• Members Login

Cooling Older Buildings Cheaply

Hot and humid air is miserable for human comfort–deadly, even. That’s why, with summer upon us, Canadians are all looking at ways to beat the heat and stay cool within our buildings. Before chasing the newest technology (provided you can even afford it) it is worth considering the unique ways that some buildings can cool naturally, as well as quick and easy ways to keep the heat out.

Cooling by Design: Smart Old Buildings 

Many Church buildings are designed to enable natural cooling. In last month’s blog ‘Level up the energy efficiency of your building: Control air leakages’, I wrote about the ceiling vents found in many old faith community buildings and how these should be air sealed and insulated, so as to prevent heat loss in the cold weather. However, these ceiling vents actually benefited the building in the hotter months (pick your poison?). Their initial purpose was to cool the building down by creating a chimney effect to draw the hot air up. At the bottom, since we need a supply point, this was typically the windows along the sides of the sanctuary where the congregation gathered. These are hopper-style windows in the bottom of the stained glass (opening from the bottom hinge), or sash windows, that slide upwards. This cooling system would pull air across the congregation and then be sucked out the hole at the top. So if you can make those holes airtight in winter, and still operable in summer (just like normal doors and windows), then you can use the design to your advantage. 

A pretty fresh air inlet that is also stained glass -St. Lambert United Church, Saint-Lambert, QC

A pretty exhaust chimney, that is also a steeple -St John the Evangelist United Church, Crapaud PEI

No sweat ways to keep it cool 

Whether your building was built a century ago or a few decades back, there are several ways to cool your building that don’t involve spending a lot of money. Take a look around your building, and you will be surprised to find many design elements that help with cooling.

Try opening doors, especially on the north side and front and back of the building, to help create a supply source of air. If you have an attic hatch, a door to a tower, minaret, or steeple, opening the access point in the summer will create the draft and exit point in your building. This natural ventilation also called the stack effect or chimney effect works pretty well. This will, of course, pull hot summer air in, but the breeze itself can create a cooling effect. 

Tip: Staying safe is always more important than a nice breeze. Do remember, that if people are crawling around in the attic, or up on old ladders that safety must come first. Ensure to always consider the safety risks beforehand.

Make sure to insulate the attic. Insulation protects from the heat in the summer, and the cold in the winter. The more insulation in the attic, the more comfortable it is in the summer and in the winter. 

Ceiling fans in the sanctuary should be running in the summer. This is the simplest, low-cost mechanical step to take first. We actually want the fans blowing down on us so we feel a breeze on our skin. This does seem counterintuitive since the hot air is up there, but it is actually the movement of air across our skin from a fan that makes us feel cooler, through transpiration. 

Tip: Only run the fans while people are in the building, and let the stack effect work on its own. Another trick is to flush the building out at night by opening windows, and hatches, and closing them all up during the day. This can cool a building, including your home, and helps reduce the need for mechanical interventions.

When all else fails

The above recommendations are great ways to save money, relieve your community of the hot scorching weather, and reduce the need for mechanical cooling in your building. However, the likelihood that any of these tips will completely eliminate the need for mechanical intervention is rare. With the effects of global warming, some of these recommendations may not be as efficient and even backfire in certain regions with high humidity. This is an issue that is experienced more and more across the country, so it is important to pay attention to your local weather beforehand and make a suitable judgment call. 

But what kind of mechanical intervention is beneficial? Well, we’ve discussed before the use of heat pumps in faith community buildings as a way to save energy in the winter; but they also provide much more efficient cooling in the summer as well. The old window air conditioner you may have in the office is a beast and costs you a lot of money to run. Switching it out for a heat pump, and maybe ceiling fans in offices and rental spaces will be worth the upfront cost as they will pay for themselves quickly in happiness. I worked with one congregation who was putting heat pumps in just to make sure their administrator didn’t quit because it was too hot in her office in the summer! 

By understanding your building better you can make better energy and environmental decisions moving forward. 

Start with free guides that we have on our website. The DIY Faith Building Energy Audit Guidebook and the Energy Star Action Workbook for Congregations are amazing resources you can download, read, learn, and even take action for these free resources! 

You can also utilize our professional knowledge with virtual Green Audits that look at energy, air quality, food, water, waste, maintenance, rental agreements, heritage, and much more. 

The more you can learn about your building, the more you can save energy, minimize maintenance costs, and maximize the usage of your amazing faith community building. 

Faithful Footprints Program

The United Church of Canada (UCCan) Faithful Footprints program offers grants, tools, and inspiration to help its congregations reduce their carbon footprint. With UCC’s commitment to reducing its greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050, this one-of-a-kind program offers up to $30,000 in grants toward energy conservation and renewable energy projects (conditions apply).

Faith & the Common Good is the delivery partner for UCCans Faithful Footprints program.  To date, we have engaged over 200 UCCan congregations, camps, and buildings across the country. Your participation in the program puts your faith into action and helps UCC reach its target. 

Stephen Collette is the Building Manager for Faith & the Common Good and can be reached at 705-930-1011 EDT, [email protected] 

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Stephen Collette

Make A Donation

Help fund our important work by making a secure donation.



Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or email. Created with NationBuilder