Preparing for winter

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.

Please find below some guidance for your place of worship to help prevent damage and injury during extreme weather conditions. 

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

  • Locate the supply stopcock and make sure it is working correctly. Ensure that any employees or volunteers 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 pipes may freeze. We recommend you keep loft hatches open to allow warm air to circulate and keep these areas warm;
  • Make sure your boiler is regularly serviced. A broken or malfunctioning boiler can cause great disruption when the temperature drops;
  • Check that all pipes work, cisterns and tanks are well insulated especially when they are 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 outside taps located 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.

Further guidance to prevent damage or injury

If your 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 a 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 the building once every few days.

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. Any items that may be damaged by the water should be placed in dry areas and take pictures of the damage;
  • Place buckets and bowls under any visible cracks in pipes. When the ice starts to thaw, the water will be 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.

It would be unreasonable to expect the place of worship to remove every piece of snow and ice. A path into the building, of at least one metre in width, cleared and gritted before visitors arrive is advisable.

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.

Employers, even where there are just one or two employees, 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  e.g. the elderly or people with disabilities, have a duty to implement measures to ensure their safety on snow and ice will be higher.

ensure employees/colleagues are issued with/wearing suitable PPE – non slip footwear and warm clothing when clearing snow and gritting.

Please see the HSE guidance regarding icy conditions and winter weather for further information.

  • 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 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. 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 the building 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. However prior to any works being carried out in respect of any trees on or near the property that you check regarding the existence of any tree preservation orders. Please see “General Maintenance” for further information regarding tree preservation orders.
  • Make sure any crumbling brickwork is repaired before the winter, these can deteriorate in the freezing and windy weather which 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.