One of the biggest trends in church construction and renovation is also a win for the environment, as the popularity of worship facilities becoming LEED-certified is growing among architects and building owners. LEED stands for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design," and its designation is given by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) based in Washington, D.C., for those buildings that focus on sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, green materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.
Churches typically approach LEED from one or more of three perspectives: it is the right thing to do; it is being good stewards of God's creation; and it is being good stewards of our resources, particularly with a view to maximizing resources for ministry and outreach along with maximizing the use of the facilities.
To report on the latest trends of the LEED movement in churches, WFM gathered some church design and construction experts, including Dave Benham, principal and Faith-Based Studio team leader in Greenville, S.C.'s LS3P + Neal Prince architecture practice; Richard Polk, Jr., AIA, LEED AP, principal of EOP Architects in Lexington, Ky.; and Scott A. Nelson AIA, LEED AP, principal of HH Architects in Dallas.
WFM: What are the latest versions of LEED impacting churches?
Benham: With the revitalization and repurposing of existing buildings to accommodate new church facilities, LEED for Existing Buildings, Operations & Maintenance lends itself to a formidable option. Life cycle cost analysis is big with churches and is becoming a big part of LEED. Acoustics are also going to be emphasized [more] in the next version of LEED. Changing from VOC [Volatile Organic Compounds, or chemicals that turn into a vapor and off-gas' into the air] to emissions-based, will add ceilings, walls, thermal and acoustic insulation to LEED requirements, [as well].
Polk: There are currently nine different types of LEED Rating Systems, each geared for different kinds of buildings. Most of these rating systems were last updated in 2009, although a new update known as LEED Version 4 will soon be released. LEED rating systems that could be appropriate for churches include:
LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations
LEED for Existing Buildings, Operations and Maintenance
LEED for Commercial Interiors (church fit-ups within an existing shell building)
WFM: What are the groundbreaking products helping churches gain LEED points on their projects?
Benham: Energy consumption continues to be a major parameter in achieving LEED points. The advancements of highly energy efficient light sources allow for the dramatic lighting often desired in the contemporary church environment, while not putting excessive strain on the energy meter. Advancements in low-flow plumbing fixtures also aid in reducing the water consumption needs of the restroom and kitchen facilities that service the congregation.
The interiors of the spaces also lend themselves to picking up LEED points while enhancing the overall space experience. Finishes such as paints and carpets that minimize hazardous off-gassing help create healthy environments, while the introduction of natural light into spaces creates more inviting areas [and] also reduces light fixture needs.
Nelson: As for specific products that are helping churches become more sustainable, we have found that the best products tend to be those that provide automation' of some sort (i.e., light switches, sinks, thermostats, etc.). Given the multipurpose nature of today's churches, there are always a variety of users accessing the buildingsand these automated systems help to reduce the amount of waste given the multiple users.
Polk: Nearly every aspect of church design, construction and furnishings has opportunities to use sustainable products. Use of [Forest Stewardship Council-] FSC-certified wood, low VOC finishes, LED lighting, super insulation, high performance windows, etc., are [some] examples of thousands of products that can help make churches better performing buildings.
WFM: What are the differences between LEED for existing buildings and for new construction?
Polk: LEED for New Construction typically refers to newly constructed buildings or existing buildings that are undergoing major renovations. LEED credits include use of construction materials and techniques that minimize the impact on sites, encourage efficient use of water and energy, use sustainable materials, minimize construction waste and promote better indoor environments.
LEED for Existing Buildings is geared to improving how existing buildings are operated and maintained. It includes credits that promote sustainable exterior building site maintenance programs; efficient water and energy use, environmentally preferred products and practices for cleaning and alterations, sustainable purchasing policies, waste stream management, and ongoing indoor environmental quality.
Benham: The rating system encourages owners and operators of existing buildings to implement sustainable practices and reduce the environmental impacts of their buildings, while addressing the major aspects of ongoing building operations:
Exterior building site maintenance programs
Water and energy use
Environmentally preferred products and practices for cleaning and alterations
Sustainable purchasing policies
Waste stream management
Ongoing indoor environmental quality
WFM: In closing, what are you working on now with regard to LEED in church design and construction?
Nelson: HH Architects was blessed in working with Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas, to develop a 1,200-seat worship center that opened in 2010and received the honor of being the first church in North Texas and the first Methodist church in the state of Texas to receive a LEED Silver certification. Since this time we have found [that] churches are extremely interested in developing sustainable facilities, however, there has been very little interest in securing LEED certification given the expense of the commissioning process.
Benham: We have not done this yet, but consideration of reclaiming the water from a baptistry would be a good idea. We have done recirculating pumps for a couple of churches that baptized so often they kept water in it. But the local codes haven't really allowed anything with gray water from a baptistryother than dumping into its own septic or French drain rather than the sanitary sewer.
Polk: Doing things that lessen harmful impacts to the environment and help protect God's creation are certainly worthy goals for a church. Reducing energy consumption through the use of highly efficient HVAC systems or solar photovoltaic systems can reduce long-term energy bills, freeing up church funds for mission-related uses. Some churches use lots of wood on their interiors. Using wood grown in sustainably managed forests (FSC) or using rapidly renewable materials such as bamboo can reduce the negative impact of construction on nature's resources.