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HVAC Report March 2020

The HVAC Task Force made a report to Session at its March meeting that included some preliminary recommendations.  While no action is being taken yet, this is a good time to let the Congregation know where things stand.    

There are three big takeaways from the HVAC Task Force Report:

  • It is possible our current boiler has more life in it than previously thought, and final recommendations regarding timing of a phased plan to update the HVAC system will not be made until a better picture of this is known.
  • For months we were dismayed that there did not appear to be an affordable all-electric solution for our heating system problems.  But as our appetite for spending has decreased from the possibility of $1 million at first, through a period when we set $500,000 as the upper limit, it now seems possible to have a phased-in electric solution for about $285,000.  Add this to the approximately $79,000 likely needed for deferred maintenance of the distribution portion (in each building) of our current system which would be reused, and the Task Force’s preliminary identified total “not to exceed” figure is $364,000.  Such a large project would be implemented over a period of years, depending on church priorities over time (as determined by Session with advice from the Facilities Committee).
  • There are measures which should be taken this year to improve energy efficiency, including adding insulation and better controls for optimum use of the current and future systems. 

What is this electric solution? 

  • Based on a report from our energy consultants, it is possible to consider a system of electric heat pump water heaters (HPWH) for each building.  These heat pumps could be installed on a building-by-building basis, or perhaps a building cluster like the Lounge and Chapel, providing an alternate source of heat for the hot water that currently runs in each building from the central boiler room and is ultimately converted to heat. This excludes Classrooms 1-3, Westminster House, and the Scout House.  The central gas boiler would no longer be the heat source if all buildings are included in the plan. 
  • It is possible to phase an installation of individual heat pumps over a period of years.  Whenever a building is added, the water to that building from the central loop would be capped.  When the last building system is completed the central gas boiler can be abandoned.  As progress is made, it will be possible to have heat in some retrofitted buildings without having to have the central boiler on. 

What is a heat pump water heater(HPWH)? 

A heat pump is an electrical device that takes heat from one area and moves it to another.  They use the same principle that air conditioning units use.  Heat pump water heaters do this for water, and are either air-sourced or water-sourced.  For us, air-source units would transfer heat to the water from the outside air.  Refrigerant is used, but it is all permanently encased in the unit itself and would not circulate in the buildings.  Heat pumps tend to be about three times more efficient in converting fuel to heat than a central boiler.  

What’s next?

The Task Force is having the boiler serviced and examined as soon as we can get the work scheduled.  Unfortunately, this is being delayed, and it was not possible to have had it done earlier, as the boiler was in use.  Once we have a report about the expected remaining useful life of the boiler, the Task Force will make recommendations to Session of the overall scope and cost of this project, including deferred maintenance and new controls, and the general time frame.  Whatever is ultimately approved will go to the Facilities Committee for eventual implementation over a period of years, including design and bidding.  The expectation is that this project could be financed with existing church resources, avoiding loans and a capital campaign, but there still may well be some difficult decisions relating to priorities.  The congregation should know that the Task Force and Session are well aware of the highly unusual financial conditions impacting our members and the nation just now, and of course future flexibility for changing circumstances must be part of our thinking and actions.

What about Solar and Electric Vehicle Charging? 

The Task Force just got a report from Palo Alto about EV Charging and will be digesting that soon.  A few solar proposals might be coming in.  The HVAC decisions can be made independently from these. 


If members of the congregation have any comments or questions, please send them to  If there is interest in a congregational discussion about these matters it can be arranged – Zoom or otherwise – depending on the timing.  But it will probably make sense to schedule this after the boiler examination.