Energy Use

Ways in which parishes can heat and manage their buildings more efficiently. There are also links to detailed guidance on analysing the environmental impact of your church building and the wider issue of caring for creation.

There's a huge amount of guidance available on saving energy, to the extent that it can be overwhelming.  The guidance and links below try to identify the crucial information and should give you a good handle on the subject.  However, new information, products and developments are constantly appearing.  If you find a useful source of information that we haven't included below, please let us know so that we can make it more widely available.  It's also very sensible to remain alert to possible misinformation - some companies are jumping on the eco bandwagon without being able to deliver the benefits or savings they claim, and PCCs should keep that in mind when considering new proposals.

Churches and church halls are often subject to highly inefficient energy use – with consequences that are both financial and ethical.  This inefficiency can be tackled by introducing suitable physical measures and by more intelligent use of buildings and their heating controls.  Churches can normally implement a range of high-return, simple measures very quickly and cheaply and the information below gives some practical advice for parishes to follow. There's a huge amount of wider advice available, and some useful links are set out at the bottom of this page.

Modern alterations to buildings (e.g. reducing draughts by blocking up Victorian ventilation ducts or sealing window hoppers) can lead to problems which might not be immediately obvious but could cause very significant problems over time.  Ventilation ducts and window hoppers were normally installed by informed builders for very good reasons, and you need to understand those reasons properly before making any changes.  Uninformed alterations can produce big potential implications for humidity, but the problems may take a long time to show (e.g. the long-term effects of condensation on roof timbers) and could be very expensive to put right (e.g. pipe organs).

You will find very helpful links with direct comparators for your church at the bottom of this page, along with a huge range of other really helpful information.

Action for parishes

Simple steps can be hugely effective and often don't need a faculty:

  • Service the boiler – there are huge potential gains here
  • Make sure boilers are controlled efficiently (e.g. a 7-day timer with a facility for the heating to turn itself off after a set period if timer is overridden). A number of companies now offer products to analyse peak heating efficiency in line with user requirements and control heating systems accordingly.
  • Have heating zones rather than heating the whole church
  • Lag pipes where appropriate (this is often overlooked)
  • Maximise effectiveness of radiators (e.g. don’t put chairs or cupboards right in front of them!)
  • Replace traditional bulbs with low-energy bulbs (but only as each bulb fails – don’t waste embodied energy) – this can significantly reduce electricity consumption
  • Stop unnecessary draughts (but a degree of ventilation is vital for the church fabric)
  • Have a parish policy to initiate review and direct action, with a nominated individual taking responsibility for the energy-saving routine. 
  • Be clear on the thrust of your environmental policy.  If your priority is to save the planet, then simply cut carbon emissions.  If your priority is to save costs, then be aware that the cheapest energy is not necessary the most responsible choice.  If your priority is to stand out and be seen to be doing the right thing, then make sure that any obvious gestures are underpinned by having covered the less glamorous bases first..  If your priority is to stand out and be seen to be doing the right thing, then make sure that any obvious gestures are underpinned by having covered the less glamorous bases first.
  • Avoid “eco-bling” – investigate in detail the real benefits of any initiative, and make sure the simple ground is covered first before going for flamboyant initiatives.  For example, photovoltaic cells are often significantly less effective than a contractor might claim, they may not be acceptable on local planning grounds, and they may involve significant damage to roofs (with fixings and routine replacements over time).  There's also the issue of access for routine maintenance (e.g. removing leaves, bird droppings, snow) - if you'd need to rely on scaffolding access then it may well be inappropriate to consider PV cells for your particular building.  Look very carefully at the actual payback in your particular case.  Do be aware that this technology is not good for seaside locations (due to dirt and corrosion of connections).
  •  Use all available information (e.g. energy bills) Use a data recorder to monitor actual temperature over time – if it records every 15 minutes that’s 672 data recordings a week which will be really useful information in understanding energy usage.  Remember: “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it“.   
  • Measure electricity/gas/water consumption in a methodical way: take regular meter readings on the same day(s) and the same time(s) each week, and record church usage so that you can better understand any variations.
  • Avoid “group think” where a new idea or an individual's strongly-held opinion can develop such a momentum within a group that the proposal becomes detached from reality – stay focused on the facts, not the personalities
  • Consolidate: consider making more regular use of church buildings to keep them at a more regular temperature throughout the week.  This can help keep heating costs down and is better for church fabric.
  • Insulation is a significant issue – there are many different types, with differing levels of effectiveness.  You need to make sure you understand the effect of any product on the fabric of the building (including over time), the appropriateness of different materials for particular buildings, and ethics in terms of the environmental effect of creating these materials.  Some materials also may have similar health risks to asbestos, as yet not fully researched.  It is wise to consider applying suitable insulation when undertaking roof works, but parishes need to take advice from their architect as to the choice of material and the need to ensure suitable access and – very importantly - ventilation. 
  • Rural parishes may be able to take part in a scheme to re-use slurry to benefit from the heat bi-product – a holistic, village-wide approach may be possible.  Such a scheme has operated successfully in Trechwitz, Germany
  • When considering a new heating system, take account of the following:
    • Biomass – burns wood/waste but you need a storage area for pellets, a nearby supplier for pellets and road access for pellet delivery.  Could be a good replacement to oil systems for rural parishes in the longer term
    • Solar thermal – good for hot water ( 3-metre coil may produce half a small domestic requirement) if there is a need for such in the church through the week – more appropriate for church halls or vicarages
    • Photo voltaic cells – can be slates or even paint, last for around 20 years, very expensive, not good for seaside areas, need cabling and trunking, heritage and local planning issues, need to drill into roof
    • Wind – rotor diameter would need to be 3 metres at least, needs involvement of a structural engineer as it is a big physical load, not so effective inland, local planning and heritage issues, certainly makes a statement!
    • Heat exchangers – needs some energy input (ratio 1:4), good for underfloor heating but needs top-up via another system.

Climate change

Changing weather will have major effects on church buildings: many will need bigger gutters and downspouts to cope with more concentrated showers (St Paul’s Cathedral has already needed holes cut into high-level parapets to ensure it can cope with extra rainfall). These are issues which many historic churches will need to address ahead of other "eco" actions. 

Health and safety

If you are examining lagging, boilers, heating ducts and under-floor voids etc. do take care to watch out for signs of asbestos and seek professional guidance as appropriate.  Any dust or loose ceiling paint in boiler rooms should be treated with particular suspicion.   

Further Information

There's a huge range of detailed information available from many sources. Particularly useful documents include:

  • Shrinking the footprint - the official Church of England website offering detailed information on all issues relating to churches. Includes details of how to do an energy audit.
  • Detailed guidance from Churchcare about specific types of heating systems including underfloor, biomass, ground source and air source
  • The Environment - Resources page in the Social Responsibility section of the diocesan website - this includes details of the Eco-Congregation scheme.
  • The Diocese of London's Generic Building Solutions report (published May 2011) - this is an excellent, detailed study of different ways to reduce energy use in different sorts of church building.  All parishes will be able to draw comparisons in some way with their own church building.  At 93 pages, this is quite a large document to download but it's essential reading for any parish seeking to improve its energy efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint.
  • The Diocese of London's Options, Challenges, Solutions, Limitations document gives practical advice on the full range of initiatives open to churches.
  • A simple guidebook for Running a Greener Church - a practical guide with some useful links
  • Advice on calculating and reducing your carbon footprint, along with a great deal of other detailed and very practical information, is available in the publication Guidance on Energy Efficient Operation and Replacement of Plant and Equipment (don't be put off by the title - this guidance is really helpful!)