Help this New England Church Become More Efficient

Recently, a Planet Forward member emailed me to ask how her church should become more energy efficient, especially considering their tight budget. They were inspired by the Solar Decathlon and all the ideas those young people were able to bring to a single family home--but will those ideas work for a working congregation? I decided to open up the question to you, the Planet Forward community. Please weigh in!


Dear Planet Forward Expert:

St. James Episcopal Church in North Salem, New York is interested in renovating its Parish Hall, a house-sized, 18th century, two story structure. The Parish Hall currently houses a nursery school and is used for a variety of Church and community events. It has a large commercial kitchen and also serves as office space for the Rector and administrative staff. It is hugely energy inefficient -- our heating oil bills are astronomical.

The Church would like to replace the existing structure with an innovative, earth-friendly, solar structure using energy efficient construction, renewable energy systems and appliances. We envision the new structure as a cultural arts center with a state of the art pre-kindergarten school. We want it to serve as a showcase for how innovative solar structures can work in the historic-minded North Eastern United States.

We also hope to inspire others in our community to do energy efficiency projects, thereby helping the Town of North Salem to significantly reduce its carbon footprint -- a goal our town has committed to on its own and as a member of the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium.

Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to pay for this project ourselves. The Church has less than 100 members. It is located in a small rural community, a unique phenomenon in Westchester. While the community is relatively affluent, the Church is struggling financially. Our Church leadership team believes that a project of this nature, in addition to being the right thing to do for the planet, could revitalize interest in and support for the Church.

Inspired by the Solar Decathlon project (and the Planet Forward website in general), we would like to explore the idea of finding a team of university students who would be willing and able to help us find sponsors, raise funds, design and build the new structure. We have not yet approached any universities with this idea and we are not sure whether it would qualify as a Solar Decathlon project. We are hoping you could provide us first with some guidance and advice about the soundness of the idea and the best ways to approach it.

Katherine Daniels
Junior Warden
St. James Episcopal Church

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