Does Your Congregation Need An Energy Audit?

st johns episcopal church by jeff mcintire-strasburg

How much energy does your congregation – whether church, mosque, temple, or other – use in a month? If you’ve got members interested in environmental issues, you may already have someone, or a committee, tracking your electricity and gas consumption, and making suggestions for ways to better manage these resources. If you don’t have such members, your treasurer, bookkeeper, or even minister may just write those checks every month, and not give the matter much more thought. Regardless of the prevailing politics of your congregation, though, none like spending money unnecessarily – most don’t have a lot to spare, and fundraising cuts into time and energy that could be better devoted to other activities and ministries. The utility bills just might be one area where spending could be cut back.

My congregation, St. John’s Episcopal Church in South City St. Louis, spends about $12,000 a year on utilities. That’s fairly average, especially considering that a large potion of our building complex is over 100 years old. But we’re a relatively small church with a very diverse group of members – some of which just can’t afford to contribute financially. We need to save every penny we can on expenses in order to support our various community ministries, from the weekly Peace Meal, to our support of and advocacy for a neighborhood elementary school, to our hosting of birthday parties for inmates at the local juvenile detention facility. These activities, as well as our regular worship and educational programming, make us who we are as a parish. We need to keep the lights and the heat on, of course, but any money we could save there would be put to good use.

Given that our buildings are so old, and that our systems like energy, gas, and water have been expanded upon in a less-than-systematic manner over the years, we needed a professional evaluation. So, when the Missouri Gateway Chapter of the US Green Building Council, and Missouri Interfaith Power and Light offered a limited number of free energy audits to local congregations, I threw our hat in the ring. St. John’s was chosen as one of ten congregations to receive an audit from Microgrid Energy. The audit was done in October, and we just received the results (which I’ll share with you in another post).

Why Would A Congregation Want An Energy Audit?

My congregation is pretty progressive, so environmental concerns, as well as potential cost savings, played a role in our decision to audit our energy use. Don’t have a vocal treehuggers in your community mix? Not a problem – in addition to the potential cost savings, taking measurement of your energy use can help you address numerous other issues:

Comfort: Hear complaints about the heat or the cold in the Summer or Winter? Or just notice a falling off of attendance when temperatures get extreme? An audit can help you identify changes that increase the comfort level for your congregation.

Air quality: Hear a lot of sniffling, sneezing, or coughing at certain times of the year? An audit may not only pinpoint ways to run heating and air conditioning equipment more efficiently, but that also reduce allergens and irritants in your building’s air.

Reduce maintenance, repairs, and down time: Worried about the AC going down in August? Know that your boiler isn’t operating at peak performance, but worried about what a tune-up might cost? An energy audit may identify fixes, or even regular practices, that keep your equipment running more efficiently and effectively.

What Will An Energy Audit Cost?

Congregations have to spend their funds wisely; most of us don’t have unlimited financial resources. And energy audits aren’t cheap: you’re paying for a professional evaluation of your buildings and systems.  So, even a Level 1 “walk-through” audit (which is what we had performed) can cost thousands of dollars.

Keep in mind, though, that this cost is an investment: a professional audit will identify specific changes your congregation can make to its buildings and systems that will eventually pay for themselves. It will also identify the “low-hanging fruit” that may just require changes in practices.

Also keep in mind that their may be resources available to pay for an audit. We were fortunate that the program offered by the local chapters of USGBC and IPL came up when we were looking into such matters. We’ve agreed to give these organizations access to the data tracking through ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager tool – a good deal all around. Check with such organizations. Also, check with local, regional, or national divisions of your faith community: they may have grants available for auditing.

In my next post, I’ll share our audit experience at St. John’s with you. If you’ve been involved with an audit at your own congregation, jump in and share your thoughts and experience with us in the comments.

St. Louis-area readers: Interested in learning more about the local partnership between USGBC and Missouri IPL to provide audits to congregations? Consider attending their “Greening Your House of Worship” workshop on February 22nd at Lafayette Park United Methodist Church, 2300 Lafayette Ave. This is a free event, but it does require registration (which you can do here).

(Top image note and source: St. John’s Episcopal Church, by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg)
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About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at