Energy Efficiency and Places of Worship

There are several things that you can do to reduce your energy bills and the starting point is to make sure you keep your building well maintained so that it is dry and not damp.

Saving Energy

Always start with the simplest, least expensive and most obvious options as they can make a huge difference without damaging the building or needing major capital funds:

  • Work out where, why and when energy you use energy
  • Think about basics to reduce heat loss, such as door closers, curtains and repairing cracked windows
  • Consider how to warm the people and not the space
  • Explore whether you can control lighting more effectively or use low energy bulbs.

Places of worship use energy primarily to heat, and for lighting. You may also have sound systems or use energy for catering (whether this is just boiling a kettle for tea, or preparing meals in kitchens).

Reducing heat loss

Reducing heat loss will go a long way to bringing down energy used for heating. You can start by finding and eliminating any draughts. This can be as easy as ensuring you close porch doors or think about installing thick door curtains.

Good maintenance will also ensure the building is dry as wet materials transfer heat more easily.

Reducing energy used for heating

People often feel cold in older places of worship, not necessarily because of draughts or low air temperatures, but because they are losing heat from their body into the walls and floor. In older places of worship, this ‘radiant heat loss’ was traditionally reduced with wooden wainscoting (panelling) and pew platforms. If these no longer exist, you may want to consult your professional advisor about suitable alternatives.

As the purpose of heating is to prevent building users from feeling uncomfortable, heating systems should heat the people, not the air. It is important to use specialist heating engineers familiar with the complex needs of a historic building and design a system that is effective and cost-efficient.

You can also see the presentations from the Future of Heating Conference 2022, which are set out on our page about low carbon technologies.

Reducing the energy used for lighting

As with heating, the steps to a good low-energy lighting system are understanding your needs and working with an experienced engineer. Simple steps such as ensuring lights are turned off when not needed will help reduce your bills.

Reducing energy used for other purposes

We recommend that you consider the most efficient models when planning new electrical or gas equipment. It may be helpful to purchase a simple energy meter to understand which equipment is drawing the most power.

Please see our page on heating places of worship for more information.

Local generation of power

If you have already reduced your energy use, you may wish to look at ways of generating your own energy. For more information, read our page on renewable energy generation.

Solar panels

Solar panels are an increasingly popular way for historic places of worship to produce their own electrical energy, and some have successfully sold excess energy back to the National Grid.

If your roof is highly visible, it will contribute to the setting and character of the place of worship. The installation of solar electric (photovoltaic) panels or solar slates on your building will have a material effect on its external appearance.

Minimising the visual impact of solar panels is desirable. It is often difficult and will depend on the form of the roof and location of the building. It will be easier to accommodate panels on shallow-pitched roofs largely hidden from view by parapets, or internal roof slopes not visible at ground level. If this is not possible, you may still be able to fit a ground-mounted solar collector or place equipment on another building.

Due to the high visual impact, you are very likely to need planning permission from your local authority and, where relevant, listed building consent or equivalent denominational consent.

Even when carefully designed and managed, the installation, maintenance and eventual de-commissioning of solar panels or slates is likely to cause some damage to existing historic fabric. It is important that you plan and agree in advance the means of fixing the panels to the roof and ensure that their location does not prevent rainwater disposal or maintenance work like gutter clearance.

During installation it is normal for tiles and slates to get broken – however careful the installer. You will need to think about how to repair damage or how to get replacements before undertaking any work.

Please see our pages on installing photovoltaics for more information on systems, location and planning.