The rectory of this small church is now saving 15 tons CO2 per year with new heat pumps, with of total savings $1,710 in annual energy costs.
By Ginger Webb, a member of Church of Our Savior
Our church and rectory are over 100 years old. They were built in 1919, in an era when the planet seemed boundless, and no thought was given to the environmental impact of building a church. Now in our centennial year, we found the rectory needed work. Especially urgent was an inefficient and nearly 25-year-old oil furnace on its last legs. As a small congregation with a limited annual budget, we had to decide between replacing the oil furnace with a comparable inexpensive model, versus conversion to more costly heat pumps.
Our congregation is environmentally conscious, but frequently has to settle for the most affordable solution. Heat pumps would cost much more than an oil furnace, but could we responsibly pay the high environmental cost of continuing to burn fossil fuel if we could find a more earth-friendly solution? Estimates for heat pumps came in around $32,000, equal to a quarter of our annual budget, which had no wiggle room. But we couldn’t pass up this chance to try… if we could just find the financial resources to complete the project.
We started with a free energy audit conducted by Mass Save, a Massachusetts collaborative of local utility companies, working with the MA Department of Energy. Once the audit was completed, Mass Save then helped to improve insulation, which was part of the requirement to apply for a partial rebate. The rectory had already converted to 100% green electricity, an option available through our electric company. Once those items were completed, the groundwork was laid for the big project for 2020: to install heat pumps and eliminate the oil furnace, as well as replacing the malfunctioning gas stove with electric. But funding still needed to be raised.
The rebate was available as long as we signed the contract by the end of 2019, but that would only cover $4,875 of the total $32,658 cost. Our church Environmental Committee raised $14,600 for our newly-established Eco Fund. But we were still short by about $13,000, and we were running out of time to commit to the project. We could apply for a no-interest 7 yr. loan from Mass Save to cover the rest, but repayment, even with 0% interest, would add to our deficit budget. Then an unexpected bequest arrived from the estate of one of our beloved parishioners who had recently passed away, and we had our answer. We now had the money, and we signed the contract.
The arrival of the pandemic slowed down the scheduling, but finally in the late spring, the work began.
Five units were installed in the rectory, two on each floor, and one in the finished attic where the rector has her home office and art studio. The gas stove was replaced with electric, and now only the hot water heater is using gas. The rest of the rectory is now fossil fuel free. The rector celebrated as the oil tank left the rectory forever.
The project was completed in early June 2020, and through November it had already saved about $1,140. Electricity increased $222, and gas increased $35, partly because the rector and her family have been working from home due to the pandemic, but oil dropped by $1,397. We had already saved 6 tons of CO2 compared to 2019, not counting the higher CO2 savings in the winter during the New England heating season. It is estimated will we save an additional 9 tons CO2 by May, and 15 tons CO2 saved per annum, with of total savings $1,710 in annual energy costs. The vestry and a steering committee were involved in planning, decision making, interacting with Mass Save and the company that installed the heat pumps. The congregation raised and contributed funds.
As part of celebrating our centennial year as a congregation, we looked back on our church history, not just to see where we had come from, and how our values were shaped, but also to consider what kind of legacy we wanted to leave future generations. A vestry discussion revealed that decreasing our carbon footprint was high on our list of priorities, as we wanted to do our part in leaving a cleaner planet and greener church for future generations.
Though the pandemic has left us worshipping online, this year has not left us without thoughts about how we can prepare our church buildings for regathering in the future. We are always considering sustainability projects, from plexiglass inserts over the stained-glass windows to provide insulation in the winter, to considering how we will handle the aging oil furnace in the church itself. We feel inspired by our own modest success in the rectory to continue our green efforts, and not allow ourselves to be daunted by what can seem like insurmountable financial obstacles. We hope this will also inspire other parishes and parishioners to do the same.
For more information contact Ginger at gs_webb at yahoo.com