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Installation Profile: Green Sanctuaries

Jan 4, 2008 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

Houses of worship embrace environmentally friendly design.


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Illinois megachurch Willow Creek practices “daylighting,” which uses natural light from large windows overlooking the gardens to save on energy costs and to reinforce an awareness of natural surroundings. Automated drapes coordinated with the projection system provide proper ambient-light conditions for video. Smaller churches are beginning to use similar green techniques.

Illinois megachurch Willow Creek practices “daylighting,” which uses natural light from large windows overlooking the gardens to save on energy costs and to reinforce an awareness of natural surroundings. Automated drapes coordinated with the projection system provide proper ambient-light conditions for video. Smaller churches are beginning to use similar green techniques.

For reasons both spiritual and practical, the intensely renewed focus on earth-friendly and energy-efficient approaches to life and the buildings that life inhabits have found a particularly receptive audience in the house-of-worship sector. Particularly in Christian circles, the notion of environmental concern has become current and widely accepted. The trend is manifesting itself both in the construction of houses of worship and in the AV systems these churches choose to install.

Drawing on Christian metaphor to make a point, Bob Adams, director of business development and marketing at J.H. Batten, a Walkerstown, N.C.-based design-build general contractor specializing in church and religious facility construction, encourages churches to “get their house in order.” “[Churches have] to become energy-sustaining and sustainability examples, not only of the ministries the people do, but also of the facilities they have,” he says. “Church buildings stand for something. … To put it simply, if we are efficient in the use of our resources, we can be more effective in our ministry endeavors.”

Adams is on a mission, addressing church groups around the country on green architecture, but he also has concrete examples of how installed systems fit into the proposition. Citing the 7,200-seat Willow Creek megachurch in Barrington, Ill., Adams points out that the huge glass walls that look out on a garden on either side of the stage are an example of “daylighting” — the use of natural light to save on energy costs and to reinforce an awareness of natural surroundings. “It's lovely, but the video guys hate stuff like that. It's completely at odds with what they need to make the displays perform optimally,” he says.

The solution in this case was the addition of automated drapes coordinated with the projection system that cover the windows in less than 10 seconds. Adams says that technology advances make automated solutions such as these available even for churches that don't have Willow Creek's $80 million annual budget.

“We recently did a church renovation where the AV subcontractor we used specified LED lighting instead of incandescent or halogen,” he says. “That alone allowed us to reduce the load on the air conditioning by 7 tons.”

Adams evangelizes the use of new technology for its energy efficiency and its cost-effectiveness. “Typically, anything older than five years old will be less efficient than anything newer, when it comes to technology,” Adams says, adding that this should be a crucial argument used by AV integrators as they discuss upgrades with house-of-worship clients. “Replacing more equipment than they might have originally envisioned seems like it's running up the costs. But the reality is if the new equipment is more efficient, it's going to recoup the costs of that new technology faster.”

TURN OFF, TURN ON

Green construction can be significantly interwoven with technology systems in various ways. One of the most obvious ways lies in minimizing power consumption simply by turning equipment off when it's not in use. That is a method that Bill Thrasher, owner of the Thrasher Design Group in Kennesaw, Ga., acknowledges is just getting its due in church-systems design.

“Back when I used to work at Disney, everything was always on, all the time,” Thrasher says. “Most people felt that constantly cycling electrical equipment would shorten its lifespan. That was true to a large extent when AV technology used a lot of vacuum tubes, including CRTs, as well as metal halide and other arc-type lighting. Today, solid-state electronics, plasma, and LED displays — and newer technology like switch-mode amplifiers that generate less heat — are far more forgiving about being regularly cycled and have a greater mean time before failure.”

For instance, in a recent AV systems design for a new addition to the First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn. — a facility that is using geothermal water for heating and cooling the church — Thrasher for the first time specified (in collaboration with Baker Audio of Atlanta, which did the install work) the programmable aspect of Extron's IP-Link serial-control system to schedule systems cycling. That simply means automatically turning off sound and video systems during periods of regular non-use, such as turning off all video monitors in the AV control room overnight.

Thrasher says the move was prompted by a desire to extend the lifespan of the equipment, part of the ROI analysis in a design-build proposition. But the collateral benefit is improved energy efficiency. “And that's something else that ultimately helps the bottom line,” he says.

The church's new geothermal heating and cooling system consists of 154 wells sunk 300ft. into the church's parking lot. The wells circulate ground water — which is naturally kept between 60 degrees and 95 degrees by the Earth's heat — into the structure to either warm the building, or cool it by removing heat and dissipating it into the ground.

Daryl Etheridge, project manager for the general contractor, Nashville-based Hardaway Construction, says the ROI on the system will take seven to eight years. Bill Swift, vice president of system installer KLM Mechanical, also in Nashville, says that return is enhanced by the fact that the geothermal system eliminates the need for cooling towers and boilers, and by the centralized HVAC control it provides using a proprietary system from local company Thermatech.

“It's the same system that the church uses to do things like turn on exterior lighting and pre-heat or pre-cool the sanctuary,” Swift says. “Individual energy-saving systems like geothermal heating and cooling are wonderful, but the real benefit comes from synergizing them with integrated control systems.”



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