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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has started awarding “Energy Star” status to churches and other houses of worship that have higher than average standards for energy efficiency, according to the Washington Times.

The “Energy Star” label, which is more commonly associated with household appliances and electronics, has been given out to nine churches across the country so far. To be eligible, a church must be more efficient than 75 percent of similar buildings.

First Parish Church in Needham, Mass., was awarded “Energy Star” status after a $3.3 million renovation to its building, which still has beams from the original construction in 1774. Among the renovations were temperature controls for each room so energy isn't wasted in areas that aren't being used, a ventilation system that adjusts to the number of people inside by measuring the carbon dioxide being exhaled, and new insulation in the meetinghouse walls.

First Parish saw a significant drop in its energy bill, which went from $20,000 to $12,000 in a year. Pastor John Buehrens admits that the energy savings aren’t likely to offset the cost of the renovation any time soon, but says the church did it more to be more responsible stewards of God’s creation.

"You don't spend $3.3 million in order to cut your utility bill in half," he said. "You do it for a much bigger set of reasons."

For churches looking to become more efficient without costly renovations, the Environmental Protection Agency says an easy but effective step is to keep lights off in rooms that aren’t being used, a common problem in church buildings. [, 6/5/10]

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