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The Associated Press April 28, 2010, 8:48AM ET

Mormon church building construction going green

The Mormon church -- which begins a new construction project on every work day of every week -- is looking to lessen its imprint on the environment.

Church officials on Tuesday debuted a pilot building program that features solar panels generating electricity, tankless water heaters, high-tech insulation, motion sensor lighting and other features designed to maximize economic savings and minimize environmental impact.

Outside features include low-water landscaping, sensors that track the weather and automatically shut down sprinkler systems, bike racks and preferred parking for electric or other environmentally friendly vehicles.

The church is showcasing the new building practices at projects in Farmington and Eagle Mountain, Utah, Logandale and Pahrump, Nevada and Apache Junction, Ariz. The facilities all meet the silver-level LEED certification standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, church bishop and senior administrator H. David Burton said.

"We're working very hard to find ways to conserve the precious resource, help with clean air and use those kind of resources that are environmentally responsible," Burton said after reporters toured the roughly 20,000 square-foot Farmington building.

The new building program is a continuation of efforts begun as early as the 1950s to use technologies and practices that are environmentally sound, Burton and others said.

If the new prototypes perform well, the environment-friendly building practices will be implemented on a broad scale, both in new construction and as older buildings need renovations or retrofitting, Burton said.

The environmental and economics impact of that could be significant. The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than 17,000 buildings and 13.8 million members worldwide.

Going forward, church leaders will be looking a the "metrics" of building performance to evaluate the costs savings, Burton said. But there are other issues as well, he said.

"Issues that involve the community, involve being good citizens and being responsible citizens, that's not as quantitative," said Burton.

Upfront construction costs on the roughly 20,000 square-foot Farmington facility ran about $1.84 more per square-foot than similar church building without green features, said Dean Davies, managing director of physical facilities for the church.

Davies said the building will generate more energy than it consume.

A display panel in the church lets members track how the solar panels are working and equates the energy savings -- down to the hour -- in easily understood usage comparisons. During a one-hour block Tuesday, for example, the building had generated enough energy to run 4.1 hair dryers, 8.7 light bulbs and 9.1 toasters.

"The long term total cost of ownership would actually be less because of the solar and other things we've done," Davies said.

Dave Engel, a mechanical contractor who is president of the Utah chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, said the prototype project is significant, in part because of the wide influence the church enjoys.

"They should be commended for their efforts in green construction and for the example they are setting," said Engel. "The impact of buildings on our natural resources can and should be reduced."

And while members might not hear environmental messages emanating from the pulpit, understanding the building's designs and how it works can still set a pretty powerful example, Burton said.

"The takeaway message for members is that the institution you are affiliated with is responsible," he said. "And hopefully, the takeaway message is, maybe I need to reevaluate where I am in my responsibility to the community, responsibility to the environment and responsibility to good stewardship of this finite land and ground that the Lord has blessed us with."

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