting points in the attempt to benchmark efforts. “Church buildings are complex commercial structures,” Cool says. “It’s the House of God, but it’s not a house.”
Exit for Savings
Now, not every church, synagogue or other religious organization is able to take the steps Prestonwood took, but improving energy efficiency and management can be as simple as changing a light bulb or installing motion sensors in the bathroom that shut off lights and exhaust fans when the room is unoccupied. LED lighting for theatrical purposes in sanctuaries is less mainstream due to cost concerns and some functionality issues—dimming, for example—but as its costs decrease and functionality improves, it’s becoming more common, Dietrick says.
A Department of Energy case study on exit signs and changing fixtures and lights to CFLs and LEDs found savings of $30 per fixture annually, with the cost of switching out fixtures and lights at $40 if the project is undertaken en mass. If your utility offers rebates—like North Carolina-based Duke Power’s $10 per fixture rebate to switch to LED—the switch pays for itself in a year.
“There are all kinds of opportunities to save on lighting, and first and foremost is just switching out the bulbs,” says Jerry Drew, CEO of Grapevine, Texas-based Network Thermostat.
Network Thermostat won Worship Facilities Conference and Expo’s (WFX’s) New Product Award for best new building automation product last fall for its NetX-Web Internet Management system. NetX-communicating thermostats provide a Web-based solution that can operate both wirelessly and/or from an Ethernet connection and provide scalability to fit users’ needs, no matter the size of the building or church. The NetX thermostat provides all the usual controls and also an automatic setback function and wireless sensors that can measure internal temperatures from several different points in a room, as well as outdoor temperatures. Installation is relatively simple—95% of churches that use NetX install it themselves, Drew says—and its wireless capability works especially well for existing and older church buildings with hard ceilings and sheetrock walls where wiring a new thermostat or other device can be challenging. While it’s not a lighting system, NetX does include lighting relays that can be used to manage functions like security, parking lighting and some signage, Drew reports.
The NetX system generally saves users 30%-35% on utilities and typically pays for itself within six months, Drew says. Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, N.C., for example, saved $10,400 in utility costs in its first four months using NetX, primarily from the thermostat’s setback feature, he says.
“It really does stop the abuse and, just as important, the unknowing or forgetful person who turns on the air conditioner or heater in a room and forgets to turn it off,” Drew says.
Proper management of HVAC systems is especially important as heating and cooling costs can account for 50%-70% of utility bills, Cool says. At the outset, new systems should be commissioned to maximize functionality and then maintained to meet American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards. If you don’t clean HVAC filters and coils, you may reduce efficiency by 25%-30%, Cool says.
“It’s not just how you keep it running but how you keep it running at optimal levels,” he adds.
Facility management and automation software can optimize HVAC and other systems as well.
ServiceU Corp., based in Memphis, Tenn., has provided facility and event scheduling software for churches since 1999. The company’s EventU Green software automatically pushes calendar information to a NiagaraAX controller that manages HVAC and can also control lighting, doors, and other devices.
EventU reportedly tracks every event and the room or rooms in which it takes place and, through EventU Green, can integrate into a facility’s HVAC schedule. EventU also works with zoned HVAC systems and can set up separate schedules for different zones throughout a building. “Our clients have typically seen savings of at least 10% in utility cost savings due to the tighter scheduling of the HVAC controls,” ServiceU CEO Tim Whitehorn says.
ServiceU has an inherently decentralized process for approving and managing all aspects of events, Whitehorn reports, with different layers of control and approval by church staff members. This also means that facility management staff doesn’t have to be unnecessarily involved and doesn’t have to be tied to their desks or phones all day to handle changes in HVAC scheduling. Therefore, the ServiceU system not only saves on utility costs but also saves time and money on facilities’ staffing, Whitehorn concludes.