Nestled between Tempe and Phoenix, the town of Guadalupe, Arizona, is home to roughly 5,500 residents – and they’re proud of their heritage. The town’s motto, “where three cultures flourish,” is a reference to the melting pot of people who reside there: Mexicans, Yaqui, and descendants of the region’s original farmers. Central to many aspects of the town’s culture mix is the Catholic Church, operating as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The community’s multiculturalism was one of the first things Fr. Louis Khoury noticed when he joined Our Lady of Guadalupe in 2016. But there was another detail that was similarly impossible to ignore: His new church’s parish center (the building for social, educational and religious activities) was oppressively hot.
After 40 years, the heating and cooling system at the Our Lady of Guadalupe parish center in Guadalupe, Arizona, could no longer provide relief for visitors in the sweltering summer heat. On days when the outdoor temperature rose above 100 degrees, the church’s parish center struggled to keep the interior temperature below 90. This caused the space to go almost entirely unused in summer, a time when the children of the community were seeking activities.
Panasonic donated VRF systems for several of the church’s parish center spaces. There is now a six-ton VRF system with four indoor units, totaling seven tons in capacity for the parish center. The church’s restrooms were upgraded with a two-ton Panasonic ducted air conditioning system. The offices utilize a three-ton ducted system. Panasonic’s ECOi Series HVAC system is able to provide a much more effective solution while using far less energy than the previous systems utilized in the center. The installation utilized the building’s existing duct work, though some modifications were made during the project to ensure the whole building would be covered.
The most immediate impact was a temperature drop. During the hottest days of the year in Guadalupe, as the outside temperature climbed into the triple digits, the new HVAC units’ variable refrigerant flow technology maintained the temperature inside the church at a refreshing 76 degrees. Before the installation, usage of the building during the summer months was so limited that it was essentially shut down for 25% of the year. After installation, the space can remain open year-round.
Built in the early 20th century, the parish is an old structure, and its HVAC system – installed more than 40 years ago – had failed. Utilizing its limited resources and the unyielding support of its parishioners, the church installed several evaporative coolers. There was a slight positive impact, but in the Arizona summers, it was still too hot to bear.
“When I first arrived to Our Lady of Guadalupe three years ago, I went into one of the classrooms at the parish center,” Fr. Louis recalled. “There were two teachers and about 12 children sitting around the table, and I was taken aback when I realized each of those children were wearing very wet t-shirts.”
The weather outside was roughly 110 degrees, and even with the evaporative coolers – known locally as “swamp coolers” – the children were sweating through their clothing.
“That was my wake-up call to pray for some kind of air conditioning solution because the swamp coolers were not any help in that kind of a heat,” Fr. Louis said.
During the hottest days of the year in Guadalupe, the outside temperature could climb well over 100 degrees. On these days, the church’s parish center would struggle to keep the interior temperature below 90 degrees.
Panasonic replaced the parish center’s evaporative coolers with the Panasonic six-ton ECOi Series condenser and four evaporator coils. The immediate impact was a significantly cooler church hall: With the new variable refrigerant flow (VRF) technology in these HVAC units, the temperature is now kept at 76 degrees.
While Our Lady of Guadalupe has not conducted an official analysis of energy costs, the numbers indicate that Panasonic’s ECOi Series is able to provide a very effective solution using far less energy.
Prior to the installation, the church had cobbled together a heating and cooling system from disparate units that were decades old and insufficient for the space. The church’s restrooms, which had no air conditioning, were upgraded with a two-ton Panasonic ducted air conditioning system. The offices, inefficiently cooled with eight window units, now have a three-ton ducted system. And the parish center, which employed four evaporative coolers in the summer months and three phase unit heaters with 50-amp phase circuits during the winter months, now sports a six-ton VRF system with four indoor units, totaling seven tons in capacity. The entire system runs off a single 50-amp circuit.
The installation utilized the building’s existing duct work, though some modifications were made to ensure the whole building would be covered. Now, instead of heating and cooling the building with eight separate power sources, one source is used to service the entire building.
Our Lady of Guadalupe operates on a tight budget and limited resources, so its inadequate cooling system – combined with the harsh Arizona summers – was a tremendous blow to both the church and the community. The parish space was nearly unusable during the summer months. After religious education classes ended in May, the space might only be utilized in the relative coolness of the early mornings – if at all – until the heat let up in August. That’s roughly three months, or 25% of the year, during which an otherwise perfectly good resource was going unused.
Fr. Louis said the hall can now be used 24 hours if needed. “[Our congregation] can do more, now – such as choir groups using it for practice. The impact is huge.”
The new HVAC system has had some unexpected benefits as well. According to Fr. Louis, the new air conditioning unit served as an inspiration to continually improve the environment. With the air more comfortable and the space in much more regular use, the congregation was moved to insulate old brick walls in the parish that had seen water damage over the years. Other interior walls that had not been damaged received a fresh coat of paint. The result is an overall better learning environment for both students and teachers.
“Imagine a room where kids, or even adults, are trying to learn but the sweat from their arms is dripping on to the pages,” Fr. Louis said. “That’s very uncomfortable, and it’s been like night and day in terms of comfort and the things we can do. It feels like the parish is entering a new era.”
Aside from providing the parish with comfortable indoor air and fresh motivation to otherwise improve the interior of the building, the new Panasonic ECOi series HVAC system also introduced the potential for a more thorough use of the space. Fr. Louis looks to expand the parish’s offerings as a community center by hosting family movie nights and other events that can give kids in the area a place to go. He also said the church hopes to continue religious education through the summer.
“The three months where the kids are out of school is a time where we really need to provide services for the community,” he said. “This is our dream; the potential is huge.”
What’s more, the overall quality improvement of the indoor space provided by the Panasonic ECOi series HVAC system has given the church ideas to rent out the space for events such as weddings. That would provide the dual benefit of serving the community while generating additional financial resources for the church.