Like many congregations, St. Alban's Episcopal Church is housed in a facility that has been expanded, renovated, and changed over time. The church was founded in 1953, built its first 800-square-foot building in 1954, and today occupies 14,703 square feet. The additional square footage is comprised of two separate expansion efforts, the last taking place in 2000. Energy had not been a large concern when the building was first built. But a changing world and a growing membership have moved energy stewardship as one of the most prominent positions on the church's list of goals in the last three years.
St. Albans is the hub of many community activities in Monroe and Walton counties near metropolitan Atlanta. Space at the church is made available to a variety of charitable groups such as the Walton County Historical Society, and a Healthy Grandparents Program. The church also supports FISH (an interfaith thrift store and emergency aid program), a summer lunch program called Fish for Kids, the Walton County Sheriff's Department Gardening by Inmates program, and the Healing Angels Free Clinic. It is one of 95 parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and is one of 38 self-governing churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
At about the time St. Alban's was becoming concerned about energy costs, the Atlanta Episcopal Diocese created specific energy goals and suggested each church name a creation keeper. The Diocese provided a point system to measure progress that the Green Team uses to track Diocese goals.
In 2008, members of St. Alban's attended a seminar offered by Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL). The result was an energy audit performed by GIPL and an audit report that formed the basis for energy improvements. The congregation applied for and got a grant from GIPL in 2009.
The first steps in increasing efficiency were improvements to the older building's envelope, adding insulation, and changing lighting from incandescent to CFL. Smaller, but significant, improvements included timers on water fountains, weather stripping, and caulk. Landscaping was upgraded to include large areas of mulch to reduce mowing and water. One office was relocated to substantially reduce HVAC expenses in the newest building.
"The whole process also gave us learning opportunities," say Frank J. Roth, creation keeper of the parish. "We investigated foam insulation products, point of use water heating, and the cost of replacing the HVAC units. We pinpointed the changes we wanted to make. We also found some interesting problems such as un-insulated and blocked duct work which needed correcting."
"We chose Icynene insulation, decided not to go with the point of use water heating, got bids on replacing the HVAC units with ENERGY STAR qualified equipment and went with Carrier," Roth adds. "The ductwork is being repaired and we have quarterly maintenance contracts on the HVAC to assure optimal operation." St. Alban's is applying for another GIPL grant to speed the process along.
The parish recently acquired a "kill-a-watt meter" to measure the energy use of appliances and computers. This has led to replacement of the commercial-grade freezer and refrigerator with ENERGY STAR qualified equipment yielding a cost reduction for electricity of $1,000 annually. Changed usage patterns have been established for computers and televisions.
"We look at all our improvements as educational for our member families," says Rev. Brent Owens, rector of the parish. "It shows them energy-saving opportunities. The kill-a-watt meter and expertise is available for them to use in making changes at home. We are saving approximately $150 a month on electricity alone. For a church our size, an overall saving of $6000 a year can balance a budget or help support a new program."
St. Alban's relies on ENERGY STAR guidance for both the parish and its members.
"We printed many of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ENERGY STAR documents and put them in binders in our library for parishioners to use as resources," Roth states. "We used the congregations guidebook 'Putting Energy Into Stewardship' for both guidance and ideas. We use Portfolio Manager as a tool to track our progress and to keep us on course."
St. Alban's has set up a billboard in the lobby to show improvements and other ENERGY STAR posters and pictures are displayed throughout the buildings. The lobby billboard became the centerpiece of a parish display at a community-wide Earth Day celebration. Using sample press materials provided by ENERGY STAR, these activities at St. Alban's have been covered in the local and diocese newspapers. "Parishioners appreciate what we've done for several reasons," Rev. Owens says. "For example, our facility is more comfortable and we sealed out a lot of road noise."
The parish has also signed up for the ENERGY STAR Challenge, committing to reducing energy usage by 10 percent a year. Signing the GIPL Covenant is another commitment made by the parish to help it remain on track.
Efforts have not stopped with improved energy efficiency. Recycling cardboard, bulletins, newsletters, and office waste saves a ton of paper, saving 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water. "This represents a 64 percent energy savings, a 58 percent water savings, and 60 pounds less of greenhouse gas emissions," Rev. Owens says. "The 17 saved trees can absorb a total of 250 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Burning that same ton of paper would create 1,500 pounds of CO2. We also recycle about one bin a week of steel cans and plastic containers."
Roth cites improvement in the three principal measures used to chart progress. "We raised our score from 18 to 24 on the diocese score sheet," Roth states. "In EPA's ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, our baseline in 2008 was 37 and we moved to a 59 in 2009. Our goal is to reach at least 75 and earn an ENERGY STAR label for our facility before any other parish in the diocese. Finally, we use the Cool Congregations website to show we've reduced our carbon footprint from more than 160,000 pounds of CO2 to nearly 145,000 pounds. That's a decrease of about 9 percent."
Saint Alban's Episcopal Church estimates that they are saving more than $1,500 annually in energy costs for the operation of their worship space. The savings of nearly 70,000 kWh per year represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the CO2 emissions from the annual electricity use of over five homes.
Georgia Interfaith Power and Light