Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ in Arlington, Virginia
Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ in Arlington, Virginia is the 2022 winner of the Energy Saver category of Interfaith Power & Light’s Cool Congregations Challenge for their work to become a net zero campus through energy saving measures and for their educational outreach to their congregation and the wider community. IPL congratulates Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ!
Read their inspiring story in the words of Laura Martin, member of the congregation:
Our challenge was to make our sanctuary and church campus more energy efficient so that we could decrease energy costs, reduce our carbon footprint, and use the energy savings for meaningful action in line with our values.
The square footage of Rock Spring’s buildings is 32,990. The sanctuary was built in 1940, with additions made in 1955 and 1981. The buildings on the rest of the campus, including space for meetings, kitchen, Sunday school, preschool and the parsonage, were built between 1950 and 1996.
As part of our longstanding environmental commitment, Rock Spring had steadily made improvements. We purchased green energy, converted 200 fixtures to LED, purchased new HVAC systems with condensing boilers rated at 93%, increased some insulation, and more. But as the climate crisis accelerated, we agreed we had to take bolder action. We began with a careful evaluation of our campus, including a study by The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), which revealed much wasted energy, especially in the sanctuary.
* 70% of utility costs were due to excessive heating and cooling from inadequate insulation, with air escaping outdoors
* Lights burned in empty rooms, forcing trips to turn them off
* Rooms were heated and cooled with no one present
* Single pane windows without blinds were losing much energy
* An aging roof on Carpenter Hall needed replacement and provided an opportunity for solar
With this information, our challenge was to eliminate or reduce wasted energy.
We have launched a project to become a Net Zero Church.
Members of Rock Spring’s Property Board and Green Accelerator Project met with experts to determine what steps were needed and their cost. Those actions included:
*Insulation improvements *Solar power installation *Window upgrades *Automation
The commitment of several members of the congregation gives new meaning to the term “countless hours were spent.” Because reaching Net Zero was a significant decision for our congregation, we involved as many people as possible by making presentations on three different dates to explain and discuss both the project and the financing, and to answer questions. When the Net Zero vote was taken in October 2020, the congregation showed overwhelming support to move ahead with a vote of 97%.
The estimated cost of Phase One – insulation and solar, which is now complete – is $405,000 and we believe that this large up-front investment will lead to huge future savings. The $37,000 annual pre- Covid utility costs could decrease as much as 75-85%. Our predictions are based on overall trends, so these are estimates. But without doubt, our energy savings and carbon footprint reduction will be enormous. To finance this major step forward, the Finance Board worked with the Net Zero committee to explore various options. In the end, we decided to borrow the money from Rock Spring’s endowment at a rate of 3%, to be paid back over 20 years.
Rock Spring’s journey to Net Zero will span several years and we are well on our way. On October 21, the solar panel installation on the Carpenter Hall roof was completed – a total of 119 – 375-watt modules or 44,625 watts. Our contractor, Sustainable Energy Systems, projects energy savings of 52%, but it is too early for data. To install solar panels, we had to first put on a new roof. At that time, we insulated the ceiling to R38. On Sunday, October 31, congregants literally flocked to see our beautiful new solar roof, taking photos and celebrating in this visible step to confront climate change.
Less visible, but equally important for energy savings, is the completed installation of blown insulation in all buildings, value ranging mostly from R38 to R49.
We are ready to begin Phase Two, which will include weatherproofing and shades for the large sanctuary windows, replacement of other windows, automation for heating, cooling and room lighting, and upgraded security. We will discuss this at our annual congregational meeting in January, and we plan to begin Phase Two work in 2022.
One of our Net Zero goals is to lead by example, and that has already begun. Rock Spring has participated in two educational webinars and given two walking tours of our campus to churches interested in saving energy.
We are inspired to become a Net Zero congregation because it’s the most Rock Spring can do to confront climate change, and our members are deeply committed. As we learn what to do to reach our goal, we are sharing that information with other congregations.
Rock Spring has been responding to climate change in transformative ways for decades, including messages from the pulpit. In addition to already-noted energy-saving upgrades to our buildings, other green actions include planting trees and native gardens on our campus and creating a Plot Against Hunger garden. Last year we grew, collected from others, and donated 9,107 pounds of fresh produce to local food banks. Advocacy includes testifying with our local IPL at the Environmental Protection Agency and participating in climate marches.
Other actions to confront climate change include:
Worldwide – partnership with the Solar Village Project since 2016 to provide solar panels to rural India and to communities in Puerto Rico, where Rock Spring members installed solar panels on vital community buildings.
Local – participation in local stream cleanups, engaging our youth in climate solutions.
Individual – An energy fair in 2019, demonstrating ways to live greener (including an IPL booth), urging congregants to switch to green energy, and offering a Green Bingo game to motivate making home improvements.
In all of these ways, and through our Net Zero project, Rock Spring is dedicated to becoming a trailblazing green church and leading by example.
Contact Laura for more information at laura at rockspringucc.org