Where to begin concerning your building.
Given that the resources local churches have are finite, it’s important to get the best outcome you can for a minimum investment of time and money.
Define your goals and constraints clearly. Make a list, ideally with a group of people, to identify all your options; rank them, placing those which give the best results for the least investment of money and effort at the top of this list. This gives you a hierarchy of options, with best value at the top, so that you can work down until the benefits are no longer to felt to justify the costs.
How might this work in practice?
A) Refurbishment of an existing church building
As an example, consider a project to refurbish and improve an existing church. The building might be old, the boiler obsolete, and the fabric of the building in poor condition. Your list of suggestions may be very large, but among the items you might typically find the following:
•Use low energy light bulbs.
•Install low flush toilets.
•Put a solar panel or wind turbine on the roof to generate electricity.
•Insulate the roof.
•Draft proof doors and windows.
•Ask users to turn off lights and heating when they leave the building.
•Repair the brickwork of the parish room wall which is in poor condition.
•Clean the light fittings.
•Upgrade the boiler and add heating controls.
•Making this into a hierarchy based on benefit per amount of effort or expenditure, you might arrive at something like this
a. Repair the brickwork of the parish room wall which is in poor condition (because if it’s structurally unsound there are health and safety and ‘duty of care’ as well as energy and comfort issues - you may have a statutory as well as moral duty to address).
b. Ask users to turn off lights and heating when they leave the building (ranked high because it’s a no cost option that will have an immediate cost and environmental benefit in the church, but will also have a benefit if parishioners adopt the same practices at home).
c. Clean windows (ranked high because it’s a low cost or no cost option which reduces the need for artificial light).
d. Clean light fittings (ranked high because it’s a low cost or no cost option which can give up to 25% more light for a given amount spent on energy).
e. Use low energy light bulbs (an easy low cost improvement that will recover its costs in as little as a few months).
f. Draft proof doors and windows (an easy, possibly DIY project, still low cost, which might save a useful proportion of the energy used in the building).
g. Insulate the roof (a great idea, but access may be difficult, and the fabric of the church may make insulation difficult without aesthetic compromise).
h. Upgrade the boiler and add heating controls (likely to be a high cost project, and similar energy and cost savings might be obtained by b, f and g above, but this could have reliability as well as efficiency benefits).
i. Put a photovoltaic solar panel or wind turbine on the roof to generate electricity (this would be expensive to install but could export electricity to the national grid and earn some money for the church, even when the building is unused). Grants may be available.
j. Install low flush toilets (a good idea, but if the toilets are only used a few times per week, the savings of water, energy and money could be trivial compared to the financial and environmental cost of making the new toilets and installing them).
Of course, a real list would have more ideas and perhaps more detailed pros and cons.
Note that this process takes account of how the building is used, and ideas that might work well in a house that is constantly occupied might contribute less in a building that is only used two or three days a week. In many old churches, the need to conserve the fabric, and the cost of working on a historic building may severely limit the range of possible options.
B) Design of a new church building
Should you be in a position to be able to build from scratch, you have far more options. In particular you need to consider getting features of the building that can’t be altered by renovation and retrofit in later years done to a high standard, because this will be the only chance you have to get these things right, in a building that might last for over a hundred, or some hundreds of years. Be guided by the adage that “In thirty years time a ‘prestige building’ may be one that its occupants can afford to heat.”
If you want vulnerable people to be able to use the church building for sustained periods, you need to be able to afford to heat it for them.
You will need to choose architects and ‘mechanical and electrical services’ (M&E) contractors with care. Select those whose skills encompass not only low energy and low carbon construction, but the construction of buildings which will require little energy and carbon in use. The brief must make clear that the aim is not merely to make a building that complies with current building regulations, but to design one which will still offer excellent performance by the standards of decades to come. Choose with care and ask hard questions. Do not assume that architects necessarily know a lot about sustainability.
Taking account of the idea of a hierarchy, the wish list for features in a new building might include the following.
a.Appropriate ‘passive solar design’ to make the best use of free heat and light from the sun.
b. Embed thermal insulation in the structure and fabric of the building. Use high quality materials that will not shrink or sag, especially where access to maintain the insulation will be difficult or impossible, e.g. under floors or in walls.
c. Consider the ventilation of the building. Consider how it will avoid overheating in summer, and how heat will be retained in winter. Evaluate the potential for ‘passive stack’ and ‘heat recovery’ ventilation.
d. Use good quality windows, coated double or triple glazed to retain heat. Consider the use of self cleaning glass.
e. Avoid the use of ‘resistive electric heating’, i.e. ordinary electric fires, fan heaters, storage heaters etc. At a minimum use a modern condensing gas boiler or a ground source heat pump. Where neither of these is possible, evaluate the opportunities for air source heat pumps to be used, but check that noise levels will be acceptable.
f. Particularly where buildings are in frequent use, consider the use of ‘wet’ under floor heating. This can enhance the efficiency of condensing boilers and heat pumps, minimise restrictions on the location of furniture that would arise from the use of radiators, and allows children to play on a warm surface without the risk of falling on hot radiators.
g. Use low energy lighting where possible. At the time of writing, T5 fluorescent lights will offer white lights with the lowest running costs, though the fittings themselves may be aesthetically uninteresting. To light specific features in and of the building, consider the use of good quality LED lighting. Use lighting controls which avoid switching lighting on when there is enough natural light, and use motion sensors where appropriate so that lights are not left on unnecessarily.
h. Consider the use of a wind turbine or photovoltaic PV cells to generate electricity, but note that the location must generally be un-shadowed for PV to work well, and that horizontal axis wind turbines may not work well in urban or woodland environment because of turbulence caused by buildings or trees. This is more cost effective than solar water heating where buildings are only used one or two days per week as electrical energy can be sold into the national grid when the building is not in use.
i. Consider the use of solar water heating if this will be justified by hot water demand. Note that if the building is used throughout the week, this may be much more cost effective than electricity production above (point h).
j. Use ‘low water use’ toilets and appliances, and consider the use of rainwater harvesting to provide water for flushing toilets. Try to run the system entirely by gravity with storage tanks high up in the building rather than buried outside. This will improve reliability, reduce running costs and the cost of the ground works, but make the structure of the building more expensive. Consult your structural engineer at an early stage.
Note that the renewable energy generating options are likely to become more cost effective as energy prices increase, these may have an additional benefit in terms of community education and awareness raising that goes beyond simple financial savings. While pay-back times may be relatively long, some grant funding may be available to contribute to some of the costs.
Where to get help locally
John Beardmore (Derby Diocesan Environmental Committee), tel:07785 563116
email: John@T4sLtd.co.uk; John can be contacted by post via Derby Diocesan Community Action Officer, Derby Church House, Full Street, Derby DE1 3DR.
Map of renewables CoEngland.