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Churches can benefit from energy conservation program

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski

04/27/2016

SASKATOON — When it comes to energy conservation and cost savings, community organizations such as churches can benefit from a program available to non-profit groups through the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES).

Through the program sponsored by Affinity Credit Union, non-profit organizations can get control of their energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing their energy consumption.

The SES Energy Conservation for Non-Profits Program includes a building assessment and a close look at energy and water use, says Angie Bugg, SES Energy Conservation co-ordinator and a member of McClure United Church in Saskatoon.

Past participants have included Station 20 West, Abbeyfield House, the Community Clinic, Friendship Inn, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Crocus Co-op, and the Sask. Abilities Council, as well as several churches.

The parish pastoral council of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Saskatoon recently applied for the program.

“It was well worth it,” says St. Francis council chair Jim Moorhead. Several initiatives recommended in the report have already been implemented and others, including the replacement of three inefficient furnaces with high-efficiency furnaces, are expected to realize significant savings to the parish, he reports.

“Basically, we do a ‘walk through’ assessment,” Bugg says of the process. Data from utility bills, showing use and patterns, is examined carefully. “After going through that data, we will take a walk through the whole building, looking at windows, furnaces, water heaters.”

St. Francis was an interesting building because the space includes a number of areas, each used differently: there is the sanctuary that has intermittent use, an office space that has regular hours, as well as an attached residence.

Taking such simple steps as using programmable thermostats, caulking windows, and updating weather-stripping can have a significant impact on energy use, Bugg stresses.

Since the program started some 16 years ago, assessments have been conducted on some 59 buildings, identifying savings “averaging $6,000/year per building, for a total potential greenhouse gas saving of almost three million kg CO2/year,” reports the SES website.

Affinity Credit Union sponsors the program for non-profit groups as a way to support community development. But congregations can also do their own analysis of energy use. The website at http://greeningsacredspaces.net has a resource for conducting an energy audit. Ideas for cutting energy and water use are also highlighted on the SES website at: http://environmentalsociety.ca.

Common sense is part of good stewardship, with a basic recommendation being: “When you buy something, buy the most energy-efficient one you can find — and when you are not using it, turn it off,” summarizes Bugg.

Having worked with about a dozen Saskatchewan churches, SES has several success stories and has tips to share. “Some churches have kitchens with walk-in refrigerators or freezers. At Circle Drive Alliance, replacing a water-cooled compressor with an air cooled one has led to savings of $2,000 a year,” Bugg reports.

If a church sanctuary is used only on Sunday mornings, energy and cost savings can be attained by keeping the temperature set low for the rest of the week. “Let it get cold in winter, hot in summer,” she suggests. “There is no need to heat and cool unused spaces.”

One local church installed two thermostats — one to keep the building just warm enough in winter to keep it from freezing. Then on Sundays, the second thermostat takes over to warm up the sanctuary.

“Most churches I’ve been in have many large, drafty windows. Getting your maintenance crew together with tubes of caulking can reduce heat loss and improve comfort greatly. As you are caulking windows, think about how many actually need to be operable. Seal up as many as you think you can while keeping the ability to have a cross breeze,” suggests Bugg.

It can also help the environment to think about landscaping practices, she notes. “If your church has a large yard, instead of just having lawn, what about starting a community garden like St. Martin’s United Church (in Saskatoon)?”

Regardless of how busy your building is, always remember to turn stuff off when it’s not needed — lights, computers, data projectors, ventilation system. And check and repair weather stripping and caulking annually.

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