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Church Energy Series

Church Energy Series: Upgrading To LED Recessed Lighting

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Church Energy Series

State Solar Power Report Card

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Church Energy Series

Church Energy Series: Calculating ROI From CLF & LED Upgrades

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Church Energy Series

Church Energy Series: Investing in Sustainable Lighting

Lighting Innovations

Continuing our discussion on energy solutions that will help every church reduce their energy usage and bills through management systems and automation, I’m shifting to the actual products that you should be considering in your building renovations and upgrades.

We’ve come a long way since the days when candlelight was the only lighting option.  Now candles are a feature item in most church buildings reserved for special occasions.  Today, church lighting systems are a large contributor to energy waste.  If your church has yet to convert from incandescents, old school gym flood lights, and fluorescent tubes, you are missing out on significant energy savings.  Incandescent lights by todays standards are inefficient. Incandescent lights contain a filament wire crafted from various elements that illuminate when current travels through the wire.  The problem is that the filament is very fragile and burns out within 750-2000 hours, much faster than CFLs and LEDs.  They also give off heat in the space which impacts room cooling.  CLF’s and LED’s require a fourth of the energy or less and last 10-20 times longer.

The benefit of investing in sustainable lighting is the low voltage and increased lifetime of the new technologies.  These new fixtures will require far less maintenance and bulb replacements than ever before.  If upgrading the whole building at once seems a bit overwhelming, consider doing it in phases.  You can tackle this one room at a time.  The good news is that more companies are producing these lights and prices are dropping fast.  Let’s get up close with the latest types of lighting options.


What is it?  Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) produce light in a different way than incandescent light.  Their housing contains a mixture of noble gases and other elements that glow when current moves through the tube.  They require less current and give off less heat which makes them far more efficient than incandescents.  CFLs have become very popular and can be found in abundance in hardware and department stores across the country.  They are being widely adopted as a direct replacement for most incandescent bulbs.

The Good:  Lasts 10-20x longer than traditional incandescents while using uses 1/4 of the energy.

The Not So Good:  Most are not dimmable.  Certain dimmable CFL’s still require the user to replace the wall dimmer unit with one that is compatible with dimmable CFLs.

Prices: $1-8 per bulb

Lifetime:  8000-10,000 hours




What is it?  Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are made from semi-conductive materials that create light when current passes through them.  Most LED light bulbs contain several small LED semiconductors, a heat sink to absorb any heat given off, and a circuit controller that manages the bulbs. They are incredibly efficient compared to incandescents and are a lot more robust which means they will last a lot longer. The integrated circuitry and fast action make LED’s a very attractive option.  Companies like Phillips, GE, Belkin, Cree, and others are producing LED bulbs with wifi technology allow them to appear on a network to be remotely controlled with an app.  In a more commercial space, there are highly controllable LED replacements for recessed “pot” lights and fluorescent tube fixtures available on the market.

The Good:  Lasts Up to 25x longer than incandescents while using 1/5th of the energy.

The Not So Good:  Prices are still pretty high, but are falling more and more.

Prices: $4-$25 per bulb

Prices: $10- $60 for home connected bulbs (requires additional hardware and an app).

Estimated Useful Lifetime: 35,000-50,000 hours (LEDs typically lose brightness over time)


What is it?  Induction lighting isn’t a household name at this point.  However, this cool technology will be making more headway in the market especially in large rooms and halls with outdated high bay fluorescent fixtures while using half the energy.  They give off good color and are comfortable for a variety of tasks with significantly reduced glare. They aren’t affected by temperature and can withstand vibration. How they work is something you just have to see for yourself.  Take a look at this video:

The Good:  Induction lights last 5-10 times longer than their fluorescent counterparts all while using 50% the Energy.  They get to full brightness in as little as 90 seconds, 2-3 times faster than traditional high bay fluorescents and re-striking does not require warm up.

The Not So Good:  Not much bad to say.  It’s a new technology, there isn’t much documentation on actual lifetime, mainly because installs haven’t used them long enough to report on actual lifetime.

Prices: $150-$400 per fixture for high bay lights.

Lifetime: Up to 100,000+ hours (up to 20 years)

Want to know how much you can save by switching to CFLs, LEDs, or Induction lamps?  In the next post we calculate the payback period using some examples.




Induction Lighting

Lifetime: US Dept Of Energy

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Church Energy Series

Measuring The Results of Church Energy Upgrades

If your church is working towards being a more energy efficient church, you will need to the changes made through upgrades.  A previous post in this series discussed the importance of setting energy efficiency goals for your church.  Now it’s time to measure your results.

electric meter

The numbers are important and you have to make sure you are getting the right numbers – which leads me to my main point of the post:

Your church energy bill doesn’t tell you the whole story.

Your energy bill lists the energy used in kilowatt-hours and the $$$ money you owe the utility company.  This doesn’t specifically tell you how the church is using the energy it purchased.  For instance, you may have upgraded a room to LED’s, but it’s impact won’t show up on the bill if you had to run the AC longer because of a heat wave.  The energy bill is impacted by activity in the building, conditions outside of the building, and current energy rates.

Church Energy Usage Fluctuates Throughout The Year

Activity at churches across America picks up during the fall and peaks during the holiday season.  We see another activity spike during Easter.  Then activity drops off during the summertime.  So, is your church more energy efficient in the summer or do you just run less programming while the congregation is on vacation?

Conditions Fluctuate Throughout the Year

In certain regions around the country some churches have to run their heat for long hours.  In others, AC usage places considerable demand on utility companies. Churches like any other commercial facility require gobs of energy for heating and air conditioning.  So, environmental conditions may have caused your energy bill to go up (or down) because of varying usage unrelated to your recent upgrades.

It’s not uncommon for energy rates to rise from time to time.

Utilities are under extraordinary pressure to adapt to “smart” technology to reduce outages and grid maintenance.  They are increasingly looking for ways to pass on costs to the users of the energy they provide.  You may look at your bill and be surprised that your usage went down, but the cost went up.

These are examples of why relying on your energy bill alone is not enough to measure the impact of the change.  Long term results hinge on your churches ability to keep track of actual reduction of energy usage in a way that is independent of church activity.  Some improvements do require behavioral changes. But the measurement of improvement through changes in technology must be added to the equation.

Here’s how to measure the impact of your church energy upgrades:

  1. Monitor the specific system where changes were made.
  2. Measure during a regular event (during services, or a typical workday)
  3. Measure for a set duration of time (i.e. 60mins).
  4. Measure during similar conditions.
  5. Measure energy usage before and after the upgrade and compare the results.

As you begin to make changes towards being a more energy efficient church, an energy management system would be the best option for on-going monitoring of progress in reducing energy usage.  However, small systems can be tracked using very simple energy measurement devices.  I hope to explore and review a few of these devices in upcoming posts.  Stay tuned.

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Church Energy Series

Automation: A Church Energy Savior

Continuing on with the church energy series, the next step in reducing your church’s energy usage and costs is automation.  Automation is the process by which things occur automatically.  A simple example of automation is the alarm clock.  When you set your alarm clock to wake you up at 7am, it’s set.  You walk away, or lay your head down, and you don’t think about it again until the alarm goes off.  On top of that, if you wake up at the same time every morning, you only have to set the alarm clock once, and it will wake you at 7am everyday right on the dot.  We rarely rely on our own internal clocks to wake us up anymore.  We’ve given this task over to computers because they don’t forget.  People forget.  People also forget to turn off the lights, TV’s, and computers.  People leave the AC running, even when no one is home.

It’s not just our sleep that we trust automatic to handle.  We now trust automatic to handle the task of fire response.  Electronic devices use sensors to detect fires and trigger alarms, sprinklers, and even alert the local fire and rescue department with detailed information about the fire’s location and status.  That’s the power of automation.

The same technology that we rely on for fire safety can also be used to manage the energy usage of any facility.  Corporations large and small have benefited from energy management technology for years now.  Think about how much energy is wasted when humans simply forget to turn something off.  If a worker goes home at the end of a workday at the office and leaves a light on, it’s likely it will stay on until they return in the morning.  It could be on for an addition 15-16 hours overnight.  That’s almost twice the average workday.  That one light bulb is just a drop in the ocean compared to all of the devices left on every night.  Corporations that cut-down wasted energy reduce their operating energy bills while increasing their facility efficiency.  This has a direct impact on potential profit margins.

Churches stand to benefit greatly from automation.  If a church implements an energy management system that has automation built in, they could achieve a significant amount of energy savings and cost savings.

How you ask?  An energy management system gives church facility managers the power of automation in four smart ways.

1.  Scheduled Events:
Managers and users can program regularly occurring events (like worship services) and special events.  You can tell the systems when to kick on and even give an automatic shut down time if anything is left on after the event is well over.  If your church uses a room scheduling system like Planning Center Resources, the facility manager will know exactly when and where to schedule events.  A complete energy management solution could automatically turn on the lights, wall outlets, AV, and HVAC systems.  By the time the event planner walks in, everything is on, and they don’t have to spend time looking for remotes and switches (or breaker boxes, God forbid).  They do the event and the room shuts it’s self down afterwards.

2.  Smart Sensors:

Room sensors can detect when a room is occupied.  If no one is present, the energy management system will shut off any lights, outlets, or other equipment as previously specified by the facility manager.  This feature is one of the single best failsafes for energy conservation. If someone uses a room unexpectedly, the smart sensor will turn off the lights after they leave, even if the users forget to do it themselves.

2.  Overnight switching:

If you know that there are certain hours or days when no one will be in the building, a management system can shut down everything except any emergency equipment and 24hr devices such as IT servers and networks.

4.  Manual Override:  I know what you are thinking.  Yes, sometime we do forget to set our alarms. What if a manager forgets to schedule a room, or what if there is a room change (humans right)? If there is an unscheduled event, most operations can be activated through physical wall panels or through a user based web app.  In some cases, areas of the church could be activated by a mobile app before arrival.  All of these options can be password protected or activated when the alarm system is turned off.  Rooms could be activated with many of the key card systems that churches use now for privileged work areas around the church.

5.  Emergency Situation Integration:  Emergency light paths and exits can all be programed to activate when a facility emergency system is activated.  This will really help with emergency planning and preparedness.  Some systems can even provide AV override capability to alert large gatherings of the emergency situation and give automated instructions.  Facility managers can program lighting that is required to be on 24/7/365.

Automation can really make a difference not only with your facilities staff and event planners, but it will also be a silent force towards reducing wasted energy.  This could translate into tens of thousand of dollars in energy savings on your churches energy bill and good vibes for being a church that values good energy stewardship.  With savings that great, the energy management system will pay for itself over time, putting more money back into the budget to be used for kingdom building.

An energy management system in most cases will be a custom solution designed by an experienced systems designer.  If you have questions about how automation could help your church, leave a comment or contact me anytime.

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Church Energy Series

Church Energy Management Systems

If you hope to make changes at your church to reduce energy usage, you need to be able to monitor your systems in real-time.  Your church energy bill simply does not give you the details you need to make smart decisions about where you can reduce energy usage. The bill will not give you insights about how much energy is used for lighting, audio, video, IT, HVAC, or communications systems.  Energy management solutions allow you to get those details that show what’s going on at the system level.

Here’s a quick example of what I am talking about here.  A lot of new cars include an “eco trip” feature.  The purpose of this feature is to assist the driver in saving gas (energy) during each trip.  The dash gives the driver visual feedback in the form of a score or mpg (miles per gallon) rating based on the drivers behavior.  If a driver’s behavior is really aggressive on the road, they will get a bad score.  Conversely, if they pay attention to the score and adjust their behavior, they can get better results.  So as a church, if you know exactly where your energy hogs are, you can adjust their behavior to reduce energy usage in those areas.  This will lead to efficient use and tangible savings.  A monitoring solution provides that real-time feedback.

To monitor your church energy usage, consider these three types of solutions:

Portable Energy Monitoring

There are a handful of portable solutions on the market that allow you to monitor one or two devices at a time.  The idea here is that you plug the monitor into an outlet, and then plug the device that you want to track into the monitor.  The P3 Kill-A-Watt is one such device which gives you a readout of the kWh (kilowatt-hours) right on its display.  Another example out there is the Insteon Hub which does the same thing as the P3 but adds wifi network monitoring from a mobile or web app.  There are also third party apps out there that will allow you to control and monitor the devices that you have connected to the hub.

System Specific Monitoring

Companies that make power conditioners have integrated energy monitoring features into their products.  These products can be dropped into an equipment rack and connected just like a power conditioner.  These are different from traditional power conditioners because they are network connected.  When paired with web apps within the product eco system, end users can remotely track the energy usage of all connected devices down to the specific plug on the back of the unit.  Some examples include the Furman BlueBolt series and the JuiceGoose IP series.

Complete Energy Management System

A complete solution is one that is integrated at the breaker panels at your church or even across several church campuses.  This utility level investment provides real-time data of all energy activities.  When paired with a proprietary software solution, the management system will give facility managers the ability to scrutinize every aspect of usage and possible savings across multiple systems and facilities.  Highly efficient corporations, manufacturing plants, hospitals, government buildings and universities utilize complete energy management systems to maximize their energy usage, productivity, and profits.  This will usually be a custom solution that can be integrated when you build a new facility or retrofitted to existing buildings.

If your church has serious intentions of achieving its energy savings goals, you need one of these solutions to measure your results.

Next time we will discuss automation, the intelligent choice for securing lasting energy savings at your church.

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Church Energy Series

Setting Church Energy Goals

Last time we discussed how the Church Energy Audit can help you track down the biggest energy wasters at your church facility.  Now that you have a better idea of where you power is going (or not going) the next step in restoring your church’s use of energy is to set some energy savings goals.

Unless you plan on taking your church off the grid it is unrealistic to think you will be able to reach 100% energy efficient.  It is mighty noble to say “we want to reduce our church’s energy consumption by 30%,” but you have to determine where you will find savings.  Be specific.  Look at each system and get estimates on energy savings and initial costs for upgrades/replacements.  Start with the smallest culprits and work your way up.

Here are three ways you can set reasonable goals for church energy savings:

House Lighting: Expect to save 75%-80% when switching from traditional incandescents to CFL’s or LED’s.  Changing out old school gym lights (400W metal halides) will give you the biggest bang for your buck at 50%-70% if you switch to LEP (light emitting plasma).  Depending on the size of your facility, upgrading your lighting fixtures could be your least expensive expenditure.  If it looks like it would be too costly to upgrade all lighting at once, consider doing it in phases.  Upgrading one zone per year or 6 months as you are able until the whole building is done.  Consider that the savings cost you can achieve in just a few months may amount to thousands of dollars. Upgrading might just pay for itself!

AV & Stage Lighting: One of the biggest energy culprits in AV are likely to be audio amplifiers.  If you still have a few remnants from last century’s workhorse amps in your AV rack it’s likely they not very energy efficient.  For example the CROWN MICROTECH amplifiers produced in the 90’s and early 2000’s needed 11-26 amps where as a modern day Crown iTech amplifiers requires just 5-8 amps during a program or as little as 0.8amps in sleep mode (sleep mode is actually a recent addition to pro audio applications).  That upgrade alone is a savings of 45%-70%.  93% savings when in sleep mode.  Large format projectors also require a lot of power.  Dimmer units are also big energy consumers.  If your AV upgrade schedule includes audio amplifiers, projectors, or conversion to LED stage lighting fixtures, or LED Video walls, make sure you include considerations for energy efficiency in your specifications.  There is significant energy savings to be had with upgrades.  If replacing these AVL components all at once isn’t practical for your church, consider phasing the old workhorses out over time.

HVAC/Water:  As you pinpoint your largest consumers within your facility by reviewing your church energy audit, the HVAC and water systems will likely be one of your biggest energy offenders.  Your discussions with facility managers, leaders and consultants may tend to start here.  Upgrading or replacing HVAC and Water systems can be quite a daunting task especially if your systems are 30+ years old.  Unless it’s a matter of a smart thermostat or installing a digital water heater manager, you will probably be talking MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE changes.  The high costs associated with this level of upgrades can send sticker shock through your leadership.  Still, there are energy savings to be had with upgrades to HVAC and water.  Talk through this process with a qualified consultant to set an appropriate energy savings goal here.

Next time we will take a look at how churches can use automation for more smart energy savings.

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Church Energy Series

What is a Church Energy Audit?

Last time we discussed why energy inefficient churches are losing their power.  We learned that inefficient systems and outdated practices are wasting church energy and subsequently wasting church resources.  There is certainly a cost to inaction on this issue.  That cost is quantified every month in your church’s energy bill.  The person reviewing the bill can see first hand the relationship between church activity and energy costs.  They have seen energy costs rising over the years and cutting deeper and deeper into the church budget.

In order to stop the bleeding on your church energy bill, you have to first understand where your energy is going.  This is where a church energy audit comes in.  A commercial grade energy audit is essentially an evaluation of your church’s energy usage.  Audits come in many shapes and sizes.  Commercial energy audits typically fall into 4 categories: basic, advanced, comprehensive, and future proof.  This is not an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of what to expect when you contact a energy audit consultant.

Basic Energy Audit:

Most consultants offer a basic audit option that consists of a review of your energy bills.  The consultant will look at the energy your church is using and compare prices to see if they can find you a better rate in the market.  This of course depends on the state you are in.  Some states are now allowing residents and commercial properties to choose their own energy supplier and/or delivery servicer (see my post “where your power comes from” for more detail).

Advanced Energy Audit:

Along with the basic audit, consultants can conduct a site-visit and take an energy inventory of your facilities.  They will document every piece of equipment and estimate or measure energy usage.  They will analyze their findings and make recommendations for behavioral strategies to reduce your energy usage.  They can also come back to check the savings from newly implemented facility management practices.

Comprehensive Energy Audit:

A comprehensive audit includes an Advanced Energy Audit and adds recommendations for relatively low cost energy management solutions. These solutions can include adding smart hardware devices or management software to manage and monitor your facility’s energy usage in real time.  These devices allow you to make data-driven adjustments.

Future Proof Energy Audit:

The Future Proofing Audit adds integration recommendations for energy efficient infrastructure either as a retrofit or for a new building.  These recommendations can include adding green energy sources like solar power, wind, geo-thermal, or Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).  Other recommendations may include an overhaul of HVAC systems, water heating systems, lighting systems, control systems, or AV systems.  This is a capital campaign level audit that would review architectural and mechanical plans to ensure that GREEN systems will be built into your churches renovation or new building.

Should your church get an energy audit?

I believe every church should find out exactly how their energy is being used.  Once you have that knowledge, wise council from energy consultants will show you how to use it more efficiently.  If your church leadership is at all concerned with how the church is stewarding its energy, I would highly recommend an audit as a great first step.  Which audit to get depends on your churches leadership’s energy goals.  In the next post, I will talk more about setting goals for reducing your churches energy usage.

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Church Energy Series

Why Energy Inefficient Churches Are Losing Their Power

Energy inefficient churches are plagued by skyrocketing power bills.  Let’s face it, church production takes a lot of power.  Not just “Holy Ghost Power”, but power company power.  While a lot of energy is used during production, inevitably a percentage of that energy is wasted. I’m willing to bet a lot of church buildings have terribly inefficient systems. It’s possible most church leaders are unsure of where their power is even going. I’m concerned that churches have come to accept the notion that high energy bills are simply the cost of doing ministry. The truth is, it’s not out of your hands. You can take responsibility for your church’s energy usage.

The first step: Understand where you energy is going.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” – Lord Kelvin

The two most important numbers on your church’s energy bill are usage (kW/month) and payment due ($$$). This tells you the overall amount of energy used, and how much it’s going to cost you. What the bill doesn’t tell you is the breakdown of usage in your building.  It’s critical to know where your energy is going so that you can identify potential places of improvement.  Don’t worry.  This guide will get you pointed in the right direction.

Four common culprits of energy waste found in churches:

1. HVAC:

Church heating and cooling systems are by far the biggest offender of energy waste. It takes a lot of energy to heat/cool large venue spaces. Church sanctuaries are no different. Some HVAC systems need to run for hours prior to service to get the room to a comfortable temperature for attendees. You’d be surprised at how inefficiently some of these systems are running.  The first place to look for a quick solution here is at the HVAC management system. Commercial grade smart thermostats from the best in the industry are becoming widely available and resemble features seen in intelligent thermostats for the smart home market. Changing out an archaic HVAC regulator with smart products will give you the fastest reduction of energy waste for minimal investment.  Talk about bang for your buck.  In the next post I will go more in-depth about addressing larger HVAC waste issues.

2.  Lighting:

Another large contributor to energy waste at your church may be your lighting systems. If your church has yet to convert from the old school gym flood lights and fluorescent tubes, you are missing out on significant energy savings. There are tons of new energy efficient options on the market right now including CFL, LED and Induction fixtures.  Upgrading your lighting is another fast way to reduce energy usage throughout your church buildings.  Another benefit of switching is the increased life of the new technologies.  These new fixtures will require far less maintenance and bulb replacements than ever before.  Doing the whole building in one go may not be cheap.  Consider doing it in phases.  The good news is that prices are dropping.

Next consider smart zone control.  Many churches are now benefitting from using smart motion censoring technology to control lighting in classrooms, meeting spaces, and auxiliary areas.   Scheduling and way finding software can be integrated into smart lighting systems to ensure that you have light only where you need it.  These technologies are especially effective in energy reduction during non-peak hours.

Lastly, consider LED stage lighting fixtures for production. LED’s fixtures offer lower wattage, multi-color, multi-pattern options to lighting designers and don’t require power sucking dimmer packs.

3.  Phantom devices:

Phantom devices are anything that stays on 24/7.  Do you know how many devices in your church are NEVER turned off? These are most likely computers, AV, IT, emergency, and security devices that may or may not go into “sleep mode” and never fully turn off or unplug.  While the sleep mode feature does add the convenience of short wake up times, certain devices need not be on 24/7. Identifying the devices that can be completely shut off and connecting them to smart power strips that will decouple the device from the outlet when off is a great first step.  Some smart power strips can be connected to scheduling software so that they are on when you need them and completely off when you are gone.

4.  AV:

Audio visual manufactures have been producing more energy efficient devices over the last 5 years. The advent of class D MOSFET amp has significantly improved the efficiency, output, and reliability of modern audio amplifiers.  A lot of those devices have integrated control features allowing users to remotely monitor energy usage.  Old-school workhorse amplifiers, CRT tube TV production monitors, and large projectors not only require a lot of energy, they also produce tons of heat.  In each upgrade, consider the energy rating to maximize efficiency in your AV systems.

Next Steps:

If your church has been discussing upgrading any of these four systems sometime in the next 5 years, make energy usage and waste apart of the discussion.  If you really want to get a handle on your church’s energy (and energy bill), I’d highly recommend getting a commercial grade energy audit.  Next time we’ll break down what you can expect to learn from a church energy audit.

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