Our Green Building
Reducing our energy footprint
In June of 2007, we vacated the physical home of First Parish to make way for an extensive rebuilding and renovation project. The old Parish Hall, built in 1888, was essentially razed, and a beautiful new, larger, and environmentally progressive building rose in its place. Despite being 25% percent larger and the addition of air conditioning, the new building reduced our utility costs 50 percent and our “carbon footprint” by 43 percent.
In 2010 First Parish in Needham became the first house of worship in Massachusetts to receive the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s prestigious Energy Star, the national symbol for protecting the environment through superior energy efficiency. Nationwide, First Parish was just the sixth house of worship to be so recognized.
In 2013, we took our next major green step when First Parish officially “plugged into the grid,” activating 38 newly installed solar panels on our roof. The photovoltaic panels now supply much of the building’s electricity and, when the building’s needs are low, pumps electricity back into the grid.
The system is designed to produce about 15,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year — almost 50% of the electricity First Parish consumes — avoiding nearly 14,000 pounds of annual carbon dioxide emissions. This is in addition to the savings gained just by the renovation. The performance of our solar system can be monitored online — note especially the second tab which shows our energy savings in terms of pounds of CO2 not put into the atmosphere or miles not driven.
The addition of our new solar panels has raised our EnergyStar rating from 95th to 98th percentile. As of March 2014, we are tied with two other churches for the highest EnergyStar rating for houses of worship in the entire US. Overall 42 houses of worship have received a passing score of 75 (but we don’t know how many have applied.) Interestingly, six of those 42, or 15%, are UU churches even though only 0.3% of the total number of houses of worship are UU.
The new Parish Hall (below) is a sparkling air-conditioned space ideally suited for receptions and parties, artistic performances, art shows, and, of course, coffee hour. Sun-drenched by day, intimate at night, Parish Hall has excellent acoustics and a beautiful maple floor harvested from sustainable forests. An adjacent modern pantry facilitates the final preparation of food and beverages to be served in Parish Hall. The ground floor was completely rebuilt giving us well-equipped classrooms, a music room, and the beautiful Oakman Parlor. Similarly, the office wing was completely renovated and now houses modern offices, a copy and mail room, and the Wyeth Conference Room. Water use in the new building is down 40% from pre-renovation levels.
Elements that contribute to the remarkable energy efficiency of the new building include:
- High-efficiency argon-filled windows
- An improved ventilation system that allows for heat recovery
- High-efficiency air conditioning, with eco-friendly refrigerants
- Separate temperature control for all spaces
- Extensive passive heating in Parish Hall, along with “free-cooling” using CO2 sensors
- High efficiency light fixtures throughout and motion-controlled switches in many rooms
- Energy Star appliances
- High R-rated insulation
- Low-flow toilets, with separate settings for liquid and solid waste and automatic low-flush flush urinals
- Retention of storm water onsite, reducing load on the public sewer system
First Parish’s commitment to the environment is also shown in its use of materials, such as maple flooring harvested from sustainable forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and paints, carpets, furniture and other materials chosen for their environmental friendliness. Our maintenance of the buildings and grounds includes the use of organic fertilizers and green cleaning products and supplies. The building is also pre-wired and piped for a five-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on the roof to generate electricity. Adding the solar panels remains an important goal for the congregation.
The realization of our dream for a truly green building reflects a deep commitment on the part of First Parish to the seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism — respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. That commitment is further embodied in the Green Sanctuary initiative, a parish-wide effort to live mindfully on this precious planet.