Tracking energy use in church buildings

Frog on a field of lillypads
How green are you?
By on June 1, 2021
Leigh Anne Williams

The Ottawa chapter of Greening Sacred Spaces (GSS)  is encouraging Anglican parishes to register in its Energy Benchmarking project, which aims to help faith communities understand and reduce their energy consumption.

Participating faith groups allow GSS to access their utility records in order to produce a report charting energy consumption, and next year, GSS also plans to provide a peer comparison chart that “will rank the churches that are participating in the program based on their energy usage intensity along with some other factors,” Hannah Morgan, the benchmarking program lead, explained. “And it will tell you if you are in the red zone, green zone, if you need improvement.”

She hastened to clarify that the benchmarking reports are not energy audits, “which is where you would see exactly what areas need improvement in the building. This is more just how the building is operating in general,” she said, offering an example of a local Anglican church that saw its usage skyrocket by 20% between 2017 and 2018. “They might not have been aware of that or realized how much it had gone up, so by having this report, … [they can look at] what was different between 2017 and 2018? Was it just because they started doing more in the church, was it open more? Or did an HVAC system malfunction? You see where the abnormalities are and try to figure out what happened. Or on the other side, if you reduced usage, you can look at what you did. It gives you that starting point,” she said.

According to Morgan, some of the benefits of benchmarking are:

• Supporting stewardship. By reducing energy consumption and your energy budget you are encouraging members of your faith group to become stewards of their building and community

•Addressing climate change and targeting carbon consumption.

Buildings account for 42% of a typical faith community’s carbon footprint. Reducing your building’s carbon footprint can make a significant difference and aligns with provincial and federal targets to help reduce climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

• Saving energy and money. Benchmarking alone and becoming aware of how your building is doing, usually helps reduce energy use on average of about 2.4% per year. It doesn’t seem like a lot but just being more aware can change behavior and habits.

• Guiding investments and operations. Parishes that might be planning to do a retrofit or a renovation or some sort of upgrade can use this information to figure out next steps.

Energy use audits are usually the next step that GSS recommends, and it offers a free 60-page Do-It-Yourself audit to help faith groups identify what improvements are needed in their buildings. GSS is also collaborating with Carleton University to have engineering students do site visits and offer advice to faith groups. GSS also offers fee-for-service audits that usually range from $200 to  $2000.

There is no cost to faith groups for the energy benchmarking reports. GSS Ottawa is a program of the interfaith organization Faith and the Common Good. The Ontario Trillium Foundation has provided a grant for 2019 to 2022 to help support education and awareness of energy usage and environmental sustainability, Morgan explains. “Our target for the Ottawa area is 50 faith communities.” When she spoke to Crosstalk in late April, she said 34 faith communities had signed up and others were expressing interest. GSS could produce benchmarking reports for more than 50 groups, Morgan said, but in order to receive the annual reports in 2021 and 2022, GSS needed the groups to sign up and get started before the end of August.

Local parish experiences

St. Thomas the Apostle in Ottawa received its first benchmarking report from GSS in March. Derwyn Sangster, chair of St. Thomas’s Stewardship Committee, said he is anxious to see the peer comparison chart, which won’t be available until next year when GSS has more participating groups to include in its ranking. “If we compare poorly to others, for example, it gives us a potential sense of urgency for energy-saving renovations,” he said. “Over time, it would clearly allow us to monitor the energy impact of any renovations we do.” In the meanwhile, however, he said, GSS had provided some preliminary information and comparisons to help interpret the results in St. Thomas’s first report. He noted that St. Thomas had already done an energy audit with GSS about eight years ago and some renovations had been done. “This report will provide some background information that can be taken into account as we look at renovations planning for the parish,” he said.

All Saints Westboro is also participating in the program and received its first report in the fall, said Warden Gaetan Hache. All Saints also did an energy audit some years ago and has done a lot of the type of renovations that are often recommended. “I’m not sure exactly where we’re going to go with this because we have done a lot of the big stuff,” Hache said. 

“There’s not much you can do with a building that’s 100 years old, but it is nice to compare ourselves with others and certainly, now that we have a baseline, we’ll be able to see [the results] if we start making other changes.” 

Hache mentioned that during the pandemic, All Saints had added insulation to the floor of the chapel, the oldest part of the church, where people’s feet used to freeze in the winter. “That will be a little reduction, whether it will show up on the numbers or not,” Hache said. ”From now on, when we do things like that, we should be able to see some kind of improvement to the numbers.”

How to sign up

Register your faith community with the Faith and the Common Good online national network. Create an account, put  in your community’s building address and contact information.  

Log into that account and fill out the online building information/energy benchmarking form. It asks for more specific details specifically about the building — age, square footage, type of renovations done in the last 10 years. 

Fill out the consent forms from the utility companies  (Hydro Ottawa, Enbridge, Hydro One) and email them to GSS. GSS will send the forms to the utility companies to get the data. (Unfortunately, this is only in Ontario, but if there are Quebec parishes that are interested, GSS Ottawa will assist and can also connect parishes with Green Churches Network, which is based in Quebec and is a partner organization/


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