Winter proofing your church building

Winter proofing your church building

Careful maintenance and positive actions can help reduce the risk of property damage and injury to those that visit your church during the winter months. Ecclesiastical’s David Parkinson provides some simple practical advice that can help keep your church and its visitor’s safe as the cold weather approaches.

Before the winter sets in – building maintenance

As the weather begins to change there are some simple maintenance tasks that you can carry out that will help protect and prepare your church for the winter.

Gutters and downpipes

Autumn brings with it falling leaves, which can fill guttering and block downpipes. Signs of soil washing away at ground level or splashes of soil at the base of walls can indicate that water is not being caught by the gutter.

Make sure that you regularly check valleys, gutters, hoppers and downpipes and arrange for a local contractor to clear any blockages.

Checking the roof

Using binoculars, check the roof for loose or missing slates or tiles that may allow water to get into the building. Replacing a missing slate or tile is much cheaper than repairing or replacing roof timbers.

It is also a good time to check that the roof is in a state of good repair.

Maintaining trees

Check any trees in the churchyard for damaged branches, and get these trimmed back where needed. Winter storms with high winds could cause these branches to break off and cause damage to property or people.

Preparing for the cold snap – pipes and plumbing

A small fracture in a pipe can release gallons of water damaging masonry, plaster, carpets and the contents of your church. There are some simple steps you can take to help prevent leaky pipes and, in the run up to cold weather, these actions could help prevent a real disaster:

  • Firstly, make sure a qualified and registered professional services your boiler and heating system regularly, and check that the thermostat is working correctly.
  • Check the insulation on your water pipes and cold-water tank – pipes that are in attics or other vulnerable spaces should be insulated, lagged or similarly protected.
  • Turn off external taps.
  • Keep your heating on during the winter months to help avoid temperatures dropping below freezing.

What to do if you discover a frozen pipe

Damage caused by leaks from frozen pipes is often much more costly than other escape of water claims. If you discover a frozen pipe, do not wait for it to burst.

Turn off the water supply and then slowly thaw the affected pipe by introducing gentle heat to the area. You could use a heater or hot water bottle to gently warm the pipe.

Do not use a blowtorch or other open flame to defrost a frozen pipe.

How to stop a burst pipe

Burst water pipeIf you discover a burst pipe, the first and most important thing to do is turn off the water supply. Ahead of the winter months make sure you, and anyone that visits the church regularly, knows where the stopcock is in case they need to do this.

Once you have turned off the water supply, open any taps in the building to safely release any water still trapped in the system and try to catch any excess water in a bucket.

Do not use any electrical sockets or equipment that may have been affected by water. Make sure you get these checked by a qualified and competent electrician before they are used again.

What to do if your church is not visited frequently

Some churches may only be visited once or twice a week and a water leak or burst pipe can cause a significant amount of damage in that time. If your church is not visited regularly, it is important that you take steps to protect it from the elements.

  • Turn off the stopcock. (Make sure you inform those that will be using the church that you have done this and that they need to do this before they leave.)
  • Drain the system of any water by running the taps – remember to turn them off again once you have finished.
  • If possible, leave the heating running at around 15C. This will help minimise the risk of pipes freezing and bursting as a result.

Using temporary heaters

Where possible, restrict the use of portable heaters. If you do need to use these, choose electric convector or fan-assisted heaters with thermostatic cut-out, which turn off in the event of overheating.

Never use electric radiant heaters or paraffin/oil fired heaters even as a temporary measure. They work by emitting heat from an element or flame and pose a significant fire risk.

Safety tips for using temporary heaters

  • Do not leave temporary heaters unattended for long periods of time.
  • Make sure that temporary heaters are turned off when the church is not occupied.
  • Keep combustible materials such as paper, card or cloth away from the heaters.
  • Make sure that the heater is in a safe position and is not at risk of being knocked over.
  • Never move a temporary heater when it is switched on.

Keeping visitors safe – preventing slips and trips

Many churches see an increase in visitor numbers during the winter months with the weeks leading up to Christmas being particularly busy. The increase in visitors attending your church, coupled with the potential for snow, ice and wet weather, can increase the risk of slips and trips.

It may be necessary to take precautions such as gritting, clearing snow and closing some access routes to the church. The actions below will help keep visitors to your church safe.

  • Treat paths and walkways with salt or grit before nightfall or early in the morning before volunteers or visitors arrive.
  • If it snows, check paths regularly and clear snow while it is fresh and loose. (You may not need to clear all paths, just make sure that there is an accessible clear path to the church. You can find more information on this at www.gov.uk/clear-snow-road-path-cycleway for further guidance.)
  • Never use water to melt ice and snow as it may refreeze and turn to black ice. This increases the risk of injuries as it is invisible and very slippery.
  • When you are shovelling snow take care not to block drains so that the excess water can escape as it melts.

Remember, your safety is important too. Make sure you take care and where needed, seek expert advice when undertaking any maintenance or repairs.

For more help and guidance

Good maintenance and planning are the key to managing your church buildings during the winter months. Our risk management experts are on hand to help our customers and can be contacted via our dedicated risk management helpline 0345 600 7531 or by email risk.advice@ecclesiastical.com.