Swarthmore Presbyterian Church (SPC) is only the second congregation in the history of the ENERGY STAR Congregations Awards to win the award for two consecutive years. They achieved this rare honor with the combination of a strong continuing effort at energy efficiency coupled with a dynamic outreach campaign to their membership and community.
Swarthmore Presbyterian was founded in 1894 and built their first building in 1896. Subsequent buildings connect around a central quadrangle and the facility now totals 28,000 square feet. Nearly 35 percent of the present facility is dedicated to a full-time, non-denominational nursery day school with a staff of eight. A church staff of 12 serves approximately 900 members with an average of 350 attending two Sunday services.
Swarthmore wanted to increase utilization of the facilities for the congregation and community by making the spaces comfortable, inviting, and affordable to heat and cool. "We knew a focus on energy efficiency could make the building's resources more desirable, but would also reduce operating expenses," Jeff Darlin, facilities manager, explains. "Financial resources would be freed up for pastoral activities and outreach to the entire community. We want to be a tangible example of what is possible."
Swarthmore's 2009 ENERGY STAR Award was based on a reduction in total energy usage of more than 40 percent and widespread energy awareness throughout the church community. SPC leveraged the award to "spread the word" of environmental and energy awareness in the wider community, starting with local newspaper publicity. In November 2009, the church governing body authorized the formation of an Environmental Task Force who hosted an Environmental Fair for Earth Day. Held on April 24, 2010 the fair attracted wide-ranging publicity including coverage from the nearby Philadelphia NBC affiliate and had attendance of more than 300 guests.
SPC also sponsored a 5-week series of classes entitled "Green Christianity" which incorporated Mark Wallace's discussion of Biblical foundations for preserving the earth's resources. "The series connected our personal spiritual journeys with simple, practical steps we can take to 'think globally and act locally,'" Darlin explains. Discussions continued through the fall of 2009 and a core group of members recognized the importance of a continued focus on environmental stewardship at SPC. The formation of the Environmental Task Force enabled the pursuit of specific actions and educational offerings to help the church and its members protect God-given natural resources.
Responsibilities of the Task Force are:
In addition to launching a campaign to extend the energy saving techniques and strategies to the public, SPC continued to use the extensive tools available on the ENERGY STAR website to maintain a disciplined, cost-effective approach to long-term energy management. "Guidelines for Energy Management" was especially helpful," Darlin stated.
Following the success of upgrading the HVAC in 2008, one of two 440,000 btu hydronic boilers was replaced with an ENERGY STAR qualified 195,000 btu condensing boiler that has a 95% efficiency rating. "Our HVAC, electric, and plumbing contractors did the job over one weekend in November 2009," Darlin said. "This was tied to three heating zones allowing us to match the use of heating energy with actual use in the administrative offices, a chapel, and classrooms for our nursery day school. The zones are all controlled with digital, programmable thermostats. This upgrade leaves the oldest existing furnace dedicated to the Sanctuary. It's the least-utilized space in the church complex and it's not a cost effective replacement right now. We've extended its useful life for about five years." An older inefficient water heater was replaced with a storage tank using the boiler as the heat source.
In the administrative office area, SPC implemented a central air conditioning zoning plan using six damper controlled zones controlled with six remote, programmable ENERGY STAR qualified thermostats. "The comfort level for staff members has been greatly appreciated. They call it unprecedented." Darlin said. "Plus, there's a significant improvement in energy utilization."
SPC is installing an energy-efficient replacement roof over the office. "We've included techniques such as foil-faced, radiant barrier, roof sheathing, rigid foam application to the roof decking, and a white roof membrane for the flat section of the roof," Darlin states. "It reduces energy use by conditioning the space where the existing A/C air handler is located in the attic above the office."
SPC continues to explore alternative energy options with geothermal, solar thermal and PV, as well as significant rain storage to augment the two 55-gallon rain barrels installed during the Environmental Expo.
Comparing the 12-months of April 2009 to March 2010 to the calendar year 2006 baseline, SPC has reduced energy costs by 54 percent.
"We're also starting to use Portfolio Manager. Our goal is to earn the ENERGY STAR label for our facility later this year, or in 2011," Darlin says. A score of 75 or higher in EPA's online energy management and tracking tool, Portfolio Manager, is required as part of the process to earn the ENERGY STAR label.
In the meantime, SPC became one of the first "Earth Care Congregations" named by the Presbyterian Church USA. To earn the recognition, SPC had to demonstrate environmental leadership in the worship, education, outreach, and facilities areas of church life.
Darlin stresses that the leadership and the congregation are strong supporters of the energy stewardship program. Lead pastor, Rev. Richard Wohlschlaeger is an enthusiastic backer of the effort. "We recognize that our natural resources are limited, our consumptive habits have polluted our air, water, and land, and that conservation practices will save money that can be used to further outreach and mission work," concludes Rev. Wohlschlaeger.
Swarthmore Presbyterian Church estimates that they are saving more than $8,000 annually in energy costs for the operation of their worship space. The savings of more than 11,000 kWh of electricity and 290,000 cubic feet of natural gas per year represents a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the CO2 emissions from the annual electricity use of nearly three homes.
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