Reduce Costs on Church Utility Bill (Part 1)

Once you have a good handle on preventative and deferred maintenance, another item to review is the church utility bill. You might be spending more money than necessary. 

In late 2020, Smart Church Solutions performed a Church Facility Operations Benchmarking Assessment. In this report, we evaluated how churches of comparable size and operational tempos perform. One aspect of this assessment was to gather information regarding utility costs. In our survey, respondents spent $1.38 per square foot on utilities (gas and electric combined).

The largest area of operational savings is tied to utility costs. It is the most visible since we get a utility bill each month. A church’s utility bill will consume $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot annually. For a 100,000 square foot facility, that is $100,000 to $150,000 over a year. That said, the cost of keeping the lights on could pay the salary of several staff members.

This week and next, we will dive into several practical yet simple ways to reduce church utility costs.

Reduce Your HVAC Power Consumption

For most churches, 50-75% of the utility bill is driven by the consumption of energy to heat and cool facilities. The greatest opportunity to have a significant impact on your costs is by exploring energy savings with these systems.

Change Your Set Points

This may sound overly simplistic. But it is still one of the best and least expensive ways to reduce energy consumption. Whether using a manual thermostat or a Building Automation System, you'll lower your thermostat (for heat) for each degree you lower your utility bill by an average of 1%. 

Each degree you set your thermostat above 75 degrees Fahrenheit cuts your cooling costs by 3% in cooling mode. If we continue with our example above (assuming you are spending $1.25/square foot or $125,000 annually, 60% of your utility bills are for heating and cooling, and that you change your set points by two degrees), you could save about $1,500 annually.

Use Programmable Thermostats

For some of you, this will sound elementary. However, I assure you there are far more churches using manual thermostats than you realize. According to Energy Star, you can save about 8% a year by properly setting a programmable thermostat (vs. a manual thermostat).

Move Toward Building Automation

Now, don’t let this overwhelm you. There are several levels of complexity associated with the generic term “building automation system.” According to the EPA’s “Greening EPA Glossary,” a BAS can be defined as “A system that optimizes the start-up and performance of HVAC equipment (and alarm systems). A BAS increases the interaction between the mechanical subsystems of a building. It also improves occupant comfort, lowers energy use, and allows off-site building control.”​

  • Type #1: BAS/IBS: You will also hear this referred to as a “Building Management System” and even “Intelligent Building Systems.” These are basically systems that help control building systems operations, primarily HVAC. They are generally computer-based control systems installed in buildings to control and monitor the building’s mechanical and electrical equipment. A BAS usually consists of software and hardware and has many forms and price points.
  • Type #2: PC/Computer-Based Systems: In these systems, there is a system controller that is generally run by a laptop or other type of computer. There are proprietary software that runs on the laptop and interfaces with the actual system hardware to set schedules, monitor system challenges, and track system issues, among other functions.
  • Type #3: Interface HVAC System with Room Scheduling Software: Some independent room scheduling software programs offer some interface with HVAC systems. In the case of our system, eSPACE, a church can subscribe to the interface and the system can communicate with a BAS, a ‘stand-alone’ communicating thermostat solution or with freestanding wireless/WiFi thermostats. These interface programs allow you to engage and disengage your HVAC systems based on the actual room usage.

All in all, it helps operational costs with reduced energy consumption. It also increases efficiency by setting comfort levels without a staff person having to dart from the thermostat. In turn, we reduce energy consumption. Operational efficiency also soars. We have clients that have implemented one of the above strategies and have seen increase in operational efficiency of 20-30%.