How Many Episcopalians Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

How energy efficiency saved $1,200 at St. Anne’s last year.

Eric Rhodes Eight-minute read.   Resources

Replacing Lighting at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church Lee’s Summit

Image: Eric Rhodes


And the answer is: three. One to call an electrician, one to mix the drinks, and one to talk about how much they liked the old one. Okay, so maybe not at St. Anne’s where a lightbulb change brought about a savings of $1,200 a year.

Like many churches, St. Anne’s resources are limited, so we must make the right choices – especially when it comes to how we invest our money and use the physical plant. Each church has its own unique needs and requirements. A dollar spent on the church plant is one that cannot be spent on ministry or supporting clergy. While you can’t ignore the buildings, you don’t want to spend more than necessary. Here I want to share our story of how we’ve worked to lower our electrical spending from $5,400 in 2014 to $3,235 in 2017- while rates went up over 10% during this period.

Some of the savings came from simply being better stewards of our usage – turning off those lights (just like your parents told you to do). However, a lot of our savings came from making the right investments in the way we take care of our building.

At St. Anne’s we were faced with roughly 50% of our sanctuary bulbs burning out every three years. We decided there needed to be a change, it was uneconomical to pay to replace half our bulbs every three years, not to mention the time and energy wasted. LEDs are all the rage, so this is where we started. We could replace the bulbs less often and they would be more energy efficient. We soon discovered that each fixture currently being used was 500 watts! Our sanctuary was using the equivalent of 175 lights.

Very Expensive Light Fixtures
Image: Eric Rhodes

Having made the decision to make changes, the next question was how. We began exploring opportunities to replace our 21 sanctuary light bulbs and we knew it would be expensive! And boy was it, we ended up ordering 22 lights at a cost of $225 apiece, or roughly $5,200! These are commercial fixtures, you can’t just walk into your favorite hardware store and pick them up. The lights were retrofits that fit our existing dimmers. However, if you have simple bulbs in your space LEDs can be found off the shelf that are much cheaper and easier to replace.

Changing the Light Fixtures

Image: Eric Rhodes

Like all churches, we worry about funding, luckily the installation was going to be provided free of charge by a parishioner who is an electrician, but we still had to cover the $5,200 costs. Normally, the price to replace all the lights would be $420 plus about $300 for a lift rental. So, there was a roughly $4,480 gap in funding.

Luckily, this is where your utility provider steps in. KCPL has a 20-30% rebate per fixture. We were able to secure a rebate of $1,150 for the interior lights, cutting the actual cost down to $3,330. To cover this shortfall we were able to solicit additional funds from the parish.

We worked with the electrician and supply company who set us up. The lights came in and were installed during a very long 10-hour day but we knew we would be seeing savings for a long time.

… I can’t stress enough, if you have lights that are high usage or require high wattage, you need to replace them… If you have lights that burn out often, put in a LED. The fixtures may be expensive but make the investment.

We spent the first year with bills coming in 20 – 30% lower than previous comparable months. Even when KCPL made a rate increase mid-way through the first year we still had lower bills. As a side note, business utility rates are different, so you really need to understand your bill to see where you can save. Over the next full year we went on to cut our usage by 7,880 KwH, $1,159 in savings, with the bonus of a decrease of 9,600 pounds of CO2. For us, this is smart work. First, LEDs don’t burn out at the same rate, 18 months and they are still all working- so no replacing bulbs every few years, meaning maintenance costs go down. Second, we are investing in future savings, which allows us to reallocate that money to more important priorities. Thirdly, and best of all, we are lowering our impact on the environment. We are winning all around.

Following our success with that project, we decided to replace our outside lights, again with an eligible rebate. At this point, we only replaced our security or decorative lighting and have plans to tackle parking lot lighting later. With this project, we chose to prioritize the savings and environmental impact over lowering our light pollution. This is a tradeoff, but the safety and security concerns outweighed decreasing our light pollution.

Vestries, I can’t stress enough, if you have lights that are high usage or require high wattage, you need to replace them. If you have lights that require professionals to change, next time, put a LED in. If you have lights that burn out often, put in a LED. The fixtures may be expensive but make the investment. If you don’t have the funds, ask for them. Often power companies will rebate commercial light fixtures. They will save you money. Your year on year savings can be used on ministries in your church.

And the best news? In 2017. Our overall spending was down 10.2%.

Take time to start replacing those bulbs, look to your utilities to see what rebates might be available. Replace thermostats with smart thermostats. Our thermostat reverts back to energy-saving levels every three hours, just in case someone turns it on and forgets it.

And the best news? In 2017 our overall spending was down 10.2%.

Eric Rhodes is a member of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Lee’s Summit and can be found turning down the thermostat or lights on any given Sunday.

Notes

  • KCPL has increased our rates 7 times in the last 11 years. Around an 80% increase over the period. Our investments will help absorb future increases.
  • We obtained our Smart thermostats free from KCPL.
  • Check with your local utilities. Some offer to come to your site to perform an energy audit. This is a great way to see where your usage is and identify potential projects to help save — both large and small.

Gary Allman

Gary Allman is the Director of Communications at The Diocese of West Missouri

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