Holy Wisdom Monastery building overlooking woods and lake in distance

Creating a living lab for sustainable building operation

Holy Wisdom MonasteryBenedictine Bridge, Care for the Earth Leave a Comment

by Mark Hanson, director of sustainable services, Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Inc

Holy Wisdom Monastery building overlooking woods and lake in distance

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications.
There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions,
and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle.”
– Pope Francis, Laudato Si’

Caring for the earth requires thoughtful decisions in design, construction and ongoing operation or stewardship of a building and the land it’s on. Holy Wisdom Monastery was diligent in building a new monastery building in 2009 and has since added considerably more solar energy generation. The monastery is now searching for additional opportunities to reduce energy use, carbon footprint and cost in the operation of both the monastery and the retreat and guest house.

Why Holy Wisdom Monastery wants to do this flows from its mission of care for the earth. Chapter 5 of Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality specifically encourages us to take such action.

How to do this is our challenge. In the case of the monastery, the best opportunity is to reduce some temperature settings in the coldest winter months. The estimated savings is approximately two to three percent for every degree F (Fahrenheit) that the indoor temperature setting is reduced. The best areas for doing this are in the larger spaces and rooms that are not regularly occupied. If the assembly room is only used for a weekend wedding and Sunday Assembly, reducing the assembly room temperature from 70°F to 64°F during the week would result in substantial savings. Perhaps the gathering area and large dining room could be set at 67°F rather than 70°F during the months of December to March.

The question of what temperature is comfortable has no universal answer, as each person has their own “personal thermostat” or temperature at which they are comfortable. One person is too warm at 68°F, others are just right, and others are too cold. And the comfort range will even vary for a given individual with age. These points of comfort can be managed to a considerable degree by how we dress. A sweater, fleece, or wool coat are our age old tools for providing comfort at different temperatures. We regularly observe how our personal thermostats change with the season. 75°F during at hot summer day feels cool, but by now it would feel too warm (for most of us) during the winter.

As a community we will deliberately use the monastery and retreat and guest house as a living laboratory during the winter of 2015/2016. We will work with coworker Eric Solberg who manages building controls to adjust some temperatures lower in different spaces and measure the impact on energy use and cost. We’ll report on our findings after the monthly bills come in. If someone has a small office and tends to need more heat, we can set the temperature higher at 70 or 71°F. If another person is warmer, they may want to try a temperature at 67 or 68°F. If we have unoccupied spaces for many days such as the assembly room, we’ll try lower settings and schedule a warm up the day before an event. Eric can also work with coworkers to adjust office temperatures up and down as needed for a period of hours before temperatures return to the pre-set level. As we think about our personal energy management this winter, we will be keeping three things in mind:

  • Providing suggestions and comments to Eric (who will share them with me as appropriate). We are counting on active participants in our living laboratory.
  • In a room that is warmer than an adjacent space (say an office compared to the corridor), keeping a door closed or mostly closed will keep the higher heat in where it is needed.
  • Floors of most areas of the monastery have in-floor or radiant heating. This tends to make you feel warmer at any given air temperature. The base level of heating that comes off of the floor is supplemented by fan coil units that further warm the air coming into the room in order to reach the temperature setting for the room.

I look forward to collaborating with the coworkers at Holy Wisdom as we learn to be even better stewards.
Mark Hanson is the director of sustainable services at 
Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Inc, the company that provided planning, design and management services for the monastery building. We are grateful to Mark  and join with him in a continued commitment to caring for the environment.

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