Impacting Ministry via the Thermostats

By Colby May, Certified Energy Manager and Mission Pastor of Lit - Energy Management Empowering Change.

QUESTION. What is the biggest factor on a building’s energy use? Is it the HVAC, lighting, building envelope, or behavior?

If you answered behavior, you are correct. According to State of the Plate we tithed $50B in 2013. Of the $50B, $10B was spent on utilities, maintenance and operations of our buildings yet only $1B on missions.  Facility related costs, including utility spend, is typically our second largest budget item behind salaries.  But imagine, if you will, how we could impact ministry by promoting smart energy use. We need our church buildings for a number of reasons, but the way we manage our facility, maintenance and energy has been ignored in many ways.

Part of our call as God’s creation is to also be good stewards of that creation. I believe Genesis 1:1 says it all: “God created the heavens and the Earth.” If we, and all that exists, are part of God’s creation, are we to be wasteful with that which God created? Throughout the Bible, we are called to be good stewards. In Greek, stewardship, or oikonomia, is the same word used to define management and administration. We are called to be managers or stewards of what has been entrusted to us.

On average (and this average changes based on building location, equipment and behavior) 50% of our electric use is typically our HVAC system, 30% is our lighting system, and the remaining 20% is plug load.  We also have many influencers that impact our energy use.  The strength of our building envelope can account for 1/3 of our HVAC use.  However, the largest impact on our energy and maintenance is behavior.  According to EPA 30% of the energy we use is wasted, which means we can recapture those costs through no or low cost practices.

[pullquote]WIFI-enabled thermostats truly equip the facility team to make easier and centralized HVAC decisions, minimize user error, and more importantly redirect energy spend to ministry needs.[/pullquote]

What do thermostats have to do with Ministry? Of course behavior impacts all levels of energy management, but the largest target on a typical church is the ability to control HVAC use.  Most churches we serve have conventional thermostats or programmable thermostats that rely on continued occupant adjustments, but with that comes occupant error.  Many times we will walk a facility and find thermostats locked on hold at 65° 24/7 during hot summer months.  This is a very expensive practice, but it also provides the largest opportunity.  Of course a good option is to implement a computerized energy management system that will allow a church to control use from a centralized location.  These are really good systems available on the market, however there are problems that churches need to be prepared to understand.  Costs are extremely high to install ($1-2 per square foot), the systems require extensive training, some require long-term contracts, and many times replacement parts are hard to find.

In our opinion, and typically a first recommendation for our energy audits are implementing WIFI-enabled thermostats.  WIFI-thermostats allow a church to set schedules, setpoints, zoning and more from a centralized web-based location at a 10th of the cost. Every degree that we adjust on our thermostat equips the HVAC portion of our utility bill by 1.5%.  So an average cooling temperature of 72° verses 65° can save up to 10.5%.  Incorporating the thermostat software into church event scheduling, will go a long way into saving money.  And in our opinion the more we can save the more we can impact ministry opportunities.  WIFI-enabled thermostats truly equip the facility team to make easier and centralized HVAC decisions, minimize user error, and more importantly redirect energy spend to ministry needs.

Colby May is a Certified Energy Manager and Mission Pastor.  He formed a 501c3 called LIT that sits at the intersection of missions and energy management, where their mission is to leverage energy management and sustainable principals to impact the local church in the most vulnerable areas.  He has a degree from Gordon Conwell Seminary (Integral Missions) and has performed over 2,000 energy audits. or

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