Maintaining, installing or redesigning a church heating and cooling system presents a list of challenges for the church decision makers and a HVAC expert. At Abel Heating and Cooling we have met these challenges, providing services to small and large, older and newer places of worship.
Some Church Architecture History
How many churches have you seen that look exactly alike? If you live in a moderate size town, with maybe 45 churches, do any of them match? Even more interesting…what is the age span between them? For example, in our older towns and cities, some churches date back as far as 1610.
The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration (ACHR) News magazine says:
Churches are among the most striking architectural sights in many communities. The unique architectural elements, high ceilings, and varying occupancy demands of churches can pose interesting challenges for HVACR contractors, whose job it is to market products and services to church leaders and correctly size and install the heating and cooling equipment in each building.”
The oldest church in the U.S. is said to be the San Miguel Mission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was damaged during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, but rebuilt in 1710. Repaired and rebuilt numerous times throughout the years, its original adobe walls are still largely intact. (adobe has long been known as a good temperature stabilizer). San Miguel still offers the Holy Sacrifice of Mass on Sundays.
The good news…Santa Fe has a fairly moderate climate…so worshipers can withstand the elements with whatever provision the chapel offers by way of heating.
Not so with other historical and even twentieth century edifices. Can you imagine the challenges faced by churches like the Collegiate Church of New York, originally the Dutch Reformed Church built in 1628?
Peter Stuyvesant was one of the first church leaders followed much later by Norman Vincent Peale. Through the years, this church has made radical structural adjustments to accommodate comfort and economy for the congregation, like in 1891 when it became one of America’s first churches to receive electricity and an electric organ.
Church HVAC Changes we see Today
Up till today, churches have evolved with the changing times, building materials, styles and architectural values. But even as recently as 1930, some churches were built in fluctuating climates, with little or no heating or cooling capabilities. Especially air-conditioning. Maybe there was a woodstove!
Today church HVAC needs continue to prove a challenge for heating and cooling experts. At Abel we’ve been involved in several system evaluations, adjustments and replacements.
Space Situations and Savings
To start with, it’s important to learn what activities are held in each area of the building, as well as the sanctuary. For example, a church may allow clubs to gather certain days or evenings in a meeting room, causing the need to have that area alone heated or cooled, without the need to heat the entire building. Zoning is the answer for this. With today’s technology, these can even be programmed remotely through the use of electronic devices such as PCs and cell phones.
So say the event begins at 7 PM during cold weather. A custodian could remotely set the heating to begin early enough to have the room ready when the group arrives, and turned off when they leave.
Think of the savings this provides, and the convenience!
Evaluating the Unique Needs
What other things do we at Abel need to consider when evaluating a church HVAC need? What is the boiler like? Is it oversized? Undersized? How do we calculate the heating load in a cathedral-type building with vast expanses of stained glass windows? What about insulation values of the structure?
Then there’s air-circulation, and how airtight is the structure? For example, little air leakage at the top of the interior, means less air coming in at the base due to a reduced stack effect through the space.
What is the R-value of the windows? And the window might not be very stable due to the leaky nature of old leaded glass windows with brittle caning.
Practicality and economy is key, followed by aesthetics. So many of the older churches were built with certain woods, stones, granite no longer available today. Adding ductwork, for example, can mean some serious redesigning. For larger more complex situations, expert architects and contractors may be needed.
Next comes acoustics. Sound has always been of high importance. Organs, choir, pipe-organs, and now with the advent of large musical ensembles, it has become an even higher priority. Interruptions from the mechanical sounds of a HVAC system are unthinkable, and equally annoying when the worshipers are intent on prayer.
Church HVAC Decisions
Are you part of the deciding committee of a congregation? Then you know the frustrations some of these issues can bring, as we do. If there is a need for a HVAC upgrade, maintenance, or redesign, please give us a call at 952-472-2665 or Contact us.