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Types of Church Building - Conclusion

What are the implications of the changes in church design for maintenance? One can distinguish certain features of all types of church that need constant vigilance. These include:

  • Maintain the integrity of the roof covering, whether this be the traditional slate, ceramic tiles, copper, lead, and stone slab, or more recent concrete tiles, asphalt, roofing felt and coated or uncoated metal. This involves regular checking for slipped and broken slates, slabs and tiles, and cracks in, or other deterioration of other materials. Particular attention should be paid to ridge protection, especially after storms
  • Ensure that rainwater disposal is effective. This means checking that gutters at the edges of roofs (rhones), and valley gutters (both inclined and horizontal) are clear of obstructions and free from cracking, perforation and breakages. Particular attention should be paid to features which cannot readily be inspected from ground level. Note that rainwater disposal does not end at ground level: where the water goes when it reaches the ground is also important.
  • Ensure that copes and upstands are fully waterproof. Open joints in these features are common sources of the ingress of water in church buildings. 
  • Ensure that the junction of roofing materials and copes or upstands is well-maintained, and not cracked, perforated, or distorted. 
  • Ensure that the pointing of masonry, brickwork and blockwork is in good condition. Open joints in walls, especially those facing the prevailing wind, can lead to serious ingress of water. 
  • Maintain the integrity of rendering over masonry, brickwork and blockwork. The separation of render from the underlying structure can pose problems of public safety, and result in deterioration of the structure. Detached render can be detected by tapping it: it will return a dull, rather than a crisp sound.
  • Keep painted or varnished features (including timber fascias and bargeboards) in good condition. Wooden or metal features not properly protected by a sound paint or varnish film can speedily rot or rust. Post-war churches often have steel features, such as bell-towers. These should be kept well-painted to prevent structural deterioration. Painting should be seen as a structural as well as an aesthetic responsibility.  
  • Ensure that window panes, of traditional construction, are kept properly puttied into their frames, and to ensure that the junction between frame and wall is adequately protected by mastic.
  • Make sure that stained glass windows are adequately supported by saddle bars, and that cracking of leadwork is not becoming serious.
  • Ensure that both the body of the church, and the space under the floor, is adequately ventilated. It is especially important that perforated ventilators below floor level are kept unobstructed. Failure to ventilate adequately can result in the spread of dry rot, in the growth of mould, and in condensation, which can affect interior fittings and furnishings.
  • Check for cracking of walls, and to observe if cracks are widening. If they are, the advice of a structural engineer should be sought..

In addition to the foregoing, which I should stress is not a comprehensive list, there are points which are specific to particular groups of churches.

Churches with towers or steeples:

  • The integrity of the fabric of the feature needs to be checked at regular intervals by an independent expert (that is, one with appropriate experience with no immediate interest in the value of contracts for works). 
  • The points made above regarding open joints in masonry (especially copes), and the integrity of roof coverings apply to these features 
  • The fastening of finials (including weather vanes) should be checked as part of the regular inspections. 
  • Where there are louvres protecting belfry openings these should be well maintained. Defective louvres are a common cause of water ingress. 
  • If there is a bell, or more than one, the integrity of the framework, or masonry, supporting the bell(s) should be checked. Rot or rust (or deterioration of masonry) can weaken supporting structures to a dangerous degree. 
  • The junction between a tower or steeple and a roof can be a weak point, and particular emphasis in inspection should be given to the integrity of lead flashings at this junction.

Finally, one should bear in mind that access to church buildings is also important, and the safety of steps and paths should also be checked for undue wear, and for possible trip hazards.

These lists of points to be checked are not comprehensive. They cover, however, areas where failure to address what are basically 'housekeeping' issues can result in the need for expensive remedial works.


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