Congregational Buildings


Data from the Department of Energy indicates that congregations in the United States spend between $0.25 and $1.30 per square foot (ft2) annually on energy. These expenditures include about 4.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per ft2 and about 41,500 Btu/ft2 of other energy sources, primarily for heating and hot water (Figure 1). Congregational buildings are similar to commercial buildings, although facility specifics, including occupancy levels, hours of operation, and scope of services (from daily or weekly worship to soup kitchens, hostels, and computer training) can vary widely. In addition to a worship area and staff offices, your congregational building may include a cafeteria, bookstore, social and educational meeting rooms, high-end multimedia audiovisual systems, and, perhaps, full theater capacity for thousands of congregants. Some efficiency measures can be implemented with little or no investment by managing the spaces in the building. For those improvements requiring a larger initial outlay, many can pay for themselves quickly and, if planned well, can enhance the comfort of your building.

Average energy use data

Figure 1: Energy consumption by end use
On the national level, although cooling and ventilation represent significant electrical loads in congregational buildings, miscellaneous plug loads—likely including such things as amplified musical instruments, audio-visual equipment, and microphones—consume the most electricity in houses of worship. And where natural gas consumption is concerned, space heating is far and away the largest energy consumer.
Pie chart showing electricity end uses: Miscellaneous, 48%; Cooling 19%; Ventilation, 16%; Lighting, 12%; and Refrigeration, 5%.
Pie chart showing natural gas end uses: Heating 77%; Water heating, 12%; and Cooking 11%.

In order to better manage your building's energy costs, it helps to understand how you are charged for those costs. Most utilities charge their commercial customers for natural gas based on the amount of energy delivered. Electricity, on the other hand, can be charged based on two measures: consumption and demand (Figure 2). The consumption component of the bill is based on the amount of electricity in kWh that the congregation consumes during a month. The demand component is the peak demand in kilowatts (kW) occurring within the month or, for some utilities, during the previous 12 months. Demand charges can range from a few dollars per kilowatt-month to upwards of $20 per kilowatt-month. Because peak demand can be a considerable percentage of your bill, you should take care to reduce it whenever possible. As you read the following energy cost management recommendations, keep in mind how each one will affect both your consumption and your demand.

Figure 2: Diagram of a hypothetical daily load shape
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