Churches are major landmarks in rural and urban areas. Preserving ecclesiastical architecture from damaging conditions within a building, whether a chapel or cathedral, is as important as protection against the outside elements. This is where being forewarned is being forearmed, says Derek Richardson, an environmental manager specialising in ecclesiastical and heritage buildings for Ellab Monitoring Solutions Ltd (formerly Hanwell).
The wind force of rain, flooding, pollutants and debris can not only have detrimental effects on the external structure of churches, but could also lead to leaks, damp and potential mould growth causing damage to both interior walls and ceilings, as well as to valuable items, if left unchecked.
Early detection through environmental monitoring systems can help nip in the bud water penetration that could put frescoes, decorated plasters, mural paintings, mosaics, sculptures and timber structures at risk.
Safeguarding the church environment
There is a variety of accurate and flexible environmental management solutions that can protect churches from not just monetary loss but potential destruction of irreplaceable historical and cultural artefacts by instantly warning of compromised conditions. In fact, the latest monitoring systems can also gather data to give conservators information on what they might need to do to improve the environment within the church.
Conditions can be controlled using conservation heating control, usually underfloor, which creates the best possible outcome for the minimum cost. It is used extensively in historical buildings and some major churches around the country. The key thing is to react swiftly to environmental changes which can be triggered by temperature fluctuations and increasing humidity levels. But what about guttering and roof leak detection?
Undetected flooding or leaks can cause irreparable damage from the top to the bottom of churches, from historic fresco ceilings and wall paintings to archives, basements, crypts and other subterranean structures. So, an early warning system for churches of water ingress can prevent a lot of heartache and financial implications by protecting the structure and contents against resultant condensation and significant ongoing damp problems.
Getting to the “roof” of the problem
Let’s start with church roofs. As we know churches can have numerous valley and parapet gutters, making the inspection and maintenance of their drainage systems difficult. Water coming through roofs due to blocked gutters and downpipes can soak into timbers and framework causing potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage. Compare that to the tiny cost of putting modern monitoring systems in place.
A blocked gutter may not be apparent for many months. Due to health and safety regulations people may be reluctant these days to get on roofs and have a look, while intermittent occupancy resulting in sporadic heating and ventilation encourages moisture to evaporate and condense elsewhere in a church structure. Reacting swiftly to catch leaking pipes or water coming in from outside is vital, particularly in rural churches which are especially vulnerable as they are often more exposed to weather and may be attended less frequently.
Solutions such as GutterWatch, part of Ellab’s wireless monitoring technology, uses sensors placed in the roof integrated with environmental monitoring software. It can warn designated stakeholders of leaks from defective roof drainage, blocked gutter or by a bad seal, missing tiles or some other reason. This is a source of moisture which can cause timber decay in buildings. Alerts can be sent directly via SMS to mobile devices or desktop PCs.
DampWatch is also available to detect high levels of moisture internally on walls, beams and flooring. Timber work starts to absorb moisture which is detected and an alarm sent out – the sooner you find out that you’ve got a problem the sooner it can be fixed saving thousands of pounds.
Make war against the spores
As well as the obvious damage, leaks and water ingress can affect the humidity level in the building, which is difficult to detect without accurate monitoring systems. As mentioned, when timbers are wet and there is any kind of heat applied the moisture evaporates and affects the whole environment – and then you get mould and mould spores, which are especially unhealthy for the congregation.
Porous walls also pose a risk to original paintings and murals that may have been uncovered after hundreds of years out of sight. Following the Reformation people plastered or painted over their religious wall paintings as Henry VIII was going around demolishing churches and monasteries. You don’t want to lose a wall painting of significant historical interest that has recently come to light and cannot be replaced.
Churches account for almost half of the Grade 1 listed buildings in England and face a variety of environment-related challenges which can result in damage to vulnerable materials and contents. Embracing monitoring equipment to warn of moisture penetration through walls and roofs or climbing humidity levels offers the best possible protection for places of worship and their holy relics.
Ellab Monitoring Solutions Ltd (formerly Hanwell Solutions) encompasses more than 100 years of accumulated experience in designing, engineering and manufacturing first-class British electronic instrumentation.
The company’s industry specific environmental monitoring and control systems lead the way in accuracy, radio telemetry and software functionality. The Hanwell brand is an established leader within multiple industry sectors such as pharmaceutical, heritage, healthcare and food. With quality at the forefront of its aims the company operates under a Quality Management System which complies with the requirements of ISO9001, as well as a sustainability accreditation under ISO14001 and provides calibration services accredited to UKAS ISO17025.
Acquired in 2019 by the Ellab Group, a global leader in thermal validation and monitoring solutions, the Hanwell brand is a key part of Ellab’s core product range operating in pharmaceutical, food production and healthcare sectors. Ellab’s core values are based on the terms Efficient, Long Term, Loyal, Add Value and Best Quality.