The Second Church in Dorchester is gradually getting a facelift to bring it into the 21st century.
Like many older residences in Boston, the church, in historic Codman Square, can be a drafty place. But during the past few years, building manager Alphonse Knight has slowly been working to make the 200-year-old church more energy efficient, and he’s cut the bills sharply along the way.
What started with a plan to fix some old cracked walls soon developed into a much larger project connected with Co-Op Power, a consumer-owned renewable energy cooperative.
Knight first connected with Co-Op Power four years ago for an energy evaluation. It helped bring in a new high-efficiency furnace to take care of the church offices. Then, last year, the cooperative installed a second high-efficiency furnace to generate the heat in the main chapel.
Making the decision to convert from oil to natural gas did wonders for the church’s expenses, Knight said.
“We had a good heating system,” he said. “It just cost an arm and a leg. That’s why we had to stop.”
Last year Co-Op Power also assisted Knight in insulating his church’s ceiling with 12 inches of cellulose to prevent hot air from escaping.
The savings from all this work has been remarkable. For example, according to figures provided by Knight, the church’s heating bill was $963.70 in December 2010, but just $90 last December, less than a tenth of the figure two years ago.
Still, the work continues.
Co-Op power returned to Second Church in late September to collaborate with the church’s Home Energy Efficiency Team, throwing another free energy-upgrade work party, as churches and nonprofits often do. Since 2009, the energy team has been throwing these work-parties in order to train volunteers with hands-on skills in home efficiency.)
“We’ve got over a hundred different energy upgrades in the homes and buildings of nonprofits and we do [such parties] to help lower the energy bill for the building, and the people in it, as well as to help save the planet,” said Audrey Schulman, president of the team.
Knight’s latest crew of nearly 20 volunteers went to work tackling several tasks in only four hours. The workers split into five teams, installing two new programmable thermostats and sink aerators that could save the church hundreds of dollars more in hearing and water bills.
Sealing old windows and a nonfunctioning chimney were also top priorities. The team also made a modest attempt to seal six windows, but it will take time to properly seal the rest, Knight said. One of Knight’s biggest concerns was the basement floor, which is dirt. Knowing that overtime it could create moisture and mold problems, he instructed his crews to build a vapor barrier, basically a plastic tarp, which was cut and laid over most of the basement.
“It’s really interesting. This is the first time I’ve been in a crawl space laying down a vapor barrier,” said 27-year-old Jonathan Harrington of Cambridge, who was volunteering with the Home Energy Efficiency Team.
Knight hopes that the church will become even more energy independent in the future. He says his newly furnished basement will be able to store upwards of 5,000 gallons of water in order to better insulate the building once solar panels can be placed on the roof.
“Our vision is to go 100 percent green,” he said. “We got a massive roof up there and we are blessed it turns south. We want to use solar electric and solar thermal.
“All those panels will eat up that water and then you circulate it through the building, then if [the heat] drops too low the furnace kicks in.
“For me personally, I’ve always been into alternative energies since I was a little boy.” Under Knight’s management this old church has seen many new changes, but for whatever the next 200 years may bring, he intends for Second Church to be prepared. “If it’s there, and it’s feasible, we are going to run with it.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between The Boston Globe and Emerson College.