Federated Church Reduces Energy Use and Increases Safety


Icicle build-up on roof of the Federated Church – indicating significant heat loss and other building efficiency issues, and creating a safety hazard at the property


Full building assessment by RetroGreen Energy, followed by an insulation retrofit (the cost of which was offset with energy efficiency grants and rebates)


Estimated utility cost savings of $2554 to $6683 per year and no more icicles

Did you ever see the “icicle show” at the Federated Church? The icicles occurred following roof snowmelt and subsequent freezing and grew to be as long as 6 feet hanging from the edge of the roof. Some of these icicles were massive and if they broke off and hit you, it could’ve been disaster. Well, the icicles are gone for good.

The icicles were the visible symbol of a major heat loss problem that has plagued the church for the last 42 years. The structure was showing physical damage and interior water spots resulting from heat loss through the complex roof lines of the church, lack of ventilation and poorly or non-insulated thermal boundaries. The architect apparently was not familiar with Fergus Falls winters, and engineering design and construction did not allow for simple addition of ceiling insulation and ventilation without removing or modifying the roof.

The challenge was: How do we address this enormous energy conservation problem and also take care of routine maintenance and repair? There has long been concern for high utility bills, excessive ice dams during the winter months and several water leaks causing internal damage. Discussions had emerged about combining the two separate projects, shingle replacement and new ceiling and wall insulation into a combined project.

Opportunity knocked as a result of a hailstorm in August 2012. The Federated Church filed an insurance claim to replace the damaged shingles. A contractor, JNS Builders, came to bid on the roof repair project indicated that we had a major problem with potential structure degradation as a result of poor insulation and ventilation. JNS suggested the church contact RetroGreen Energy, an insulation and energy auditing company, to explore further options for energy conservation. The church could gain efficiencies by completing the shingle replacement and insulation/ventilation installation as part of a coordinated project.

An eye-opening presentation by RetroGreen Energy to a small group of church members on 9 July, 2013, vividly described the magnitude of the problem and damage already evident. Significant damage occurred as a result of no ventilation and no insulation in various sections of the church roof. RetroGreen confirmed this finding with an energy audit. We had a “mini mushroom farm” of fungus and mold growing in one section under the roof.

Other ventilation and insulation problems in the concrete walls were also identified. The contractor stated that some parts of the church roof had no insulation at all, only 3 inches of wood supporting the shingles and estimated an average R-value of about 6 for the entire roof and the outer concrete block walls. The desired roof R-value is 50.

The small amount of insulation included during the initial construction of the church, plus small amounts of additional insulation blown in when the roof line was modified were not enough to provide significant energy savings due to leakage at critical locations and the lack of controlled ventilation.

The insulation and vent materials included two types of foam insulation (open cell foam in the concrete walls and closed cell foam on the roof) and blown-in bat insulation. The contracting teams also installed 162 vents and caulked over 2000 feet of cracks. The complex roof has a steep pyramid shape over the main sanctuary that required additional safety equipment for the workers. The remaining parts of the church had more conventional roofing.

A justification and request for financial support was prepared. We applied for grants and zero-interest loans from several private, state and federal agencies. Ottertail Power company provided a grant, CenterPoint energy provided a rebate, the Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment provided a grant and a zero-interest loan, the Federated Church Shepherd fund provided a grant, and a small portion came from the balance of the hail damage insurance claim. Many of the building materials were purchased through Hooters Lumber in Chokio.

Before leaving the site, RetroGreen Energy did a “leak test” measurement and determined the leakage rate was 58% lower than that measured at the start of the project, a major improvement! The combination of the decrease in leakage rate and the increased insulation across the entire roof of the church will contribute to substantial energy and cost savings, estimated to be as high as 50%. The insulation R-value for the area over the sanctuary that was sprayed with 3 inches of foam ended up with an R-value of 28 and the remainder of the church roof had an R-value of 50.

The real “green” savings will require four years to collect sufficient data to make an accurate “before and after” assessment. We have ESTIMATED the potential savings based on actual cost for the four-year period from 2009 through 2012. Using the average utility costs of $12,773 for those four years, we then calculated ASSUMED annual cost savings at 20, 30, 40 and 50% reduction in energy costs with the results shown above. At 20% energy savings, the cost savings is $2554 and at 50% energy savings, the cost savings is $6683 per year with a corresponding decrease in the carbon footprint. Using these cost savings and accounting for inflation, we have blown a lot of heat through the roof and more $310,000 over the last 42 years.

We at the Federated Church are doing our small part to be green which implies more sustainable and environmentally responsible. The key message is that a small amount invested in proper insulation at the time of construction provides energy and cost savings that multiply with time. It’s something to think about if you are cost and energy conscious. What are you doing to reduce your energy costs and carbon footprint?