Although some purpose built venues have been constructed with high standards of insulation and energy savings in mind, many community buildings are far from energy efficient – often being cold, draughty and difficult to keep warm.
Old pre-fabricated designs, ex-church halls and disused schools, for instance, can present some challenges when it comes to improving energy usage, but overcoming them can provide a perfect showcase for energy efficient techniques and encourage greater energy awareness.
In many respects, community venues are no different from any other building, making the demands of energy efficiency the same for them as they are for our own homes only on a larger scale – and with a proportionally greater potential benefit to be gained as a result.
Any of the normal steps that householders would typically be advised to take can be applied to community building too in a bid to make them more energy efficient. In the end it still all comes down to reducing demand and minimising losses – efficiency and insulation remain the watch-words.
Although turning down the heating by a degree or two, being careful not to lose radiators behind curtains and always remembering to switch off things when they’re not in use will, of course, bring their savings, there is one simple tip which is particularly useful.
Given the large number of light fittings and the amount they get used, especially during the gloom of winter, changing to low energy bulbs can really go a long way towards making community buildings more energy efficient.
The initial investment might seem high – bulbs cost around £5 a time – but since they offer an annual saving of around twice that amount and last for up to 8 years, the savings mount up as quickly as the community’s carbon footprint shrinks.
Another approach which can help make community buildings energy efficient is to consider changing the type of energy they use in the first place. This can range from switching to a “green” supplier, to installing self-contained alternative energy systems, such as solar photovoltaic, solar water heating or wind power.
There are even grants available through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme to help pay for doing it, although you’ll need to get the consent of the building owner and possibly planning permission too. However, there are few better statements of community environmental awareness than having your own public venue powered by renewable energy.
Energy Efficient Scheduling
One aspect which can be vitally important in improving the energy efficiency of community buildings – and is often overlooked – is the effect of scheduling. A haphazard series of bookings spread over several days or evenings inevitably means the building is repeatedly heated up and then allowed to go cold – about as inefficient a use of energy as you can get.
While it’s obviously not always going to be possible to dovetail things perfectly, the more groups that can benefit from a once-warmed up venue, the better. By the same token, make sure your heating controls allow you run the system only when you need to; if you have to have groups using the building in shorts bursts, there’s no point in heating the place when there’s nobody there!
Although generally it is the older, less well insulated types of buildings that tend to benefit the most from this kind of low-energy scheduling, even the most modern and inherently energy efficient building can gain from improving the way it is used.
It’s also important to remember that different users will have different needs; keep fit enthusiasts, for example, will not appreciate the same degree of heat as a toddlers’ playgroup. If it is possible to match the comfort levels that the various groups need, the energy savings can potentially be sizeable.
Every community venue is different, with its own patterns of usage and attendant energy needs. No matter how the building itself is constructed and whatever fuel it uses, there will be something which can be done to make it more energy efficient.
However, perhaps the most important thing that improving a community building’s energy efficiency can do is to demonstrate just what can be achieved to the widest possible local audience – and some of them might just go home and try something similar for themselves.