Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, Severna Park, MD
50% and above reduction
Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park, MD carefully planned their energy equipment upgrades to gradually accomplish a reduction of over 50% in their energy use, saving $35,000 a year in energy costs. They did this with the enthusiastic financial support of the members of the congregation and even someone who isn’t a member of the congregation. As a Presbyterian “Earth Care” congregation they have a clear goal of environmental stewardship that inspires the members of the congregation and the dozens of volunteers who helped make the project a success.
In the words of Bob Royer, church member:
Woods is a “24/7 church”, opening its doors early every morning and closing late every evening to serve the greater community. It is a blessing to the membership and the community that we have a facility that can provide so many services to so many people. The heavy use of the church facility, however, was resulting in challenges in keeping our operational costs for HVAC and lighting within budget. Additional budget pressures included increasing maintenance costs of our aging heating and AC systems which were approaching their estimated useful life or were well past it. Further challenges included the fact that the original church building is 110 years old and had gone through seven major expansions since its founding leaving it with a wide variety of heating systems, including a large steam boiler serving the oldest portions. It was clear that a simple one size fits all HVAC design approach would not work here; we would require a highly creative approach to overcome this HVAC system design challenge. Our lighting systems also had a diversity of inefficient technologies in need of significant upgrade to improve efficiency and performance. Our church is highly committed to environmental stewardship, so the Property Management Ministry wanted to develop an engineering solution where reducing the carbon footprint was the key pillar. Our objective was to cut our energy use by 50%.
Woods is an Earth Care Congregation in the local and national Presbytery and we are members of both Interfaith Power & Light and the Interfaith Partners of the Chesapeake. Seeking to honor our membership in these organizations, when faced with rising energy costs we wanted to act in the most environmentally responsible way. A team was formed with the help of an independent engineering firm to develop a multi-phased energy reduction plan executed over several years which preserved the value of our existing equipment through its end of useful life and replaced it with state-of-the-art equipment reaping great rewards in reduced energy utilization. We have shared our story with other congregations and co-hosted a session with Joelle Novey from our local chapter of IPL this past summer as part of the annual conference of the Watershed Stewards Academy of Anne Arundel County.
Property Management Ministry members developed a detailed time phased project execution plan. In this planning process we recognized the importance of expanding this facility planning to include other energy saving church elements, not just our HVAC and indoor lighting. From this assessment, we knew the magnitude of the funds that were required to perform not only our HVAC and indoor lighting efficiency improvements but also other necessary improvements to the church building such as converting to high efficiency emergency and exit sign lighting as well as all of the outdoor lighting.
This plan was proposed to the congregation as a capital infrastructure plan named “Renew”, highlighting energy efficiency and carbon footprint reduction benefits as its cornerstone, and the congregation responded enthusiastically. A team of 30 church members volunteered to undertake a campaign to raise the needed capital. The membership embraced the theme of environmental stewardship – we were solving an infrastructure problem in a way that saves the earth and saves us money in operating costs. They responded by pledging more than the targeted goal.
Contributions towards these pledges came in quickly which enabled the projects to begin early. The unforeseen closing of the church due to the Covid pandemic became a blessing in disguise, enabling construction to move at a rapid pace with minimal disruption since most staff were working at home. The project oversight was performed by church volunteers and staff members and was completed on schedule and within budget, which was received well by the congregation.
We realized that it would take time to create a fully developed plan and raise the needed capital funds. It was crucially important to inspire our membership by demonstrating early measurable success to serve as an incentive to fully support the Renew campaign. We first targeted those opportunities which could be funded by our operational budget. One member’s donation known as “Light the Way” served as a catalyst to launch the LED lighting conversion project. Congregational engagement was achieved through using the engineering talent of our own members to perform the work. These volunteers replaced hundreds of fixtures within the church with high efficiency lighting and replaced inefficient HVAC thermostat controls with smart controls.
The energy reductions were impressive, showing a reduction of $1000 dollars per month in utility costs for the first year. The next year’s improvements reaped an additional $1k per month, and that scenario was repeated again for the following year. With these measurable successes, the congregation fully embraced the Renew campaign, enabling the major task of changing our HVAC to state-of-the-art ultra-high efficient VRV heat pump systems. Our congregation was thrilled to be reducing the carbon footprint of our church and was inspired to do the same in their own households. As the word of our energy efficiency success spread in the surrounding community, we received a significant contribution from a non-church member for installing ultra-high efficient windows in a 100 year old building on our campus that is used by the local Community Center.
The team that worked on this project were the members of the Property Management Ministry (PMM) (15 members), the Renew Capital Campaign Committee (30 members), the Retired Handymans Breakfast Society (REHABS) (15 members), and Woods Gardeners (10 members) The PMM directed the engineering studies and project planning activities and provided the program management leadership throughout the execution of the project. The Renew team raised the required capital to implement the project. The Rehabs provided volunteer labor during the construction in collaboration with HVAC contractors and the Woods Gardeners landscaped with native shrubs around newly installed equipment as a part of their native plant initiatives.
Woods Memorial won the 2021 Sacred Grounds award in the Cool Congregations Challenge for the stellar work they did to restore their grounds in a climate-friendly manner. Read their story here.