Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Audit Your Church
distributed 8/19/11 - ©2011

I want your church to be audited. That just cranked up your anxieties, didn't it?

"Audit" immediately brings to mind hard-hearted accountants from the Internal Revenue Service. They summon you to their office, and search your tax forms for mistakes so that they can hit you up with interest and penalties. In today's marketing lingo, the IRS owns the "audit" brand.

The kind of audit that I'm suggesting is entirely different from what the tax guys do. I want your church to have an energy audit -- to take a careful and structured look at your congregation's use of energy.

The point of an energy audit is to discover possibilities and to save you money. If the audit process highlights some things as mistakes or inefficiencies, that's just so that you can do things better. There's no blame and punishment involved.

It is time to start thinking about an audit as good news!

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When is a good time to have an energy audit?

  1. When your church wants to save money.
  2. When your church wants to be more environmentally responsible -- whether by simple steps to save energy, or by doing something big like solar panels.
  3. Before replacing or repairing the roof -- find out about options for insulation, ventilation and sky lights first.
  4. Before making changes to your heating or cooling system -- don't install a new furnace and then find out that sealing up some drafty windows would have let you get a much smaller and cheaper one.
  5. Before any big project to remodel, repair, or even redecorate the building -- things like drapes and trees can have big energy impacts.

An energy audit for your church can be quick, simple and cheap -- or it can be much more extensive, somewhat more costly, and immensely more detailed. (At the end of this Notes, there are lots of links to more information on audit options.)

A full-scale, professional audit will be a good investment in almost every church. But if nobody has taken close look at the building with an eye to saving energy in recent years, it might be helpful to start with a do-it-yourself sort of review.

Some of the easiest things to look for in an energy audit have no costs, and can save lots of energy (and money). Turn off lights, computers and coffee pots when not in use. Turn down thermostats. Set the water heater at the lowest reasonable temperature. Close doors and windows when it is cold. (See an old Notes for a case study about open doors.). Use blinds to reduce heating from summer sun, or heat loss in the winter.

There are lots and lots of things that can save energy at very little cost. A very attentive tour of the building will make them evident. Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact florescents. Put outside lights on timers. Replace old "EXIT" signs with ones that use ultra-efficient LED lights (each old sign could be using $30 of electricity a year!) Electronic thermostats will make sure that the heat is set correctly for day and night, and for special Sunday hours. More insulation may be needed in the attic.

And your tour of the building may show some big-ticket areas where getting expert advice will be very important. If a refrigerator is more than 10 years old, it is probably wasting lots of electricity. A clunky old furnace wastes fuel and money -- and may not be doing a good job of heating the building anyway. New windows, or storm windows, can be big savers in the long run.

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An audit done by a trained professional will look at everything that you would do with volunteers, and they will do much more.

An energy auditor will have specialized gadgets that can give a good idea about the quality of insulation in your attic ceiling without setting up a ladder or poking holes. They can put a meter on your refrigerator or TV set to find out exactly how much power it uses. They'll know whether you'll burn out the light fixtures if you remove some florescent tubes -- and they will know why a T-5 tube is much better than a T-12. They'll be able to tell you things about the energy efficiency of your furnace that the average church member (or even the guy who services the furnace) won't know.

Just as important, a professional energy audit will give you specific recommendations about the actions that will be most energy-efficient, responsible and cost-effective in your situation. They'll guide you toward high priorities, and tell you about the dollars-and-cents on a range of choices. They'll explain how spending some money now will bring savings for years to come -- on things like refrigerators, furnaces and windows. They'll help you sort out if solar energy would be great for you -- environmentally, economically, and in community visibility -- or if it doesn't make sense on your building.

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I've seen several articles that say that a well-done audit (and following up on the findings, of course!) will usually save a church 20% to 30% on energy bills. When our good friends at GreenFaith do fairly detailed audits of churches in New Jersey, they charge $500 -- and they promise to refund that money if the church doesn't save at least that much in the first year.

An audit is fiscally prudent. If you haven't had a competent audit, your church is guaranteed to be wasting money and damaging God's creation through all of the impacts of generating the energy you use.

So get your church audited! You'll be glad you did.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

Here are some links for more information on energy audits for churches:
  • There's a very nice 6-page newsletter on energy audits from The Indianapolis Center for Congregations which could be a good introduction for your pastor and building committee.
  • The Episcopal Diocese of Alabama has a clear set of guidelines for the why and how doing a simple energy audit.
  • Flourish, a church-based group in Atlanta, has a short list of audit and fix-it priorities
  • Web of Creation's Environmental Guide has a wealth of audit suggestions and technical options.
  • The US EPA's "Energy Star for Guide for Congregations" has helpful and detailed sections on "getting started", "sure energy savers" and "sanctuary/worship space".
  • Want to see what a really detailed audit list looks like? The state government in Michigan has a 48 page checklist of things to examine, and standards to meet. (The lighting in your sanctuary should provide 10-30 foot candles of illumination, but offices should have 30-50 fc).
  • If you want to have an audit performed by the experts with a specialized business, you can check with your local utility company (electric and/or gas) to see what services they offer, and who else they recommend. If there's an Interfaith Power and Light affiliate in your state, they can give you recommendations of companies with expertise in the unique energy factors of religious congregations.
  • If you've done an audit, and want good ways to follow up on the recommendations, -- related to Interfaith Power & Light -- has church discounts and best pricing on high quality energy efficiency products.

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