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Church property maintenance problems


Churches with Property Problems

Over the years as Independent Surveyors we have looked at a number of churches with property problems and have helped solve various issues cost effectively. We are often able to offer a choice of ways to resolve the matter.


Help with problems with the church fabric

The following article regarding the church fabric and property problems looks at issues we have come across more than a few times which we feel are relatively common problems. Whilst the answers we propose may not be suitable in your situation they do give you an idea of the sort of work we do and how as Independent Surveyors we can help. In many cases we have been asked to look at one problem within a church property only to discover there are more pressing property issues that we have been able to bring to the attention of our client.


Solving Church roof problems

Church roofs are a good example of typical problems that come across.  The roofs are normally at relatively high level making them hard to view and they suffer from the best and worst weather conditions which tend to lead to problems eventually.

Unfortunately the true nature of a roof problem can often be hidden by the structure and fabric beneath. Roof problems normally first come to light when staining is visible at roof level. Alas over the years we have come to discover that the staining that can be seen to the underside of the roof often has nothing to do with the location of the where the problem is and sometimes may not even be a roof leak.


Main church roofs and other church roofs

We have found over the years that the normal solutions you use on a residential roof are not necessarily the right solutions for a church roof. In particular wind velocity is greater than you would experience on a house. You need to consider such things as the weight of materials and the also weight of the person climbing onto the roof.

We have been on a number of main church roofs where the roofing contractors have been called in before us and have caused damage to the roof by accessing it incorrectly. They have also recommended replacing the roof when it has simply not been necessary. This can be a very expensive waste of money particularly with today's requirement for scaffolding because of Health and Safety reasons taking up many thousands of pounds of the budget.

We have also come across architects that have worked on roofs and have simply specified that the original detailing goes back on the church roof. This means unfortunately that you simply have recreated the roof problem and it will only be a matter of time before the problems come back again.

The benefit of having an Independent Building Surveyor to look at your church roof is that they are used to looking at property problems and seeing what does and what does not work.

For example: A main church roof that we looked at recently had a metal finish that was believed to be the cause of the roof problems. When we investigated we actually found that the roof problems related to the roof in part as some of the joints were in need of repair but the main problem was that the internal gutter, which had been repaired, had been repaired in such a way that it almost closed the outlet for the rainwater.


It looks like a leak from the roof but is it?

We would also add that we have been called in several times where the staining on the ceilings and walls are visible internally within the church which looks like it is rainwater coming into the structure but when we have carried out further investigations it has been what is known as cold bridging.


Cold Bridging defined:

Cold bridging is where the cold elements of the structure with condensation cause dark staining and patches. This is normally denoted by dark patches. 

We have been involved with church roofs where a roofing contractor has then quoted to replace the entirety of the roof but the problem was in fact cold bridging.

Cold bridging is very different to a leaking roof as it requires amendments to the way the church is operated by having background heating rather than just having a large amount of heat into the church prior to it being about to be used. It also involves ventilating the space, which could be the roof space, and also in some cases it involves insulation.

Little maintenance items can cause big problems

Whilst we are talking about roofs, we would add that we have come across roof problems where a small roof issue can be fixed incorrectly by a poorly skilled roofer/builder/maintenance contractor and have massive consequences.

One instance that readily comes to mind is where overcladding was used on the outside fascias and soffits of a church building. This overcladding resulted in the natural ventilation (albeit limited) that occurred being completely eliminated when the churches wooden fascias and soffits were completely sealed by the plastic cladding. In this particular case the overcladding was literally stuck over the timber.


Interstitial Condensation Defined:

This is where moisture is present within the structure of a building. The more moisture it contains, the bigger the vapour pressure and smaller amount moisture, the less vapour pressure.


Church modern flat roof problems

Cold and warm flat roofs

Warm and cold flat roofs may be a term that you have not come across before. The cold flat roof and the warm modern roof both look the same to someone who is not experienced.  However the warm roof is insulated and the cold roof is not.


Ponding and lack of falls


We consider a felt roof to be a modern roof and which has been used as a flat roof since the great Wars. Felts deteriorate relatively quickly and unfortunately or fortunately dependent upon which way you look at it the felts have a stone chipping finish which is actually where the problem laid.

As time progressed we have now moved onto a mineral felt finish, both the stone chippings and the mineral felt give protection from the extremes of a warm summer's day and an icy, frosty, snowy winter's day.

However, unfortunately with a modern roof we often come across flat, flat roofs because of the lack of skilled workmanship. This can particularly be a problem when large areas of flat roofs are present and we have recently come across a church flat roof where the falls used on the roof were so poor that what rainwater did make it into the internal gutters (very common on church roofs) did not make it to the actual drains.  


Metal church flat roofs

Lead is still relatively common on church flat roofs; even though there has been a spate of precious metals being stolen. Also there are copper church roofs which turn green over the years (we personally like the way the roof turns green in colour as it oxidises over the years) as well as various other metal roofs that we have come across over the years.

All the metal church flat roofs have the following in common:-


The expansion and contraction of the roof can the joints and this type of roof therefore does need regular maintenance. There are a large variety of mastics available today although we have to say that the jury is still out as to how well these sealants perform as they simply have not been used for that long.

As with all flat roofs, we recommend that you check your outlets are free of blockages and not designed in such a way that they block regularly. All sorts of problems can be present when accessing roofs with Health and Safety issues but it is important there are regular checks.

 Church roof flashing problems and outlet problems



Trees in church grounds


How repairing a church normally has at least a few disagreements

We thought we would include this section in this article as we are coming across disagreements within the church regarding how a property problem should be resolved. We are more than happy to inspect a church as an Independent Surveyor and give you impartial advice as to the best way forward. We are happy to work on a minimal brief using our experience of church property issues.


High level Health and Safety issues on churches

It is becoming increasingly problematic carrying out any repairs on a church, not only adhering to budgets but also because of the high level work and Health and Safety issues etc. Over the years we have gained experience surveying churches and high level buildings in general and on our travels we have come across a few solutions that may help you and save you money.


To double glaze a church or not to double glaze a church

The decision to double glaze a church or not to double glaze a church depends on the factors involved. We would say that double glazing, if carried out correctly in the right type of church building, can help reduce your heating bills and also help to secure the building.

Double glazing comes in the form of:-

  1. Plastic double glazed windows
  2. Timber frame double glazed windows
  3. Double glazing in casing in existing windows for example used where there are stained glass windows

We would comment that trickle vents in windows are a requirement of modern Building Regulations but are not necessarily required where windows are retrospectively fitted. Trickle vents are to provide an airflow to a property and it is particularly important in church kitchens or humidity generating areas where moisture is created.


Does your church need commercial catering equipment ?

This really depends upon the number of people you are catering for. Churches that we have been involved with tend to have domestic equipment which is what the church volunteers are used to using but if you are catering for larger gatherings or regularly for larger numbers of people then you may require professional services which will be more used to commercial catering equipment. The Environmental Health Standards need to be adhered to and advice can be sought from your Environmental Health Officer.


Lighting a church

There are all sorts of jokes about how many people it takes to change a light bulb well this really does become a problem with high level lighting in a church. We have discussed church lighting with many churches with the consensus of opinion being  that you arrange the lighting in whatever way you can. However this ad hoc approach does become a problem when an accident occurs.

We have also come across churches where they have the light bulbs changed by a qualified electrician as a standard way of doing things which can be expensive.

Whilst we are talking about electricians do not forget that the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IEE) recommend a test and report is carried out every five years and should be carried out by an NICEIC registered and approved electrical contractor or equivalent.

Other churches leave changing light bulbs to a maintenance man and others have a willing volunteer. Solutions can range from changing the ceiling mounted high level lights to ones that can be wound up and down to having wall mounted lights.


How to heat a church

Many would say church heating is on a last minute basis meaning that heating is only switched on minutes before the congregation arrives/an event takes place. Blasts of warm air can help the congregation feel warm but it also causes problems to a building that has become used to being cold suddenly warming up for a relatively short period of time. The change in temperature can cause cold bridging where cold elements in the structure cause cold spots which can attract condensation.

Your church is unique and so are the church property problems

This article could become a book quite easily but we do want to end by saying you should think about how your church is built and how it is used as all churches are different.

Older churches will have often what is known as mass wall construction which is very thick walls that then generally taper as the building gets higher.

More modern churches have a traditional perimeter wall construction of stone or brick.


We regularly come across people that have been involved with church maintenance for decades that have no understanding of how the building is constructed and how each element affects another element.

Again we are always happy to help you on any immediate problems and also look at any long term issues or projects.




Chartered Surveyors?

YES all our surveyors are Chartered Surveyors and members of The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors RICS 

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