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A Brief History of Sustainability Efforts at Beth Israel

While Congregation Beth Israel had been located in downtown Media since the 1920’s, by the 1990s the congregation had outgrown its original building. In 1997 the community was able to purchase and move into its current building on Route 352. The building we are using was originally a barn that was expanded into a church in 1967. When Beth Israel moved in, much of the modifications were focused on the redesign of the sanctuary and some of upkeep. Whereas there were ideas of other layout modifications, the structure was robust and there was not a need for significant rebuilds. Some initial repairs to the building included replacing deteriorating windows in the sanctuary, attending to the heating equipment, and relatively soon after the building purchase, the installation of Air Conditioning for the sanctuary. 

In 2006, the community engaged in more focused efforts around sustainability.  A board member took it upon herself to audit and track the utilities and activities in the building, implement recycling, and engage others in the discussion. These early efforts included forming a sustainability committee, holding an Adult Ed session, meeting with the Hebrew School, and participating in Jewish Reconstructionist Federation’s (JRF)1 ongoing Sustainable Synagogue Initiative online meetings starting around 2007. By 2013-14, Beth Israel moved forward with Greenfaith, to become a certified Greenfaith congregation. BI formed a Green Faith committee and engaged in a broad range of discussion and planning around sustainability. BI’s efforts led to its certification as a Greenfaith certified congregation in 2014. 

BI has tracked as a leader in this area for many years, and there is always more work to be done. In 2009, according to our energy tracking, using the format from the Energy Star Portfolio site, BI was in the 87 percentile compared to other faith communities in its efficient use of energy. After upgrading our lighting and HVAC systems in 2012-2015 (detailed below) BI moved to the 98th percentile.

Some of the specific measures that we have taken include:


  • 2007- Audited our systems, and began to track and benchmark our utilities.  
  • 2011- Conducted an additional energy audit by
  • Ongoing tracking, benchmarking and auditing today.



  • 2010- Began to upgrade Sanctuary high lights, and other interior and perimeter exterior lighting to LED. 
  • 2011- Completed a major upgrade to the School’s and library’s ceilings and lights with high efficiency fluorescent lighting. In recent years, as these tubes have burned out, where possible, they have been replaced with LED tubes.
  • 2016- Replaced the metal halide parking lot lights with LEDs, along with replacing our sign lighting; this replacement reduced 200 Watt fluorescent lights to 20 Watt LED lights. We also increased portico lighting efficiency. These measures increased overall lighting efficiency, by reducing the hourly wattage from 2300 Watts to 934 Watts and improved the lighting coverage and reliability.  
  • 2023- While upgrading our sign, its lighting was upgraded again, for better/complete illumination.
  • Timing of the lights:
  1. With the parking lot lighting upgrade in 2016, the external lighting timers were replaced with programmable astronomic timers. Therefore, once programmed, the lighting schedule automatically adjusts seasonally.
  2. More recently, in 2023, the LED exterior lights on either side of all doors were converted, to turn on with motion sensors, and likewise, on the unlit south side of the building, motion detection lighting was added. This measure both increased security, reduced usage, and on the newly lit south end, also minimized energy use.
  3. In the building, we have a practice to have rooms lit only when occupied, and all rooms are checked building-wide to assure that all lights are off before lock up.
  • At this point, nearly every lamp at Beth Israel is LED throughout the building. Any non-LED lights that burn out are replaced with LEDs, if possible.


Recycling and Material Use:

  • A recycling program, consistent with our local township was established and training was done, and signage placed to encourage this practice. This has continued to this day. Some re-education is needed to strengthen the robustness of this effort.
  • Paper products: In 2010, we connected with GreenLine to supply our office paper needs by using recycled paper. That was the practice for a number of years.  We also have done some work in getting away from Styrofoam cups and sourcing paper materials for onegs and food service.


Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC):

In 2012, Beth Israel undertook a major upgrade of the heating systems in the main building as a result of a decision by Beth Israel’s President and board to convert heating from oil to gas. Following this upgrade our annual utility costs were reduced from around $17-20,000 annually to around $8-11,000; this upgrade also halved our carbon emissions. Our heating equipment was upgraded to equipment available with the highest efficiency. The amount of energy required to heat our building, benchmarked to NOAA’s tracking of local Heating Degree Days (HDDs), dropped from an average 0.15 MBTU/HDD before the upgrade to 0.09MBTU/HHD2 after. We continue to track and benchmark. While this benchmarking does not factor in building occupancy hours or other loads, it does give us indication of the efficiency of our heating and is useful for alerts about possible problems if the data seem askew.   

The HVAC upgrades, in the Synagogue building following an in-depth systems audit consisted of:

  • Replacing both the No. 2 Oil fired furnaces and boiler with Natural Gas fired units.
  • Upgrading these furnaces and the boiler, (that were running at the time lower than their 82% design efficiency), with furnaces with 96% efficiency rating and a boiler with a 90% efficiency rating. We do regular preventive maintenance on this equipment and verify the sustained efficiency of this equipment.
  • Resolving multiple problems built into the pre-converted system, which included improperly placed nonprogrammable thermostats, return air not getting back to furnaces, and discomfort with supplied heat etc.
  • Identifying areas where mini-splits would improve the overall system effectiveness and efficiency:
  1. ​​​​​Identified where in the building that required most hours/week of space conditioning and installing high efficiency (high SEER3) mini splits in these spaces. This allows these smaller office spaces (250-500 ft2) to be tempered for comfort, without impacting the temperature setbacks in the remainder of the estimated 15,000 ft2 building. These offices previously relied on highly inefficient electric space heaters deployed under desks to supplement the heat. Now, while the main system provides base heat to these offices, the mini-splits provide the main office-specific controllable space tempering. These mini-splits can be and are turned off when these offices are not occupied, due to the system-wide base heat, assuring freeze protection.
  2. Identified the upstairs office, library, and meeting space as an additional space that is not necessarily occupied when the remainder of the building is, and is in use when the remainder of the building is not.  Closed off the heat ducts and installed a mini-split for that area.
  • Destratifying Air in the Sanctuary- There have been two Casablanca ceiling fans in the sanctuary. These are useful for forcing the hot air down from the expansive ceiling into the occupied space.  With the focus on improvement to conditioning our building efficiently, we now typically run one of these fans continuously, so that even during temperature set-back, the warm air is recirculated down, to help modify the amount of heat it takes to maintain room temperature.
  • Installing remotely programmable Thermostats throughout the buildings. This has allowed us to set back temperatures (typically to 50 degrees in the winter and 82 degrees in the summer) when the space is not occupied, and to program for comfort during times of occupancy. These thermostats also have manual overrides allowing others to temporarily raise or lower the room temperature (for up to 4 hours), thereby ensuring comfort while allowing temperatures to revert to their pre-sets after use, ensuring no over-heating or over-cooling of the space. 
  • Implementing a creative Financing Model for the upgrade project. Our Financial VP and President, used a financing approach that allowed the project to go forward through internal financing from within the congregation; reducing interest payments for the synagogue to around 3% instead of the commercial rate of about 7%. This model had the added benefit of engaging congregants as lenders, who also benefited from a reasonable return while saving the Congregation money.

In the Fall of 2018 Beth Israel upgraded the Green House HVAC. It replaced a 50+ year-old oil-fired furnace with a 96% efficient Gas-fired furnace. The new installation has space for an air conditioner in the same unit should that become needed. Additionally the air return and other elements of the system was upgraded.

Renewables: In October 2022, Beth Israel completed the installation of a 26kW Solar PV array. (The permit to operation was issued in February, 2023.) The system is sized to generate electricity somewhat over our historic annual electricity use.

Green house4 upgrade: Beth Israel’s Green House has historically had many challenges in operating efficiently. Some of the issues and upgrades conducted in 2019-2020 include:

  • Reducing leakage: A blower door test performed on the house found the leakage rate to be about 6600cfm5. After the upgrades the leakage was reduced to 2000 cfm. Specific seal upgrades involved: 
  1. Caulking/Sealing up the air leakage on doors, windows and walls.
  2. Weather stripping doors.
  3. Pulling all utilities out of the crawl space and sealing off the crawl space.
  4. Sealing off the unused chimney that runs from the basement up through roof. To reduce heat loss: Stucco’d and trimmed the chimney where it is visible and Tyveked and insulated it where the chimney runs through the walls.  This both improved aesthetics and reduced heat loss.
  5. Removing the kitchen (from a previous walled-in porch) and rebuilding a kitchenette within the sealed off portion of the building. This kitchenette was mostly built by using repurposed materials, including the cabinets and the small refrigerator and  microwave.
  6. Replacing the water supply system with PEX system with a easily managed manifold, and insulating the heated lines.
  7. Upgrading the electricity; removing unused and stray wiring.
  8. Labeling the electrical panel and all electrical features for ease of isolating issues at the breaker panel.
  9. Repairing water damage with new drywall and paint as needed. Painting in the areas that were needed and identifying other ways to enhance the aesthetics and resilience and use of the areas. 
  10. There are some additional tasks that can be performed such as sealing the rim boards in basement.

Building resilience – Besides the sealing work noted above, the porch deck and railing was scraped, primed, and painted with outdoor paint to lengthen deck life. We have also inspected and made repairs to the siding and flashing and caulking. All windows are either double paned or have storm windows.

Main Building Upkeep: Reducing costly replacements and the additional embodied carbon of new equipment/infrastructure:

  • Preventative Maintenance work on space conditioning systems and the building envelope not only avoids degradation but also reduces the need for expensive (and high embodied carbon) equipment replacement. Our intention and approach is to address maintenance issues before they cause further degradation or interfere with practical, resilient, solutions. Some examples of measures recently taken besides normal preventive maintenance include:
  1. Resiliently packing out steel I-Beams and columns in the portico and encasing them in Azek and Stone. Replacing rotted wood columns with Azek wall boards to extend their life. Replacing the portico roof, installing a resilient ceiling and recessed high efficiency lighting.
  2. Addressing the deteriorating major decorative window in the sanctuary: Reglazed, painted and scraped and painted to preserve the still intact wooden columns on the south end.
  3. Replacing electrically chilled drinking fountain with unchilled fountain/bottle filler.
  4. Continuing to track and bench mark utilities usages.
  5. Cleaning, repairing and painting the stucco on the main building to preserve it (has been contracted, at this point when weather permits).

Finally, it is important to note that as we identify opportunities to improve the resilience and sustainability of our facility and to improve our practices, energy efficiency, and reduce carbon emissions, we will evaluate them holistically and take them on as appropriate. Some measures are identified in the tables below in this report. Relatedly, we want to work towards improving our materials use efficiency at BI, by developing systems that increase re-use (as well as improving our recycling practices), reducing the use and consumption of needed plastics (e.g. eliminating bottled water purchases for events and using the onsite water), and where possible reducing the use/consumption of other materials as well (e.g. paper). We invite you to review more detail on our GHG reductions and plans.


1Note that the JRF merged with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2012 and its functions are now part of Reconstructing Judaism.

2MBTU or Million British Thermal Units is a measure of energy typically used in building energy calculations and analysis. The drop from 0.15 MBTU/HDD to 0.09 MBTU/HDD, a 40% drop, means that it requires 40% less energy to provide the same amount of heating for the building baselined to the HDD or Heating Degree Days; as tracked and published by NOAA.

3SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio is a measure to represent of how much energy and money a unit requires to operate effectively over a single year. The less energy used by the unit to produce the proper amount of cooling, the higher the SEER rating.

4Beth Israel's Green House is a separate two-story 1800 ft2 residential unit on the BI property. The house had many problems with much air leakage, frozen pipes, with damage to some ceilings, a failing boiler, in need of attention to the electrical systems and general discomfort.

5A decent cfm score would be closer to, and under 2000 cfm.

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Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784