Build energy efficiency into your church—new or old.

Energy-efficient church architecture is coming our way—and just in time. With both the money crunch and the energy squeeze hard upon us, churches built in the 1980s will include several energy-efficient features hardly considered a few years ago.

You might expect this new energy-efficient church to be easily recognizable—that a close look at the lower pitch of the roof, the slant of the entryway, and the way the main sanctuary hugs the ground, would tell the tale. But, no; the energy-efficient church differs from others not so much in its design as in its technology.

The reason is because—or indeed—the only blatantly energy-efficient structure of any kind in the history of architecture may be the cave. One of the foremost church architects in the country, Henry Jung (American Institute of Architects), and successor to Harold E. Wagoner of Philadelphia, advises wryly, “The cave is the answer.” Then he hastily adds, “But only if you don’t care anything about design and function.” The energy-efficient church, like its cousin the energy-inefficient church, will in all probability look either as traditional or as innovative as a church board and its architect choose. But it will, nevertheless, somehow look like a church. That is what church architecture is all about—wedding the theology of a worshiping body to its practical needs in an aesthetic statement of masonry, wood, steel, and the new materials.

Since design is still the major consideration, architects, as always, make that decision first. “We design the kind of structure most appropriate for the needs and theology of a group of people and then we compensate to get the energy efficiency we need today,” says Jung. The term ...

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