By Pastor David Sprang
It seems every ministry of the church is looking for ways to save money in order to fund mission. There could be a wealth of savings hidden in your building that technology could unlock for mission. Before I heard the call to ministry, my original college major was electronic engineering. Therefore, as I travel around to different congregations, I still have an eye tuned to buildings with antiquated lighting and heating.
One church I visited had a dark outside stairwell that led to the kitchen. With obvious concerns about security, they installed a light fixture with a 100-watt bulb, which they left on all the time. A 100-watt bulb left on all the time at the average electricity rate in Mid-Michigan will cost $124 per year. It would have been less expensive if they had used a different kind of light bulb. For example, if they were to use a light fixture with an electronic eye that turns the light off during the day, the cost would drop in half to $62 or if they were to use an LED 100-watt equivalent bulb, it would only cost about $7 per year. Same amount of light, on all night, with a $117 per year savings. With one light bulb. How much could your congregation save by replacing bulbs like this inside and outside of the church building?
Changes in electricity use and light bulbs are coming and a lot are already here. The standard incandescent 100-watt bulb is no longer being manufactured, and soon the T12 48” standard fluorescent light bulbs will no longer be manufactured. It is not a conspiracy; it’s because new technology is so much better and saves money. Congregations need to be ready for these changes and should be anxious to upgrade. All that’s needed is someone to do the math to find the most appropriate upgrades for the funds available.
Most church buildings use some kind of 2 x 4 foot, four light, fluorescent light fixtures. A typical fixture from the 1970s has four t12/40 bulbs and ballast with a total wattage of 200. These are most often used in offices and fellowship halls, and were the best of the best in the 1970s. In an average church there might be 40 or more of these, either used daily or weekly. If 20 of them were used daily, then it would cost $1,260 per year for them to operate. Converting to T8 bulbs and electronic ballast would cut that in half, or to about $630 per year.
We like our sanctuaries bright with light, and so most sanctuaries use floodlights of some kind. Conversions from incandescent to compact fluorescent or LED are a good idea and will save money. A 175-watt flood or spotlight will cost about $20 to operate for 16 hours a week for a year. Replaced by a compact fluorescent or LED bulb, the wattage will be reduced to 20 and the yearly operating cost will be only $2.50. The difference is about the same cost as the bulb itself (compact fluorescents that is, since they cost less than LEDs. LEDs last longer though, some as long as 20 years). The compact fluorescent will pays for itself in the first year, and the years after are all savings.
Outdoor lighting for a church building is essential for security and safety at night. Mercury vapor lights are popular and cheap to buy, but the most expensive to operate. A 175-watt mercury vapor light will cost $117 per year to operate. If a church has ten of these bulbs around the building they are paying $1,170 per year just for outdoor lights. By replacing those bulbs with high-pressure sodium lights using 42 watts, that church would save $870 per year, which they could then use for mission. Should they want to save even more money, that church could use LED lighting options such a new 24-watt screw-in replacement bulb, which would save them $1,010 per year for the ten fixtures. While there would be a one-time cost for conversion of fixtures and cost of bulbs, imagine having $1,000 more for outreach and mission simply by changing light bulbs!
In addition to saving money by changing light bulbs, there are a lot of potential savings from heating and air conditioning systems. Heating and air conditioning systems installed in the 1970s and 1980s are usually about 60-70% efficient. New technology has now produced hot water tanks and furnaces that are 90% or better in efficiency. A 25% savings over the heating season where a typical church would spend $2,000 to $4,000 for heat would result in $500 to $1,000 in savings. A $4,000 93% efficient furnace would pay for itself in four years.
There is also a bonus. Utility companies want us to save money. It saves them money if we cut back because they don’t have to build new power plants. Consumers Energy and DTE both have rebate programs for retro fitting lighting fixtures, replacing HVAC systems, and hot water tanks with high energy systems. Rebates range from 5-25% on certain items. The incentives start simply with bulbs. As an example, Consumers Energy will give a $2 rebate for each incandescent bulb that is replaced by a compact fluorescent. At many stores that is what the bulb costs!
Now this article has probably become more technical that you wanted, but on the other hand if you are a techno geek, like me, it was fun. The upside is that a congregation could easily save $1,000 to $2,000 per year by upgrading lighting and HVAC. Where I live, $1,000 would buy 16,000 lbs of food from the Eastern Michigan Food Bank and could give food assistance supplements to 200 families in the neighborhood. A $1,000 would also give ten $100 grants to people in the neighborhoods who have trouble paying their food bill, or help youth from the congregation go to the National Youth Gathering in Detroit this summer, or send your pastor to Transformational Ministry Training and better equip the congregation to do mission in the community. There is no end to where a congregation could spend an extra $1,000 to $2,000 a year. Saving energy is good for the environment and it could be good for mission and outreach too.
Additional information about Consumers Energy Rebates can be found at: https://www.consumersenergy.com/eeprograms/Business.aspx?id=4076