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  • Writer's pictureSteve Baker PhD AIA

Sustainable Building Practices and Designs for Churches

Updated: May 16

Sustainable building practices are crucial in the modern world from various viewpoints. Mostly, “sustainability” refers to whether you’re going to be able to manage the upkeep of the building, and how well that building aligns with the idea of having a low impact on your surroundings.

Modern churches can be made in dramatically more sustainable fashions than they were even just 20 years ago thanks to various advancements in the building and design processes.

Today, we'll explore how modern building practices have led to more sustainable building designs for churches.


Using Advanced Layout Practices for the Design and Construction Processes


Sustainable building practices start with the very first step. Analyzing the workspace and planning out the project is the foundation for everything. How well you handle this process determines how smoothly the project will go, the overall costs, and yes, how sustainable the project is after it’s completed.

The way this building practice has advanced in recent years has greatly increased the sustainability of churches in both regards.

Now, you have the option to leverage laser scanning technology that can scan the exact work area you’re going to build the church in and then generate 3D models used to design the space.

This is a sustainable design practice because it allows you to build the church digitally and maintain accuracy with the final result with up to 1mm of variance.

This does a couple of things.


First, the high level of precision allows you to determine exactly how many materials are needed. This dramatically cuts down on project costs since you’re not left with a bunch of wasted scrap material you paid for, but it also cuts down on the environmental impact of the project since you’re wasting fewer materials. You get exactly what you need to finish the project.

Then, it also allows you to more easily see where you can afford to implement cost-cutting measures or materials that are more sustainable both in terms of long-term maintenance and repairs and in terms of environmental impact. Essentially, you can use this in-depth planning process to maximize the sustainability of your project before you’ve swung a hammer or poured your first batch of concrete.

Since the foundation of any project sets the tone for how the project will go, this major advancement has been innovative for sustainable building design.


The Clever Use of Foam in Key Parts of the Church


This one is mostly a boon when it comes to financial sustainability, but it helps a lot.

Typically, every detail of the church, from molding to sculptures, would need to be made from rigid materials that cost more and are more difficult to work with, maintain, and replace. Thanks to sustainable building practices, foam can be used for several key details.

Specifically, Styrofoam can be used to replace the cost-intensive statues, sculptures, and displays that bring your church to life visually, and various types of molded foam can be used for window molding, visual effects such as stone-imitating wall sections, mantle linings, and similar features.

Since foam doesn’t degrade, it requires almost no maintenance even in outdoor settings, and since it’s inexpensive and easy to work with, it’s cheap and easy to replace if something does happen to it.

Streamlined Designs and Allocating Resources


Another sustainable building practice that has been expanded upon in the modern world is streamlining designs and allocating resources effectively to make the most efficient use of resources possible. This is largely possible due to newer technology and the advancement of the planning phase.

Being able to prioritize resource allocation in the design of the church, such as increasing insulation in key areas, routing utilities in a way that maximizes their effectiveness without going overboard, and generally putting everything where it needs to be while saving on resources in areas where they’re less necessary, goes a long way.


Preventing the Need for High-Maintenance, High-Impact, Features


One thing that adds a lot to a church’s long-term costs is that, when not planned to maximize functionality with sustainability in mind, it’s easy to end up implementing features that are costly in the long run and have negative environmental impacts.

With sustainable designs, features that force the implementation of special access points such as elevators or outdoor ramps that must be regularly maintained can be avoided while still making the building accessible to all

Instead of having to think about complex and costly sound systems that use excessive amounts of energy, the area where sermons are held can be designed to maximize acoustics. Designing bathrooms around eco-friendly appliances and systems can reduce water usage. Which is a positive move toward sustainability both financially and in terms of the church’s impact on the bigger picture.

Lots of features, when planned out properly and constructed properly, can lead to more sustainable building designs in general.

Material Choices can Maximize Functionality and Longevity without Cutting Corners


Finally, a key way sustainability is achieved is via the use of modern building materials. While wood, concrete, and other common traditional materials are obviously still used, they’ve all been improved upon with various production advancements that increase their longevity, cost-to-performance ratio, and environmental impact.

However, even beyond the core traditional materials, more modern materials have been made to allow for more sustainable building design in churches.

For example, foam is something we talked about earlier, but other materials such as composite plastics, hemp-based concrete, biodegradable shingles, eco-friendly paint, and a variety of other things can be used to either lower future maintenance costs or decrease the environmental impact the church has in the long run.

Modern Church Interior Design with Natural Lighting

 Get Help with Implementing Sustainable Building Practices


Implementing sustainable building practices into your new church isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many contractors still use outdated methods, and design teams fail to put sustainability first. To get the results you’re looking for, without worrying about the details of the project minimizing sustainability, you need the best church architects on your side.

Baker Architects provides sustainability-focused design services, such as liturgical furnishings and themed environment design, that innovate the building process and maximize the sustainability of your new church. Contact us today.

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