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Green Stewards

Green construction practices permeate new religious buildings

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Sometimes the reason for building green can run deeper than simply the desire to conserve resources, achieve LEED certification or reduce operating costs.

Photo Courtesy Of BGW
BGW, Salt Lake City, was contracted to build the $15-million North Creek Church in Walnut Creek, Calif., where the firm implemented a recycling program for site disposal, utilized naturally landscaped water infiltration basins and installed a HVAC system that included a plasma air ionizer.
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They are also driven by a belief in stewardship.

“We are entrusted with funds by our members and we have a responsibility to manage them the best we can,” says Jared Doxey, director of architecture, engineering and construction for the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We also have the responsibility to be good neighbors to the community and of all mankind and to be respectful of the Earth and its resources.”

Mark Hilles, a partner architect at the Ogden, Utah-based Building God’s Way architecture and design firm, says BGW tries to incorporate green stewardship practices in all of its projects.

“The focus of our green stewardship practices is on efficiency and conservation of resources but also on things that will bring ongoing savings through reduced operation and maintenance costs,” Hilles says. “The main focus [of religious building clients] is on being good stewards of the resources God has provided to them, and that includes financial as well as environmental resources.”

Doxey says it’s always a challenge to create a building that is energy efficient, makes good use of natural resources and is cost efficient to operate while maintaining a spiritual component.

“We consider these houses of the Lord,” he says. “These are sacred buildings. We want them to be beautiful but not wasteful.”

Continuing a Green History

Doxy says the LDS church builds or remodels 30 to 50 buildings—mostly meetinghouses—in the Intermountain West region each year. The church starts a new construction project somewhere in the world six days a week.

One example is the LDS Church History Library in downtown Salt Lake City, designed by Salt Lake City’s MHTN Architects. It opened nearly a year ago and recently received LEED-Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Doxey says energy efficiency and using design cues from local architecture has been a hallmark of LDS buildings for decades.

“Incorporating sustainable design elements in our buildings is part of our DNA that goes back 70 years,” he adds.

He cites older church buildings in the Pacific Islands that included covered porches; long, low profiles with open hallways; and windows oriented to allow trade winds to blow through. In colder climates, windows are smaller, walls thicker and roofs designed to shed snow.

He also points to the heating and cooling system in the 28-story LDS Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City, completed in 1972, which uses ground-water heat pumps that recycle water drawn from wells underneath the building.

In April, two new meetinghouses opened that were designed to achieve LEED certification. Located in the towns of Farmington, about 25 miles north of Salt Lake City, and Eagle Mountain, about 60 miles to the south, the buildings are the first two of five new designs that Doxey says will serve as prototypes for others in the Intermountain West.

David Fletcher, managing principal at Architectural Nexus of Salt Lake City, which designed four of the five new buildings, says LDS officials approached the firm in 2008 to talk about meetinghouse designs that would meet LEED criteria.

“They came to us with a larger vision of what they wanted to accomplish, and we helped facilitate that,” says Fletcher, who had previously worked on numerous projects for the church. “All the changes had to be financially viable. We had to make it better but it couldn’t cost more.”

Photovoltaic Panels on Roof

Built by Jacobsen Construction of Salt Lake City, the new meetinghouse in Farmington looks much like the others that sprout from neighborhoods all over the region. But a closer look at the south slope of the roof with its array of photovoltaic panels is one outward indication that this church is different.

Fletcher says the 200 photovoltaic panels generate about 26,000 kW hours of power a year and can deliver nearly all the power the building needs at any given time. Cost savings are realized through incentives offered by regional electrical utility Rocky Mountain Power, which takes power generated by the panels when the building is not in heavy use—usually only one day a week.

“We have power when we need it, and the rest of the time the system feeds the grid,” Doxey says.

Doxey and Fletcher say photovoltaics will be used in other locations where the climate and incentives are right. Prototypes under construction in the desert towns of Pahrump and Logandale, Nev., and Mesa, Ariz., will have flat roofs with photovoltaic systems and roofs covered with a reflective white coating to reduce the heat load.

Travis Maughan, also of Architectural Nexus, says that because the designs are prototypes, different landscapes using native plants were designed to fit different regions where the buildings will be constructed.

Maughan adds that the prototypes also earned points toward LEED accreditation by using recycled concrete in the parking lot as well as concrete made using fly ash, a by-product of coal-fired power plants. Other materials were acquired close to the sites, and paints and adhesives with low volatile-organic compounds were used.

Saving Resources and Dollars

Hilles says that when BGW was contracted to design a new building for the North Creek Church in Walnut Creek, Calif., an extensive recycling program was implemented to dispose of material from two buildings demolished on the site.

Outside, naturally landscaped water-infiltration basins were built to filter runoff water and comply with regulations on stormwater going into nearby San Francisco Bay. Inside, BGW installed a HVAC system that included a plasma air ionizer that disinfects indoor air and reduces the load on the HVAC system overall.

Hilles says the $15-million project isn’t going for LEED certification, but it “epitomized our goals for the green stewardship program.”

In the design of the new St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church currently under construction in West Jordan, Utah, project architect John Sparano of Salt Lake-based Sparano + Mooney Architecture says there was, “not much selling necessary on our part” when it came to incorporating sustainable design elements.

Father Patrick F. Carley, St. Joseph’s parish leader, “is very much on board with sustainable building and has done a great job educating the parish about how sustainability in building is consistent with Catholic theology,” Sparano says.

He adds that the church is not being designed for LEED certification, but efforts have been made in the design to reduce energy consumption and use materials with a lower environmental impact.

Doxey and other church builders said embracing green design and building practices has meshed well with doctrines of stewardship and hopes examples set in the construction of buildings will carry over to those who worship in them.

“These buildings are places we take our families and learn,” said Doxey. “Maybe people will see how they can conserve and be good stewards in their own homes and in their everyday lives. This earth has limited resources and we are entrusted to use them wisely.”

 

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