First Universalist Church of Denver is a national IPL Certified Cool Congregation at the 100% reduction level for renovating their building with geothermal and solar to provide all their energy needs, preventing approximately 100 tons of carbon emissions annually.
First Universalist Senior Minister Rev. Eric Banner says of the project “So much of what it takes to change the world goes unseen, from solar panels above, to insulation in the walls, to geothermal wells below the parking lot, to the untold meetings and planning sessions that make it all possible. But what we can never lose sight of is our commitment to be faithful stewards of the earth that is our home, and the importance of showing everyone that we can all be part of the solutions to the biggest problems we face, even global climate change.”
First Universalist Church of Denver put their ‘why’ into action by honoring one of the central tenets of their faith —“respect the interdependent web of all existence” — with a large-scale renovation of their existing building. Using recycled and repurposed materials, spray-foam insulation, solar panels, and a geothermal heat system, the new worship sanctuary and event space were constructed to operate entirely on clean, renewable energy — with zero greenhouse gas emissions.
The congregation was embarking on a renovation project to maintain and upgrade the building and add more classroom space and it soon grew in scope. The small Green First Task Force at the congregation was concerned about climate change and ensured that the goal of zero emissions was included in the renovation design.
This building project was member-driven, member-led, and member-financed, and some of the engineering and design work was provided by experts within the congregation, like solar expert John Bringenberg and engineer Milt Hetrick.
When the capital campaign to raise money for the renovation project ended with a significant shortfall, the proposed new energy system was deleted from the remodeling budget. The Green First Team took on the challenge of finding financing for the new sustainable energy equipment. They raised the necessary capital using a combination of donations and low-interest member loans. The financing plan for the new system was designed to be “revenue neutral” and not require an increase in the church’s operating budget. In fact, the new green energy system is expected to cost less than the fossil fuel-based system over a 20-year time frame.
Before the renovations, the congregation used approximately 73,000 kWh of electricity annually plus approximately 5200 Therms of natural gas. Because of dramatic envelope improvements, the new building is engineered to use approximately 90,000 kWh of electricity and near-zero natural gas despite an expansion of about 20% in floor space square footage.
The commercial kitchen has a natural gas stove, oven, and “make-up air” handler that emit over 5 tons of CO2 a year, which is offset by the excess electricity generated by the solar panels. They are raising funds to replace their gas stoves in the kitchen with induction appliances now that the building codes have changed.
The project is expected to save the church approximately $270,000 over 20 years.
A full circuit level/duct level monitoring system for solar and geothermal reports energy used and carbon emissions saved on a regular basis.
They met many physical challenges – getting 12 geothermal boreholes, each 400 feet deep below their parking lot, then snaking through three old building basements and crawlspaces to each of the 10 Heat Pump locations. This was matched with a 57 kW rooftop solar system which is modeled to meet their new annual projected electricity needs.
During the renovation, energy-conserving changes were made to the facility including 100% LED lighting, new windows, additional insulation, elimination of air leaks, and installation of Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) units.
An energy recovery ventilator (ERV) is a type of air handler that features a heat exchanger combined with a ventilation system for providing controlled ventilation into a building. It pulls fresh, clean air into the building and takes out stale/unclean air. It consists of two fans and a heat exchanger that transfer heat and moisture between the two air streams to retain heat in the building in the winter and expel heat in the summer.
Beyond energy, the congregation was committed to sustainable materials choices and building best practices.
- Sustainable materials, furnishings, and finishes including Interface carpet squares, low flow fixtures, low VOC finishes, a dramatic use of beetle kill wood in our new round sanctuary, and more.
- Recycling of the building’s oldest foundation and current buildings with all removed concrete and steel reclaimed for other uses.
- A Solstice Window, specially designed by a member, acts as a non-electric soft light fixture every day while 4 times/yr. sends a spray of color light to the dais at the Solstice and Equinox solar events.
First Universalist now provides a member-built scale model to show other faith communities how they can live their values with buildings that benefit all life on earth.
The congregation is a registered Green Sanctuary by the UUA.
Check out the video to learn more about these inspired people and their inspiring building:
A member of the congregation, Milt Hetrick wrote a book, “From the Ground Up” about the process of renovating the building to be zero emissions. PURCHASE THE BOOK ON AMAZON HERE >
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For more information contact John Bringenberg at john at bringenberg.com