Building construction in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims a long history of environmentally sound and physically responsible building and maintenance processes.
“We work to be good stewards of the environment wherever we build and manage properties,” explained Donald J. Hein, an architect in the Church’s Physical Facilities department.
For example, in 2004, Alexander Sitnov, an architect of the Church based in Moscow, Russia, suggested that a locally influenced heating system be installed in a Latavian chapel, a system that varied from the conventional Church building plans. The heating process employed a single boiler which provided energy efficient, radiant heated floors, a process that saves significant amounts of energy in the colder Latvian climate.
Such innovations, according to Jared Doxey, Director of Architecture, Engineering & Construction in the Church Physical Facilities department, are implemented worldwide by teams of locally-based professionals. “Every area of the Church has an architect that understands the building codes in their communities and responds to the needs of the local cultures. We share our best practices from one area to another; there’s lots of collaboration on the technical side of the Church construction processes.”
That collaboration brings cost savings to the Church and comfort to members in their varied geographic environments.
Doxey cites a 1950s example of water conservation in the South Pacific. “We set up a cistern to capture rain water, store it and then use it for irrigation water on landscaping,” Doxey explained. “Fresh or potable water is really at a premium on these islands, so we didn’t want to use that valuable water for the grounds.”
In 1999, water treatment plants were constructed on the Tarawa Atoll, Kiribati. Such processed water guarded against contamination of the local supply, helped preserve the island’s very limited fresh water supply and even supported landscaping maintenance. The island’s only grassy field is irrigated with recycled water.
A natural phenomenon was implemented in the 1980s construction of a Church meeting house in Susanville, California. “That area has lots of geo-thermal activity and we discovered a spring on the Church building lot,” Doxey explained. “We designed the meetinghouse to incorporate that spring; we pump the hot water through the building for winter heat. We use Mother Earth to heat our church there. It’s the only building I know of that implements such a process, but we always try to take advantage of options offered in the local sites.”
The 1970s construction of the Salt Lake City-based Church Office Building incorporated another unique heating and cooling procedure, according to Paul Crossley, maintenance manager for Church headquarters facilities. “A series of four wells, two some 600’ deep and another pair 400’ deep provide a water supply which circulates through a heat exchanging process that both heats and cools the high-rise building. While the typical system for such a building employs a cooling tower where large fans draw the air and cool water down in a continuous operation, our system pumps water up from the wells and sends it back down to the aquifer.”
In the winter, warmer water is drawn from the shallow wells and returned to the deeper wells where it is warmed before being injected back into the system; the process is reversed in the summer. “Such a closed procedure eliminates water losses due to evaporation as well as the need to chemically treat the water supply. With this system, we don’t waste our valuable water resources,” said Crossley.
A passive cooling system, based on a long and narrow building design with glass shutters for windows, became a part of tropically-based meetinghouses in the 1980s. The design works effectively in coastal regions of Africa, South America, Mexico and the Pacific Islands where a cool breeze, aided by paddle fans, moves through an entire building.
Beginning in the year 1990, motion sensors were installed in Church building restrooms. The sensors automatically turn lights and fans off when the room is no longer occupied. “We’ve found this investment pays off in energy savings in less than six months,” Doxey said. As of 2009, United States building codes require motion sensors in public buildings.
Water sensors are also used to detect moisture levels in the landscaping. An automatic sprinkling system controller adjusts water flow to weather conditions. This 1990s technology was followed in 2005-2006 by installation of drought tolerant plantings in landscapes. Controllers combined with drought tolerant landscape designs reduce the grounds’ water usage by as much as 50 percent.
Overall, building Church facilities worldwide and implementing the best sustainable practices poses a challenge, suggests, Wayne Balle, architect in Physical Facilities. “We must build comfortable and functional buildings in the most humble of neighborhoods to the most sophisticated cities, from the Third World to the First World environments. The building envelope: the walls, ceilings and floors, have to be energy efficient before any other part of the building will function successfully.”
“Energy use is an important criterion in our design process,” adds Hein, “but the overall construction process is a slow, step-by-step process that is not structured, but innovative as needs arise. We look for solutions that are not only economical, but environmentally friendly.”