YARMOUTH — Through the viewfinder of DeWitt Kimball’s thermal imaging camera, a cascade of blue tumbled from the edge of a floor-to-ceiling window like a technicolor waterfall.

The navy-colored blotches represented cold air rushing into the sanctuary at the First Parish Congregational Church in Yarmouth, an expansive, two-tiered hall of hardwood paneling and arching pews built in 1867.

“(Churches) are notoriously difficult to heat,” said DeWitt Kimball, who runs a Brunswick energy consultancy. “They’re essentially barns.”

Kimball was part of a $15,000 project to retrofit the structure with insulation to increase heating efficiency. He worked with Josh Wojcik, who runs Upright Frameworks, a company that specializes in retrofitting old buildings. In all, nearly two weeks of retrofitting gave the building a 50 percent tighter air seal.

And it turned out that the aging sanctuary was the least of the church’s worries.

A roughly 2,600 square-foot addition completed in 2007, the newest part of the building, proved to be the leakiest. Although the construction was solid and modern, air constantly soaked through a porous drop ceiling.

For about 10 days, Wojcik and a team of workers carefully insulated the attic spaces.

“We basically put a lid on part of the building,” said Wojcik, whose fleece work vest is embroidered with “CO2 Killer.” He said as a service to the church, he performed the roughly $14,000 job at cost.

“We love working with churches because they’re so big and usually poorly insulated,” Wojcik said.

The First Parish Congregational Church is the latest to attack the silent, costly leaks that can drive up energy bills in church structures.

Each year, the Yarmouth church burns as much as 4,000 gallons of heating oil to keep its facility warm. Every closed gap, sealed crack and insulated ceiling panel helps the bottom line.

“Our hope was that we would be able to (recover) our costs in three or four years,” said the Rev. Kent Allen, who has been senior pastor for six years.

“The savings is certainly a piece of it, but we have a huge building and we want to make sure we save as much energy as we can.”

Anne “Andy” Burt, environmental justice consultant to the Maine Council of Churches, said Yarmouth is the latest congregation to approve such a project.

“Houses of worship are among some of the most inefficient buildings in the state,” Burt said.

A decade ago, she said, congregations were reluctant to spend church money to improve efficiency. That’s changed. In some ways, lowering the carbon footprint has become a Christian imperative to care for the Earth, she said.

“The more we can tell these stories, the more people who say, ‘Wow, I could probably do that.’ “

Churches tend to be older structures built using traditional methods. Insulation is primitive, if there is any at all, and the cavernous interiors are notoriously drafty.

Similar conditions led to a similar audit of the Foreside Community Church in Falmouth, said Kurt Eckhardt, who helps look after the church building.

Because of heat leaking into the attic, large ice dams formed on the roof and exterior walls of the Foreside building. If left unchecked, the formations could have led to burst pipes and roof damage.

Nearly a year ago workers corrected the problem, and not a single dangerous, potentially costly ice dam has formed this winter.

“Parishioners are more comfortable,” Eckhardt said. “We’ve been able to turn the thermostat down a little bit.”

Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at: 791-6303 or at
[email protected]

This story was updated at 10:35 a.m. Jan. 12 to correct the name of the company run by Josh Wojcik.