What are the greenhouse gas emissions are related to buildings?
The energy used to heat and light buildings and to operate our appliances and technologies produces greenhouse gas emissions. Energy generated through burning coal, oil and wood produces more emissions than burning gas, but all of these create carbon emissions. Generating energy from renewable sources such as wind, sun and water is carbon free.
The good news is that renewable energy is on the increase. Nearly 62% of energy generated in Scotland in 2020 was from renewable sources, while fossil fuels, such as coal, generated less than 11% of our electricity. If your congregation's electricity supply is through the Church of Scotland's General Trustees Centrally Procured Energy scheme, your electricity is 100% generated by renewable sources. To find out how to get 100% carbon free electricity from the Church's Centrally Procured Energy Scheme contact GTenergy@churchofscotland.org.uk
How do we use energy in our Church buildings?
Heating is by far the highest consumer of energy in church buildings. The Church of England estimates that 84% of their churches' energy use is for heating, with lighting consuming only 6%, and 10% consumed by other activities such as running appliances.
However, for many of us heating is fuelled by carbon-emitting gas or oil, so using greener electricity is not enough to make our energy carbon free. Given the costs of all forms of energy, measuring our usage so that we can keep track and find ways to reduce consumption will always be useful.
How can we measure our energy consumption?
In 2023-4 the Church will be launching a new online tool called the Energy Footprint Tool (EFT) to help congregations measure their energy consumption and carbon footprint. The EFT will calculate how much energy buildings are using, factoring in data on the buildings' occupancy levels, and will calculate the carbon footprint for each congregation. Every congregation will be invited to sign in and provide details of the year's fuel bills, the type of energy used and information about the size of the buildings and the number of people using them regularly. The results will be saved and can be compared year on year to help congregations monitor their progress.
Other ways to measure energy consumption in buildings
Until the Energy Footprint Tool is available, gathering a year's worth of fuel bills and adding up the amount consumed over the year will give you a figure for the annual number of units of gas, electricity or oil that have been consumed. Ensure you have real figures and not estimates on your bills. Your energy supplier may provide data on the carbon footprint associated with your energy use on the bills too. Once you have annual figures for your congregation's consumption of gas, oil, electricity or other forms of fuel, you can use these as a baseline which can be compared to the following year's figures. This will enable you to measure reductions to energy use.
How can we keep our buildings running effectively and comfortably while reducing energy use and the greenhouse gas emissions and costs that come with it?
The General Trustees (GTs), who hold title for the majority of the Church of Scotland buildings, have provided this guide with thanks to the Church of England for permitting us to adapt their information.
Not all of these suggestions will be appropriate to every building. Seek advice from your Presbytery, your Presbytery Buildings Officer (PBO) and the General Trustees before instructing any works. Some of the measures will require a building warrant, planning permission, listed building consent or ecclesiastical exemption.
- A Practical Path to "Net Zero" for Our Buildings (downloadable version)
IMPORTANT: If the interior of your building is of historic, artistic, or architectural interest, seek professional and GT advice first before making any changes. In particular, please consult the GTs before acting on any of the suggestions marked with an asterisk* below by email at email@example.com
For all properties, including low occupancy buildings only used on Sundays:
These are some relatively easy options, many of which will pay for themselves relatively quickly through reduced energy bills. The list starts with essential maintenance tasks and develops into more specific energy efficiency-related measures.
The building itself:
- Maintain the roof and gutters, to prevent damp entering the building and warm air escaping. See the The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) Faith in Maintenance Calendar for more details.
- Fix any broken window panes* and make sure opening windows shut tightly, to reduce heat loss.
- Insulate around heating pipes to direct heat where you want it; this may allow other sources of heat to be reduced in this area. Note, be careful not to insulate pipes which are designed to emit heat.
- If draughts from doors are problematic, draught-proof the gaps* or put up a door-curtain*.
- Consider using rugs/floor-coverings (with breathable backings) and cushions on/around the pews/chairs.
Heating and lighting:
- Switch to 100% renewable electricity, for example through The Church of Scotland General Trustees Centrally Procured Energy scheme. For details of how to join contact: GTenergy@churchofscotland.org.uk
- Match heating settings better to usage, so you only run the heating when necessary*.
- Switch off lights when rooms are empty. According to the Energy Saving Trust this can save £25 a year in a household.
- If you have water-filled radiators, try turning-off the heating 15 minutes before the service ends; for most churches this allows the heating system to continue to radiate residual warmth*.
- Replace lightbulbs with LEDs, where simple replacement is possible. LEDs save around 5kg of carbon emissions compared to traditional lightbulbs, according to the Energy Saving Trust (EST). The Church of England have published this Brief Guide to Lighting in Churches.
- Replace floodlights with new LED units. The Church of England Brief Guide to Floodlighting Churches may help.
- If you have internet connection, install a HIVE- or NEST-type heating controller, to better control heating. For a basic explanation of smart heating controls and how they can save energy, see HIVE's website.
- If your current appliances fail, then replace with the most efficient A+++ appliances.
People and policies:
- Complete the Energy Footprint Tool each year, as part of your Attestation of Records, and communicate the results.
- Create an Energy Champion who monitors bills and encourages people to turn things off when not needed.
- Write an energy efficiency procurement policy and commit to renewable electricity and A+++ rated appliances. The Energy Saving Trust have useful information about home appliances and making sense of the energy ratings such as A+++.
- Consider moving Kirk Session meetings elsewhere during cold months, rather than running the church heating. Avoid heating different halls or rooms on the same day. Try to combine usage into a single area.
- Review the timetable of activities in the building to make the most of when the heating is on: can some activities take place in parallel rather than one after the other so that the heating can be switched off earlier?
Offset the rest:
- For most low usage "Sunday" churches, once they have taken steps like these, their remaining non-renewable energy use will be very small. For the majority, all they need to do now to be "net zero" is offset the small remaining amount of energy through Climate Stewards or other reputable schemes.
- Also, think about your church grounds. Is there an area where you could let vegetation or a tree grow?
For buildings used a few times a week, with medium energy use:
These are actions with a reasonably fast payback for an ecclesiastical property with medium energy usage, used a few times a week. Perhaps 50% of congregations should consider these actions.
Most actions cost more than the ones above, and/or require more time and thought. Some require some specialist advice and/or installers. They are often good next steps for those churches with the time and resources to move on further towards ‘net zero'
- If you have an uninsulated, easy-to-access roof void, consult with your Presbytery Buildings Officer (PBO) about insulating the void*.
- If you have problematic draughts from your door, and a door curtain wouldn't work, consult with your PBO about installing a glazed door within your porch, or even a draught-lobby*.
- Consider creating one or more smaller (separately heatable) spaces for smaller events.
- Consider fabric wall-hangings or panels, with an air gap behind, as a barrier between people and cold walls.
Heating and lighting:
- Learn how your building heats/cools and the link to comfort, this can include gathering data such as energy readings, usage, peak times, length of time heating used, temperature attained and congregation feedback to build up a picture over 6/12 months
- Improve your heating zones and controls, so you only warm the areas you are using. The Energy Saving Trust provides information on heating controls and using them to save energy.
- Install thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) on radiators in meeting rooms and offices, to allow you to control them individually. These can be smart TRVs such as Nest or Hive.
- Consider under-pew electric heaters where applicable and/or infrared radiant panel heaters*, which keep people warm without trying to heat the whole space. Radiant panels are good for specific spaces like chapels and transepts, which you might want warm when you don't need the whole church to be warm.
- If you have radiators, install a magnetic sediment "sludge" filter to extend the life of the system.
- Consider thermal and/or motion sensors to automatically light the church when visitors come in, for security lights, and for kitchens and WCs.
- Get your energy supplier to install a smart meter, to better measure the energy you use. This government guidance explains how smart meters work in households, and the principles will be the same in ecclesiastical buildings.
People and policies:
- Vary service times with the seasons, so in winter you meet early afternoon when the building is warmer.
For busy churches with high energy use:
These are bigger, more complex projects, which could reduce energy use significantly, but require substantial work (which itself has a carbon cost) and have a longer payback. They all require professional advice, including input from your PBO and the GTs.
The building itself:
- Draught-proof windows*.
- If you have an open tower void, insulate or draught-proof the tower ceiling *.
- Double-glaze or secondary-glaze suitable windows in well-used areas such as offices, vestries and halls*.
- Internally insulate walls in well-used areas such offices, vestries and halls*.
- If you have pew platforms, consider insulating under the wooden platform with breathable materials*.
- Reinstate ceilings, and insulate above*.
Heating and lighting:
- Install a new LED lighting system, including all harder-to-reach lights, new fittings and controls.
- Install solar PV, if you have an appropriate roof and use sufficient daytime electricity in the summer*.
These are actions you would do at specific times (such as when reordering is happening) or in very specific circumstances. They all require professional advice, including input from your PBO/GTs.
The building itself:
- If you are reroofing anyway, then insulate the roof, if appropriate for your roof*.
- If you have an uninsulated wall with a cavity (typically built 1940 onwards), then insulate the cavity.
- If the building is regularly used and suitable, such as a church hall, consider appropriate external insulation or render, appropriate for the age and nature of the building*.
Heating and lighting:
- If yours is a well-used church which you want to keep warm throughout the week, then consider an air or ground source heat pump. Ground source heat pumps are more expensive and invasive to install than air source heat pumps, but run more efficiently once installed, depending on ground conditions. The Energy Saving Trust provides information and short films on air source and ground source heat pumps.
- Infrared heaters may present a better option in buildings which are not used as regularly.
- If you are doing a major reordering or lifting the floor anyway, and yours is a very regularly used church, then consider under-floor heating. This can work well in combination with a heat pump (above). The Better Heating Scheme is available through the GTs – for more information see the Next Steps section.
These actions are generally not recommended, because of the risk of harm to the fabric, the energy used, and the cost.
- Standard secondary glazing on the main, historic windows (this can be inefficient, expensive, and cause damage).
- Installing solar thermal panels to generate hot water (hot water use is generally not high enough to justify it).
- Background space heating at all times unless needed for stabilisation of historic interiors (high energy use).
* If interiors are of historic, architectural or artistic interest, seek professional and GT advice first. Contact the GTs at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next Steps: Further Sources of Advice and funding:
The General Trustees Centrally Procured Energy Scheme is available for all congregations who are on mains energy. Over 75% of congregations already benefit from this 100% renewable energy. To join the tariff, contact the GTs at GTenergy@churchofscotland.org.uk
The Better Heating Scheme: involves a survey of existing heating arrangements in your congregation's properties, including manses, and suggestions for improvements by an expert heating engineer. The cost is subsidised by the General Trustees. Further details are available here.
The Eco-Congregation Scotland website has resources and run webinars on useful issues including funding for churches.
Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has useful advice and Case Studies on retrofit interventions in historical and traditional buildings. The HES Short Guides are a useful reference - guides 1, 8, 9, 11 and the guide to retrofit of traditional buildings are relevant.
Church Lighting: for specific advice please email: email@example.com
Free webinars on retrofitting historical buildings are available from Historic England. The series includes technical advice and case studies on issues such as fitting heat pumps and energy efficiency in heritage buildings.
The Scottish Government's Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) supports communities to engage with, participate in and benefit from the energy transition to net zero emissions. It is administered by Local Energy Scotland. Churches and other faith groups can apply for buildings which are used for community benefit. Details are available on the website.
The National Churches Trust runs small, medium and large grant programmes for church buildings.
The Benefact Trust's Building Improvement Grants programme provides essential support to protect and enhance Christian church and charity buildings, ensuring their continued use and the safeguarding of their heritage in the UK. This includes grants for essential one-off repairs, minor capital improvements and energy efficiency and renewable energy measures.
Loans and grants are available from the Central Fabric Fund which is operated by the Church of Scotland General Trustees for the repair and improvement of Churches, Halls and Manses. All applications must be submitted via the local Presbytery Office. The Application Form is available on the Resources Page of the website.
The Church of England's webinars on getting to net zero carbon include many useful topics presented by experts in their field. You can watch their recordings of webinars. Topics include:
- Energy-saving quick wins
- The effective management of lighting
- Solar panels, and many more
The Church of England also publish online case studies of congregations who have taken a range of actions to reduce carbon emissions and energy, from the small and modest to larger scale schemes.