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Lighting and energy use

One of the best ways to help save the environment and care for God’s creation is to manage our church’s lighting system efficiently.

Among the first steps for churches and people to save energy and carbon emissions is to change the lightbulbs to low energy models.

Also we should review our church’s heating system and its settings; and we should switch to a green energy supplier.

That’s if we haven’t done these things already – most of our churches have taken at least a couple of these actions. Others still need to take these steps.


Typically lighting has consumed 10-15% of domestic energy, though that figure is reducing as low energy lighting is in wider use. At the same time electricity use for gadgets is mushrooming, and needs to be curbed.

Lighting still accounts for most of the electricity used in many churches. To function effectively, church buildings like any others obviously require artificial lighting.

There are several steps we can take to significantly reduce energy consumption and bills.

Replacing conventional light bulbs with low-energy models

By now we should all be replacing our old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs and spots with low energy light bulbs. These should now almost always be LEDs (light-emitting diodes). Types are increasingly available for almost every conceivable application.

Rightly, old style lighting including tungsten filament, halogen bulbs, conventional fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescents (CFLs) are progressively being banned.

CFLs were pushed too strongly before their shortcomings were understood.

The theatre industry fought a rearguard action against minimum efficiency standards which they claimed would be unattainable with LEDs. Individual consideration may be needed where a church is used for public performances, but it is highly unlikely that traditional theatre lighting which does not meet these standards will be recommendable. LED types should now be available, in which case they should be adopted unless there is some convincing reason not to.

Light bulb sourcing and selection

The range of LEDs for every application has improved enormously, available readily in the shops or online, in various sizes and shapes designed to fit the standard bayonet and screw fittings.

High street supermarkets also increasingly stock light bulbs, and there are specialist electrical retailers where you can walk in and expect personal advice.

Where older lighting systems are re-lamped with LEDs, this may be done all at once across the whole system, or one by one as individual fittings fail. That needs caution though, and expert advice should be taken on whether it is technically sound.

Replacement lamps should be selected having regard to existing fittings. The new lamps need to fit in the old fittings.

Careful and thorough comparison of types and suppliers pays dividends. The cheapest may not be the best. A well-known brand may not be either. It’s a good idea to inspect and test samples – the appearance of LEDs varies.

As a general rule, to choose a bulb for domestic use, take the wattage of the current old-fashioned bulb and divide by seven. However it is best to err on the bright side – LED lights may get dimmer with age.

You can use dimmable low energy light bulbs, where they are required. Dimmable types are increasingly available. They need to be specifically labelled as such, and they need the right type of dimmer, otherwise the lamp may not work correctly and may be damaged.

Always keep your receipts and be prepared to return a faulty bulb.

New lighting systems

When planning a new lighting system, remember to make it as environmentally friendly as possible – which basically means saving energy and carbon emissions to the highest extent possible. Almost all new lighting systems are 100% LED.

Where a church’s lighting system is entirely replaced, it will not be constrained by re-using existing fittings or controls. Everything can be re-designed as new, to optimise benefits.

It is important to bear in mind the progressive dimming of some bulbs (‘lumen depreciation’). The colour may change too – so even if you keep spares from the same batch, they may not match if replacing any fitting that fails early. A different batch may well look different. A carefully considered replacement strategy, backed by sufficient guarantees from designers and manufacturers or suppliers, is strongly advised.

Modular fittings, requiring only part to be replaced not the whole unit, may also be worth considering.

Careful consideration is needed to scene setting and controls – sophisticated but easy to use.


Low energy light bulbs cost more initially, but they consume less electricity because less is wasted as heat. Up to 80% of a church’s electricity bills can be saved this way, unless electricity is used for heating. We are encouraging churches to switch their heating from gas to electricity, in which case saving costs on lighting can help to offset any increase in the cost of heating.

Low energy bulbs also have a much longer life (eg 15,000 hours). The best LEDs can pay for themselves in 5 – 6 years – but in a church they could in theory last for 40 years!

A long lasting bulb is also useful for high or inaccessible light fittings. Consideration may be given to replacing all lamps together, whether or not all have failed, on a pre-arranged schedule. The saving in costs of scaffolding or cherry-pickers has not been included in the above assessment.

Housekeeping tips

Good housekeeping can go a long way to save energy and costs. Here are some more tips:

  • Do not leave lights on in an area of the building that’s not in use;
  • It is a myth that leaving lights on continuously saves energy; if that was ever true it applied only to fluorescents;
  • Put up notices with a positive message like “Switch off and save CO2!”;
  • Install timers and/or or passive infrared (movement) detectors (PIRs) in toilets; daylight and occupancy sensors (DOSs) in entrances and stairs;
  • There should be a timed overrun for any fan in a toilet that’s controlled by the light switch;
  • Periodically clean light bulbs and fittings – as well as windows and skylights – to allow as much light in as possible.

External floodlighting

Floodlighting of church buildings is or has been popular. This can consume large amounts of energy, contribute to ‘light pollution’ and be expensive to run.

The congregation needs to have a serious debate, involving the local community and the Council too, about the environmental impacts as well as any amenity benefits.

There may be more justification for the sake of security rather than just for visual enhancement – but best if they achieve both together.

Your local Council may be willing to contribute to installation and/or running costs.

If it is resolved to proceed with a floodlighting scheme, low energy light fittings should in most cases be used, including for example fibre optics, and an appropriate management system for the lighting.

If the reason for the scheme is aesthetic, rather than floodlighting the exterior every evening, why not limit hours to say before 11 pm, or reserve use just for special occasions? The visual enhancement will be noticed more when it’s only on some of the time – as well as saving energy and costs, and reducing the contribution to climate change.

Gaining permission

Replacing existing bulbs may not require permission, so long as their appearance is similar and there is no re-wiring involved, or permission may be obtainable by way of an archdeacon’s letter. This is known as the ‘List A’ or ‘List B’ process. Consult the Diocese’s Parish Property Support team.

New lighting requires a faculty. You will need to seek professional advice before seeking permission.

A Statement of Need is required as part of any proposal for faculty, justifying the scheme in terms of furthering the mission and ministry of the church.

External floodlighting may also require planning permission from your Local Authority.


Lightbulbs Direct
Eyre & Ellistons
A & S Edmundson
Lamp Shop Online.

Heating and energy use
Climate Action Projects.

Measuring your energy use
Energy Footprint Tool
Switching to green energy.

Head of Environment and Sustainability
Parish Property Support Team
Getting your faculty.

Environment and Sustainability, front page.

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