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Repurposed 19th century church goes solar

A Repurposed 19th Century Church Gets New Life Thanks to Solar

By Waybe Groszko Rise Renewable Energy Expert
Jul 26, 2017

When Tegan Wong-Daugherty was looking for a place to build her dream of a community school in rural New Brunswick, she found a great building – a beautiful little church that had been decommissioned in a nearby village.

This classic and sturdy church, with a lofty ceiling and tall windows, was built by the people of Armond, New Brunswick in 1897. It served the community for over one hundred years. When it was decommissioned, it found new life as a school.

Driving a Church?

Moving the church from its original site to the school site in South Knowlesville, a distance of 3 km (2 miles), proved to be an exciting challenge. Like a scene from a “Massive Moves” TV show, a building moving company lifted the church onto a big flatbed trailer. The electric power company came out to move aside some power lines, and the church crawled along narrow country roads on the back of the trailer, barely fitting between the ditches.

It all went fine until the last moment. While the crew was gently lowering the church onto its new foundation, there was a last little bump, which brought the remnants of an old brick chimney crashing down from the attic, through the ceiling and onto the floor where the altar had been. Nobody was injured in the crash. The ceiling needed extensive repair in that spot.

With that cleaned up, restoration and renovations began.

new siding for solar church

Conserving, Renewing, Upgrading

Tegan kept the traditional look of the building while refitting the space for use as a one-room schoolhouse. A crew worked on removing the pews, adding in-floor heating, and increasing insulation in the walls and attic. The walls are much thicker now than they originally were, and accented with angled window wells that let in lots of light. They kept the magnificent high windows and built removable interior storm windows to install over them in winter to save heat energy.

Addition to solar church

In 2011, an extension was built at the far end of the school to provide for a kitchen, washrooms, an office, and flexible extra classroom space. The style of the addition complements the existing look of the church, without trying to duplicate it. All water systems – washroom sinks, kitchen sinks, and a shower, are focused on one part of the addition for the efficiency of pipe runs.

church solar panels

Energy Systems

The building has off-grid solar power, generated by an array of 8 photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof. The electric energy is stored in a 24-Volt Rolls Battery bank manufactured by Surrette Battery of Nova Scotia, Canada. All electrical uses – lights, fans, the well pump, a refrigerator, and computers – run on solar energy. The first PV array installed in 2010 turned out to be too small to get through the winter months, so it was upgraded in 2015 with support from Bullfrog Power.

The heating system is in-floor radiant hydronic heat, based on a wood-fired heater. There is an additional wood stove for quicker heat on cold winter mornings. All the energy for heat and hot water comes from wood, an effective choice for local, renewable energy supply in this abundantly forested region.

battery bank for solar church

Back to School

The Knowlesville Art & Nature School makes its home here. Preschool, primary, and secondary levels are offered, based on Waldorf education principles and with a strong focus on learning outdoors in nature. The school also offers summer Art & Nature Camps. Having a beautiful building to learn in helps inspire the students and teachers.

solar church interior 3

Not Only Schools

Decommissioned church buildings are a great resource for other potential uses. Churches have been converted not only to schools, but to houses, apartment buildings and condos, dancing and performing arts spaces, art studios, shops, and even other kinds of churches or places of worship. When you create flexible new uses for these treasures of the built environment, you can help conserve material resources, embodied energy, and the beauty and cultural significance of the buildings.

A scan of real estate listings shows that there are more than a few converted or available churches to work with as potential homes, especially in small-town and rural areas. Maybe you too could make your home in a former church!

solar church interior


  • Built: 1897
  • Moved: 2008
  • Renovated: 2009 + addition in 2011
  • Solar power upgrade: 2015
solar church interior 2

Why We Love it

  • Conserving a beautiful building in the community
  • Saving embodied energy by repurposing an existing building
  • Off-grid solar power
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-06-10T18:03:50+0000

Article by:

Waybe Groszko