O’Connor Church’s successful bold new approach to space heating

O'Connor Uniting Church faced a challenge - a 50-60 year old A-frame church, and a broken down heating system, together with cold Canberra winters.  The church has now installed state-of-the-art energy-efficient radiant heaters, and is enjoying the results.

O’Connor Uniting Church was established in the mid-fifties when Canberra had about 10% of the present population of more than 360,000.  Now an inner-north suburban church, it was built in what was then a fairly common A-frame or “ski lodge” style.  There are at least two other examples in North Canberra alone.

Churches of 50-60 years vintage typically face challenges of repair and physical refurbishment and in late 2011, when it was found that the original under-floor heating could not be economically repaired, an earnest search began for an affordable alternative.

Bringing in natural gas off the street was found to be prohibitively expensive.  Gas heaters would have required separate fluing and consumed much of the limited floor space adequate for fewer than 100 worshippers.  Fixed under-seat heating was not possible, as individual chairs had replaced the original traditional wooden pews many years earlier.

The architectural attraction of the A-frame style allows a small building to create a cathedral-like ambience.  But from a heating point of view, it is probably the most inefficient configuration one could have.

So how was the problem to be solved?

The original heating system included a number of radiant strip heaters, six of which were mounted up high, three on each side. It was thought that maybe some could be used in a small room.  Fortunately though, when checked closely, they were found to be physically damaged and electrically unsafe.  In short, they had served out their useful life.

After some enquiries and internet searching, a new type of radiant heating was found.  This came in the form of rectangular panels, rather than the common strip heaters which emit a red glow.  The new-style panels released heat in the far-infra-red area of the spectrum, with well over 90% efficiency and so little heat transferred to the back of the panels that they could be fixed directly to the wall itself.  Furthermore, the slope of the wall allowed the panel to “shine” a soft cosy heat downward onto the floor and seats before and during church use.

The heating consultant for the supplier’s Australian division based in Sydney brought with him a demonstration panel.  In less than a minute there was warmth as close as one metre away.  Yet it felt comfortable and safe.  It was found that the panels could be sited much lower on the walls to maximise their effectiveness, and when matched to the wall colour, they would be aesthetically pleasing and unobtrusive.  In addition, the existing main wiring could be used with short connections cleverly concealed.

Tackling a difficult heating application in what turned out to be the coldest Canberra winter for some years was unintentionally brave!  Quite a bit of trialling and experimentation was needed, but the benefits are now being enjoyed and celebrated by the congregation.

It is understood that O’Connor is the first A-frame church in Australia to install this kind of heating.

For more information contact: Noel Haberecht (02) 6247 0738, or the Church Administrator (02) 6247 7766.