Energy Conservation Journey of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis


Our energy conservation journey began in 2000 when the Center for Congregations in Indianapolis offered to pay half of the cost ($500) of doing an energy audit of our church buildings.  We received a comprehensive report outlining how we could reduce our energy use.  The report covered the standard energy audit areas - lights, furnaces and air conditioners, refrigerators, and temperatures over several weeks time.  This audit did not cover insulation and infiltration.

As a result of the audit, we seriously began tracking our utility usage.  We have a comprehensive spread sheet that includes the utility consumption and cost by month, the degree days by month and the square feet of each of our buildings.  Thus, we are able to determine which of our buildings uses the most energy per square foot and whether or not we are reducing our energy consumption over time.  For a few years after the audit we installed a few compact florescent light bulbs where feasible, occupancy sensors in bathrooms, replaced several T12 four foot florescent light fixtures with T8s, and wrapped water heaters and tightened up make up air intakes to furnaces.

In 2006 our national church body, The Unitarian Universalist Association, challenged individual congregations to become accredited as a Green Sanctuary.  Our church chose to work toward accreditation.   A key step we took at the time was to have the church board and the church congregation vote on whether or not to proceed.  The journey to seek accreditation was approved and UUI formed a Green Sanctuary Task Force with representatives from all areas of the church.  After two years of concentrated work we became accredited in 2008.

With this beginning we set the expectation that we will invest in environmental stewardship.  Subsequently we replaced six furnaces (one being a large heat pump) with more efficient ones. We have built homemade storm windows for one of our buildings. We collected funds and replaced 192 50 watt halogen bulbs with 9.5 watt LEDs in our sanctuary.  We have replaced all exterior parking and security lights with LED bulbs, reducing consumption by approximately 75 percent. We had major projects that sealed and reduced infiltration and heat loss in two of our buildings. In 2013 we were successful in obtaining a $25,000 grant to install a 10kw solar array.

We have found that controlling thermostats and lights is a big contributor to our success.  When spaces are unoccupied we set the thermostats to 50 degrees in the winter and 85 degrees in the summer.  We now have approximately 20 vacancy sensors installed in various rooms in the buildings.  We have reduced our energy consumption by approximately 45% over what we had used in 2008.

Our congregants now have energy conservation in their DNA. Over 50 families purchase green power from their electric utility and over 50% of them use on average 30% less energy than fellow Hoosiers. As a result when church budgets are approved, there is little reluctance to spending money on energy conservation projects.

Our energy conservation journey has been a defining opportunity for our church.  Our culture has been changed.  In every committee and taskforce charter in our church is the phrase, “Integrate UUI’s commitment to environmental sustainability in all actions, activities, and decisions.”  We are known as the environmentally friendly church.  We are a signatory to the Earth Charter and the Paris Pledge.  One of our Unitarian Universalist seven principles is, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”  We obviously take this very seriously. 

Our energy conservation journey has helped us live our values.  It has saved us money.  It has reduced waste.  It has helped us learn things.  It lets us be the example for our children.  It is helping to save the earth!

-by Ray W. Wilson, P.E.