What Did We Learn From Our Congregation’s Energy Audit?

st john's episcopal church from cover of energy audit report by Microgrid Energy
Photo of St. John’s from the cover of the energy audit report. Credit: Microgrid Energy

Editors Note: This article is part of a series on one congregation’s decision to cut its energy usage by conducting an audit. To learn more, check out why they invested in an energy audit and how it was conducted

Once you congregation decides to invest in an energy audit, and then has one conducted by a professional, the waiting begins: pulling the data together in a usable report takes about 30-45 days. Because the audit we had conducted at St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis was part of a larger effort by the Gateway Chapter of the US Green Building Council and Missouri Interfaith Power & Light, we had to wait a little longer. I was pretty excited when the email with our report finally came through. I was also a little nervous about what might be required for our over 100-year-old building.

So what did we learn? To a large degree, I’d say what we expected: there’s definitely room for improvement in our use of natural gas and electricity. Still, the audit generally didn’t recommend budget-busting systems upgrades; rather, the overall cost, and the payback periods for any investments, struck me as pretty reasonable. A few of the items with the biggest impact wouldn’t cost us much more than the time necessary to implement and monitor them. Maybe this energy-saving stuff isn’t so difficult, huh?

The Big Picture: Our Energy and Cost Savings Potential

Right at the beginning of the report, we got a big picture breakdown of the costs and benefits identified in the audit. In short, implementing the nine recommendations could save us 27% of our current annual electricity use, 29% of our current annual natural gas use, and $3,585 a year in utility spending. The cost to implement these recommendations? $6,252, which we’d earn back in just over a year and a half.

Among the suggested actions we take:

  • Systems upgrades: There were a couple of these, specifically tuning up our HVAC system, and making some upgrades on our boiler system. I have no doubt these will be lower on our priority list, not only because they’re the priciest recommendations, but also the ones that produce the lowest “bang for the buck.”
  • The typical changes you’d expect: Caulk and weatherstrip our windows and doors? Yep. Install occupancy sensors. Definitely. Turn down the water heaters, and install faucet aerators? Yes, that was on there, too. These options aren’t nearly as expensive as the first grouping, and we can probably complete this — at least partially — through do-it-yourself efforts by parishioners.
  • The freebies: We’ve actually got a couple of items on the list that will cost us no money to implement: specifically, installing automatic sleep mode on all computers in our buildings and setting our thermostats back a bit more during unoccupied periods. Pretty easy, right? Mostly — we do have clients renting office space that we’ll need to get on board.

I’ve scaled this down significantly here — the report itself is 64 pages long and includes photographs taken during the audit, full explanations of each recommendation, and lots and lots of details and data on our utility use. When I present this information to our vestry (parish board of directors) this weekend, I won’t have to do much organizing. The report itself makes a very solid, detailed case.

We certainly have other needs with our buildings, so none of this is guaranteed to get past this stage. But what gets measured gets managed, right? We’ve now got very clear measurements of our energy use and suggestions for how to bring it down fairly significantly. We can use this information at all sorts of levels, from decisions on large upgrades and repairs, to day-to-day operations . . . and that’s valuable.

Has your congregation had an audit? How have you put that information to use? Share your experience with us . . .

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).

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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