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Energy Efficiency and Places of Worship

Places of worship use a variety of forms of energy to heat and light the building. With buildings increasingly used for community use as well as services the cost of heating and lighting is rising and today people expect greater levels of comfort in public buildings.

There are several things that you can do to reduce your energy bills and the starting point is to make sure the building is well maintained so that it is dry and not damp.Always start with the simplest, least expensive and most obvious options as they can make a huge difference without damaging the building or needing major capital funds.

  • Work out where, why and when energy is consumed
  • Think about basics to reduce heat loss, such as door closers and curtains and repairing cracked windows
  • Consider how to warm the people and not the space
  • Explore whether lighting can be better controlled or low energy bulbs used.

Where do we use energy in places of worship?

The first step is to understand exactly where in your particular building energy is needed. Who is using the building? When, and for what activities?

Places of worship use energy primarily to heat, and for lighting. Some energy may be used for sound systems, as well as for other activities within the buildings such as catering (whether this is just boiling a kettle for tea, or preparing meals in kitchens).

While is generally untrue that older buildings use more energy than their modern counterparts, the demands for 'comfort' are much higher than when they were constructed. Traditional thick solid walls of stone, brick and lime mortar will transfer very little heat, and these and other permeable materials such as timber will also modify (or 'buffer') changes in the humidity of the air.

Reducing heat loss

Reducing heat loss will go a long way to bringing down energy used for heating. Draughts should be located and dealt with and can be as simple as ensuring porch doors are closed and thick door curtains installed. Good maintenance will also ensure the building is dry; wet materials transfer heat much more easily.

Reducing energy used for heating

People often feel cold in churches not so much because of draughts or low air temperatures, but because they are losing the heat from their body into the walls and floor. This 'radiant heat loss' was traditionally reduced with wooden wainscotting and pew platforms, so if these no longer exist you may need to consult your professional advisor about suitable alternatives.

Since the whole purpose of heating is to stop the users feeling uncomfortable, the aim of any heating system should be to heat the people, not the air. It is vital to use specialist heating engineers familiar with the complex needs of a historic building in use and design a system that is effective and cost efficient.

Reducing the energy used for lighting

As with heating, the keys to a good low-energy lighting system are understanding what your lighting needs really are, and working closely with an experienced specialist engineer. Simple steps such as ensuring lights are turned off when not needed will see your energy bills reduced.

Reducing energy used for other purposes

The most efficient models should always be chosen for electrical or gas equipment being used in the building. It may be helpful to purchase a simple energy meter, which will help you understand which equipment is drawing the most power.

Local generation of power

Once energy use has been minimised, the congregation may wish to look at ways of generating their own energy. There are many possibilities for low-carbon or zero-carbon energy generation but it is important to work with a specialist engineer used to working with historic buildings as there are many pitfalls when designing and installing such systems. Historic England has produced general guidance on subjects such as:

What about solar panels on historic places of worship?

Solar panels are an increasingly popular way for historic places of worship to produce their own electrical energy, and some have successfully sold excess energy back to the National Grid.

The installation of solar panels can have a strong impact on the fabric and on the building's significance therefore appropriate permissions must be obtained before they can be fitted. We provide a guidance note for decision-making bodies assessing proposals for solar panels, which sets out our approach when advising those bodies.

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