Saving Energy at Faith Buildings

Catch up with our workshop on the lessons learned from Footsteps’ energy assessments.

On the Tuesday 2nd May Footsteps held a successful ‘Saving Energy at Faith Buildings’ workshop at the Al-Mahdi Institute in Selly Oak, Birmingham.  Over 20 people attended in person, and a further 10 joined on Zoom, to share experience and learn more. We shared what we have learned from 17 faith buildings energy assessments undertaken by Footsteps (in collaboration with Ecobirmingham and supported financially by the TW Greeves Trust and Central England Quakers). 

The Al-Mahdi Institute was founded 30 years ago and is committed to providing an open platform for critical Muslim scholarship through its education, research and outreach programmes.  The Institute has a long-term commitment to interfaith dialogue as well as within the Muslim faith community providing a platform for diverse religious voices, to be learning from each other.

The Institute moved 10 years ago to its present campus in Selly Oak. The workshop was an opportunity to share learning from its recent building energy assessment.

Birmingham has over 700 places of worship occupying building ranging from traditional ‘cathedral’ type buildings with high roofs and modern office buildings to recently built mosques, gurdwaras and churches.  Some, though, are buildings converted from other uses, including cinemas, libraries and swimming pools. Pictures of places worship – which are worth a million words – can be accessed from the BCF Footsteps Faith Community map

Energy adviser Phil Beardmore from Ecobirmingham undertook the energy assessments.  He explained how assessments should lead to an energy saving action plan and strategy, which are aligned to plans for maintaining and improving a building.  It is important to make changes in the right order.  The impacts are not just on reducing energy use and carbon emissions: congregations may also have concerns about keeping warm and having lights and showers that work.  These all need to be factored into an energy assessment process that starts with reducing heat loss through a building’s fabric; then heating system efficiency and controls; and only then finally looking at photovoltaic panels and other sustainable energy sources.   Places of worship, Phil found, respond to the verbal advice and discussion he provides, as well as written reports.

Case Studies

The Al-Mahdi Institute is a 19th century building with both poor insulation, irregular room use and no means to control the heating in individual rooms.  Consequently, energy bills were very high and would increase substantially when current favourable tariffs ended.  The energy assessment took place against the background of needing to urgently reduce gas and electricity usage.   The main recommendations related to improving heating system efficiency, installing LED lighting, insulating pipework and installing secondary glazing.  Work then included fitting thermionic radiator valves, creating heating zones and implementing a heating control system that enabled the temperature in individual rooms to be controlled from a smart phone.  In total the work cost around £30,00 but Phil helped the Institute to successfully apply for a £10,000 grant from the Local Enterprise Partnership Fund. 

Acocks Green Baptist Church is a listed Arts-and -Crafts-era building that also serves the community by hosting a food bank and cooking meals for the neighbourhood.   It is a complex building and energy bills were becoming increasingly difficult when the energy assessment was undertaken.

The assessment identified opportunities to for wall and underfloor insulation and to upgrade heating controls, use One of the main benefits, though, was the way in which the assessment brought together different groups within the church, including input from a retired city planner.

Selly Oak Quaker Meeting House has a Premises Committee that requested and oversaw the energy assessment.  Making Quaker meeting houses more sustainable is also a priority for the Trustees Property Committee of the wider Central England Quaker area meeting. The assessment continued earlier sustainability work, and heating system improvements and recommendations included obtaining a destratification fan to circulate the air in the high-ceilinged meeting house and prevent the warmest air just accumulating in the high ceiling.  The congregation was concerned about the amount of noise that the fan might create, so Phil Beardmore arranged a visit to a church in Lichfield that was using a destratification fan.  The meeting was also able to borrow a fan to demonstrate that the noise level was minimal.  As a result, the meeting purchased a destratification fan that both helped reduce energy bills and, importantly, resulted in the congregation feeling warmer. 

Interested in an Assessment?

Footsteps and Ecobirmingham are now offering energy audits to places of worship that have active community use and the resources to take forward and fund some measures identified in the audit. 

View details of criteria and how to request an energy assessment.

Workshop Presentations and Resources

View a recording of the workshop on YouTube:

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