Safer Places of Worship

Seasonal Considerations

Please find below some guidance for your place of worship to help prevent damage and injury when we suffer from extreme weather.

Every winter, millions of pounds worth of damage is caused by frozen and burst pipes. Whilst a frozen or burst pipe in the home may be inconvenient and costly, a burst pipe could potentially cause irreparable damage to your place of worship.

There are a number of steps you can take to ensure the place of worship is well prepared for the winter weather.

  • locate the supply stopcock and make sure it is working correctly. Ensure that any employees or volunteers at the place of worship are also aware of its location in case of emergency;
  • keep buildings heated during prolonged periods of cold temperature;
  • consider setting automatic timers to ‘constant’ or ’24 hours’. Use your thermostat to maintain a low level;
  • modern methods of insulation can be effective in keeping heat within your place of worship;
  • lofts can become very cold, and could cause pipes to freeze. We recommend you keep loft hatches open to allow warm air to circulate and keep these areas warm;
  • make sure your place of worship boiler is ready for winter. A broken boiler can cause great disruption when the temperature drops;
  • check that all pipes work, cisterns and tanks are well insulated especially when they are located in unheated areas like lofts, cellars and outbuildings. They should be insulated with good quality waterproof foam lagging, meeting British Standard 6700 and Water Supply Regulations;
  • repair any dripping taps, a trickle of water can freeze and completely block pipes. Any taps outside in the grounds of the place of worship should be drained over the winter months;
  • if the building is fitted with sprinklers, seek professional advice from the installation or maintenance company.

Additional steps to protect your place of worship if it’s to be unattended for any significant length of time.

If your place of worship building becomes unoccupied it is important that you contact your insurance provider straight away. You must also advise if the property is used for activities less than once per calendar month.

If your place of worship is to be unoccupied for more than three days (at any time of the year), consider turning off the water and draining down the water system – leaving taps open and plugs left out.

Alternatively, leave the heating on low and ask a neighbour or member of the place of worship to check on the building once every few days to make sure that everything is in order.

What to do if the worst does happen

If your pipes do freeze or leak, the following guidelines will help to minimise the damage:

  • turn off your stopcock to prevent any more water getting into the pipes;
  • move valuables out of the way. Anything that may be damaged by the water should be placed in dry areas and take pictures of any damaged items;
  • place buckets and bowls under any visible cracks in pipes. This is so when the ice starts to thaw, the water is collected to reduce damage. Also open taps so that the water has somewhere to escape when the ice melts;
  • don’t apply heat to the frozen pipes or switch on the water heating appliances. Defrosting should be done slowly and safely and never with a naked flame. Use a hairdryer or hot water bottle, but be careful, pipes can burst as they thaw;
  • never switch on water heating appliances, boilers, or immersion heaters until you are sure the system has thawed otherwise there’s a risk of explosion. If you have a gas or solid fuel fire, or electric heaters unconnected to the central heating, you should use these to reheat your place of worship;
  • once you’re satisfied that the plumbing has thawed and no leakage is apparent - close the taps and slowly open the stopcock. When the pressure has returned, check the plumbing system for leakage and only then switch on water.

Clearing snow from paths

It would be unreasonable to expect the place of worship to remove every piece of snow and ice, but a path into the building of at least one metre in width cleared and gritted well before visitors arrive may be advisable to discharge your duty of care to those visiting your place of worship.

If a place of worship opens its doors every day, perhaps as a cafe or drop-in centre, more care and effort will be required, especially if there are employees or volunteers on the premises who will need to be kept safe under the Workplace Regulations and Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Employers, even where there are just one or two employees, as is often the case in places of worship, need to ensure that appropriate procedures are in place to make sure that a pathway into work is properly cleared and gritted well before the employees arrive. Occupiers, who expect visitors that might require extra care for example the elderly or disabled, have a duty to implement measures to ensure their safety on snow and ice will be higher.

Other tips for weatherproofing your place of worship for the winter

Visual inspections of the external walls and roof coverings should be carried out at frequent intervals to reveal any defects requiring attention at an early stage. Look out particularly for loose or defective pinnacles, parapets, roof crosses, slipped or missing slates and missing lead or lead flashing. Inspections should be made after every period of stormy weather.

Clear the guttering of any debris on a regular basis. This is more likely to be an issue in winter due to fallen leaves and increased levels of rainfall and ice. The water unable to reach drain pipes due to debris can freeze and expand causing damage, this can also overflow and seep into wall cavities which may result in leaks inside the building.

In order to protect during heavy storms, it may be worth cutting back trees from windows so they don’t blow in the direction of the building in windy weather. Large trees could cause severe damage such as smashing windows if they fall towards the place of worship.

Make sure any crumbling brickwork is repaired before the winter, these can take a real hit in the freezing and windy weather and can result in serious issues.

Repair any fragile fences, posts or brickwork on boundary walls. This could save added expense and reduce the damage that could result from them being blown around by the wind.

A large number of properties in the UK are susceptible to flooding. If you think that your place of worship could be at risk it is important to try to reduce the impact and damage that flood water can cause.

Understanding what the risk is

Undertaking a risk assessment will assist you to understand how large the risk of flooding is.

You can establish this by looking at:

  • the flood history of your place of worship and the surrounding area;
  • how close the building is from rivers, lakes, and other water sources;
  • how close you are to water drainage ditches or streams;
  • whether the property in a low lying area;
  • whether it is in a flood plain.

Protecting your property against flooding

  • If possible, raise electrical and telecommunication sockets to at least 1 metre.
  • Consider fitting flood protection devices such as airbrick covers, demountable barriers, non-return valves for drains and sewerage waste pipes.
  • Ensure that your place of worship is inspected and any maintenance done on drainage systems at least annually.
  • Report any street drainage problems to your local authority.
  • Move any valuable items that could get damaged to a higher elevation in the building.
  • Create a flood kit which could include any important contact details, details of the locations of utility shut off points such as your stop cock.

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