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Three Years of Energy Benchmarking: Project Wraps Up

Faith buildings account for about 42% of a typical faith community’s carbon footprint, according to a Canadian National Inventory Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.* With over 27,000  faith communities in Canada, the faith sector can do a lot to lower emissions, starting from their places of worship. Doing so also encourages congregants to follow suit at home. Energy conservation and efficiency is an obvious way to immediately reduce emissions and make a real impact.

As a start, it is useful to track energy usage, because you can’t change what you don’t measure. Over the last three years, FCG has been supporting faith communities to do just that, through our Energy Benchmarking program for faith groups. Now that the program is drawing to an end, this wrap-up blog offers insights to help your faith group tackle next steps in retrofitting. We will end with tips from one participant of the program.

We share insights from our Building Audit Manager, Stephen Collette. Stephen is a sustainable building consultant, and a heritage professional specializing in faith community buildings. He blogs at  http://www.yourhealthyhouse.ca 

Once you have completed the easy 10 energy reducing strategies for under $10, https://www.faithcommongood.org/tip_sheets then it is time to move to the next steps. Consider reviewing the Energy Efficiency Pyramid from Minnesota Power. Although it is for residential homes, the approach is still the same. By building a solid, stable base of understanding and lower no-cost strategies, the savings add up, and your carbon footprint goes down quicker.

Retrofitting & Energy Efficiency

Air sealing and Insulation

In most faith community buildings, air sealing all the cracks and holes in the walls and around windows and doors is one of the most important aspects of energy efficiency. Why is this? It is because, with the tall volumes of space and architectural elements like steeples and spires, the hot air rises with a greater force, meaning your heated, conditioned air leaves your building at a faster rate through the leaks around attic hatches and poorly shut windows and doors. By air sealing, you can keep the energy you have paid for inside the building to help keep occupants comfortable all year round. 

In older faith buildings, especially thermally massive ones (built with brick, block, and stone), air sealing is critical, more so than insulation. For buildings that may have wood construction or nothing in the attic, insulation is definitely a good idea, once the air sealing is done. 

Insulation in the attic is always the first place to tackle. Just like wearing a toque in winter to stay warm, insulation in the attic reduces heat loss from that same thermal drive upwards. For wood frame buildings, insulation in the walls is the next step. Blown cellulose is one of the easiest and best-performing insulations available for heritage buildings. If you are able to redo the siding at the same time on the outside, then some rigid mineral wool insulation outside of the walls will wrap your building in a warm and toasty blanket. Done in concert with air sealing, this can have a tremendous comfort and energy savings outcome for a faith community. 


It is only once we have “contained the vessel” that it then makes sense to look at improving our mechanical systems. If you reverse the two processes, then yes you will still save money with a newer, more energy-efficient boiler for furnace, but you are also now more efficient at heating and cooling outside, and that still doesn’t make sense. 

However, we do not all have the luxury of choice and timing for when we have to change our mechanical systems though, and so they should be well maintained, regularly inspected and their operational efficiencies calculated by a professional, to help determine when the best time is to replace them before it becomes a reactive process. 

Ideally, to reduce our carbon footprint, we should consider removing gas appliances from our buildings, and switch to electrical heating and cooling. High-efficiency air-source heat pumps (also called mini splits) have come a long way and are standard installs in many northern European countries today. With dual-stage compressors able to reach very low temperatures, these units can run independent heads in various rooms in smaller buildings, or connect to a central blower and duct system, providing incredible energy savings to a faith community. If you are currently heating with electric resistance, the transition could save you up to 50% in energy consumption. 

Wherever your energy efficiency journey takes your faith community, you can find resources such as our DIY Energy Audit Guidebook and more here: https://www.faithcommongood.org/guides 

Now, let’s hear from one of our Energy Benchmarking participants: 

Future-ready with energy efficiency

Norman Newberry, of St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in downtown Hamilton, shares how his congregation approached the issue of reducing their energy requirements. 

Norman says they started off with an energy audit for the building, back in 2015 (conducted and made possible by Faith & the Common Good’s 50% subsidy) which specified the main areas where they could reduce their energy and also those areas that had the 'lowest hanging fruit.' 

“Every situation is different and that is why it pays to have a qualified auditor to assist you in making decisions,” Norman says. “For St. John, lighting was the most significant area where the payback was as little as 2 1/2 to 3 years.

At St. John the Evangelist most of their facilities apart from the sanctuary, are underground.  “This means that our heating and cooling requirements are lower than in most of our usable space was above grade,” Norm says.

However, the church is required by the fire code to have 14 lights left on permanently 24/7.  

Before replacing the lights with LED, all fixtures were 4 foot long fluorescents. About one-half of them were old units with magnetic ballasts and 2 T12 bulbs. “The fluorescent lights hummed and flickered a lot,” Norman recalls. “We used to get complaints from many people about them. Moreover, they wasted a lot of energy.”

The ballasts alone used 40 watts. Each of the two bulbs also used 40 watts. Norman calculates that for 7 fixtures, per hour, a total of 840 Watts are used, so that if these 7 fixtures, lit 24 hours per day, all year long, at 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, costs around $884 per year.

He points out that in comparison, the new lamps provide a brighter light, do not hum or noticeably flicker, and only use 24 watts per hour. They cost a total of $206 per year to operate which amounts to a saving of $678 for just 7 fixtures. 

With a $2000 grant last year, from St. John’s electrical provider, Alectra, to change over 110 fixtures, Norman calculates that their total cost should be paid back in a little over two years’ time.

Norman warns that not all decisions to reduce one's carbon footprint are as easy as the LED lighting one. “Not all energy savings provide as quick a payback. In fact, some upgrades will cost more money over the life of the project.”

For Norman, the best approach is to begin with projects that will save the most energy for the lowest cost; “then plow those savings back into future projects to increase the efficiency of our buildings. The changes that we make now will have a cumulative effect in the future.”


*National Inventory Report 1990-2014: Canada’s submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2016.

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