Church property maintenance problems


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Churches with Property Problems

Over the years as Independent Surveyors we have looked at a number of churches with property problems and have helped them solve various issues cost effectively as cost is always important whilst meeting the needs of the particular building and people who worship there. We are often able to offer a choice of ways to resolve the matter which may be going before a committee decision. We appreciate the help and advice which is needed when trying to come to an agreement with church maintenance and particularly with more major problems.


Help with problems with the church fabric


The following article on 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 the way as Independent Surveyors we can help. We would add that all churches are different and seem to have slightly different property problems but nevertheless we have not come across anything we have not been able to resolve as yet and we would add in many cases we have been asked to look at one problem on a church property only to discover there are more pressing property issues that we have been able to draw to the attention of the church concerned.


Solving Church roof problems

Church roofs are a good example of typical problems that we as Independent Surveyors are asked to look at on a church as the roofs are normally at relatively high level and do suffer from the best and worst weather conditions and tend to have problems sooner rather than later and are very difficult to view and come to a decision on.

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 or when someone gets wet! 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 is not even a roof leak.



Pattern water staining within a church ceiling



Please see our surveying articles on:-

Builders, Building Problems and Roofs and how a Chartered Surveyor can help

Common Pitched Roofs

Roof Problems

Roof Problems and Information


Main church roofs and other church roofs

Let's first define this...

Main church roofs defined:

The main church roof is the highest and higher church roof.

Other church roofs defined:

The other church roofs are the lower level church roofs.

We have found over the years that the normal solutions you would have on your home roof are not necessarily the right solutions for a church roof. In particular there are much greater wind velocities than you would experience on a house and also you have to consider such areas as the weight of materials and the weight of the person climbing onto the roof and the damage that they may in turn cause looking to see whether to either repair the roof or replace it (and after all you do not want them to fall through the church roof).

We have been on a number of main church roofs where the roofing contractors that have been called in before us and have caused damage to the roof by the way they have accessed the roof and also recommended to replace the roof which is simply is not necessary; this is often because replacing roofs is what they do. It can be a very expensive waste of money particularly with today's requirement of scaffolding for 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 getting the blame for 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.


Gutters on flat roof which have been made smaller by the new roof felt work but should have been kept the same size or made larger

Outlet to rear of the property has been reduced but needs to be changed back to its original size as it is too small


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.

Cold bridging to portal frame and also to the ridge of the roof


Please see our surveying articles on:-

Condensation and Cold Bridging

Condensation Problems

Condensation and Damp walls


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 when the church had wooden fascias and soffits were completely eliminated by the sealing of this by having a plastic cladding added. In this particular case it was overcladding which means it is literally stuck over the timber.

Whilst the overcladding may look neater and smarter it can cause many problems as church roofs need to be ventilated as the way a church is used with times of not being occupied and then being full of a congregation and being heated as well can result in interstitial condensation and cold bridging.

Overcladding to fascias and soffits

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.

Cold bridging defined:

Cold bridging is caused by a colder element in the structure allowing coldness to pass through the structure much quicker when warm moist air is present in the property.


Please see our surveying article on:-

Problems with cap over and overclad fascia and soffitt board


Church modern flat roof problems

Cold and warm flat roofs

This may be a term that you have not come across before. These are an older style roof and a modern style roof both look the same to someone who is not experienced with the different types of roof however one of them means that you save your heat as it is insulated and the other means that you heat the local area.

What you probably have forming your roof


Ponding and lack of falls

We often say that a flat roof is flat meaning that a even a flat roof should have a fall on it without this you will have rainwater ponding on the flat roof as you can see in the photographs which causes deterioration to the roof.

Ponding on a new flat roof deteriorates the roof quickly

When we saw this flat roof we could clearly see that no one had actually checked the quality of work that had been carried out. This is often the case as the work is at high level and difficult to access safely.

Rainwater sitting in internal gutter, again a new flat roof


A modern roof we consider to be a felt roof 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 had 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 often the skill of workmanship that is no longer present and we have therefore come across flat, flat roofs. 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 present were so poor that what rainwater did make it into the internal gutters (internal gutters are very common on church roofs) then did not make it to the actual drains. The fall was so bad that the rainwater was building up without going in the direction of the actual drain.


Please see our surveying articles on:-

Asphalt flat roofs

Flat roofs

Leaking flat roofs


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:-

1.  The metal gets warm and expands during the summer months

2.  The metal gets cool and cold and contracts during the winter months

Close up of church copper roof

The expansion and contraction of the roof can affect any of the joints and this type of roof does need regular maintenance therefore to these joints. 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 many years.

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

Whilst we appreciate that church budgets are very limited however when having a flat roof carried out do not allow the roofer to carry out an unprofessional job with poor detailing. This can include anything from using a felt flashing rather than a lead flashing. If a flashing is used then it needs to be correctly bedded into the wall and in case of lead flashing lead plugs and either a good mortar cement mix or a mastic such as Plumber's Mate or similar should be used.

Mastic repairs to main roof internal gutter

Other areas are ensuring that the flat roof has a fall, we like to see a fall of fifteen degrees on church flat roof and we also like to see outlets for the rainwater to travel to that are of a suitable size. In our experience, in most cases where churches have been extended no thought has been given to how this increases the amount of rainwater that is trying to travel down a downpipe. If the roof area has been doubled by way of an extension then do not expect the rainwater to still be able to travel down the rainwater outlet without making alterations to the drainage system. With the larger surface area it is more likely that leaves, twigs and branches from a tree to land on the roof and then wash down into the gutters thereby forming blockages.

Mastic repairs

Poor quality mastic repairs


Trees in church grounds

Most churches have trees which can cause problems from anything from getting leaves and branches onto both pitched and flat church roofs which then wash down blocking gutters to trees that are simply too close to the church which can affect the building.


Although equally it is not correct to cut a tree down just because it is close to a church building as rather than causing settlement where the tree is too close to the church it can cause heave where the tree has been removed it is no longer taking water away this can cause an increase in the earth which causes heave damage to the church structure.

Influencing Distance Defined:

This is the distance in which a tree may be able to cause damage to the subject property.

Settlement defined:

Settlement is downward movement caused by compression of the ground by foundation loads. Settlement does not crack buildings only differential settlement potentially does so; damage due to consolidation of poor or made ground usually becomes apparent within the first ten years (e.g. Building Research Establishment Digests)

Heave defined:

Heave is upward movement caused by activity in the ground


How to fix 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 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 and pass on our experience of church building issues.


High level Health and Safety issues on churches

It is becoming increasingly problematic carrying out any repairs on a church, we not only mean adhering to budgets but also high level work with Health and Safety issues etc. Over the years with our experiences as Independent Surveyors surveying different churches and high level buildings in general 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 is really down to you as there really are so many factors involved in this however 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 can come in the form of:-

  1. Plastic double glazed windows that are known very well
  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.

Trickle Vents Defined:

Small vents to the windows to allow air movement inside the property to stop a build up of fumes or humidity.

As Independent Surveyors we use definitions such as this within our building surveys, structural surveys, structural reports, engineer's reports, specific defects reports to help explain everyone, regardless of their property knowledge, property problems and how best to resolve the property issues.

Trickle vent allowing air movement



Please see our surveying article on:-

Windows and how to understand if you have a problem


Do you need commercial catering equipment within a church catering facility

There is no simple answer to do you need commercial catering equipment with a church catering facility it 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. If there are any problems professional catering equipment may be required.


Lighting a church

There are all sorts of jokes about how many people it takes to change a light bulb well it really does become a true problem with high level lighting in a church. We have discussed church lighting with many churches with the consensus of opinion we would say being is 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 reports every five years where the test and report 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 or to have wall mounted lights or to cross your fingers.

You really do need to think about how you can change a light bulb without a potential accident.


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.

Even more modern churches have structural frames usually in concrete although there is no reason why they could not be in a metal structural frame.

All of these different ways of constructing mean that you have different types of buildings so one building that looks relatively similar to another may be constructed in a different manner. You need to have a solution specific to your building.

We are more than happy to include this type of information within our report (if you request it and do not already know the construction) and how this will affect your dealings with the church building as a whole. 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.


Independent Surveyors

If you truly do want an independent expert opinion from an Independent Surveyor with regard to building surveys, structural surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, specific defects report, dilapidations or any other property matters please contact 0800 298 5424 for an Independent Surveyor to give you a call back.


Please see our surveying articles on:-

What is an independent survey?

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About this article

We hope you found the article of use and if you have any experiences that you feel should be added to this article that would benefit others, or you feel that some of the information that we have put is wrong then please do not hesitate to contact us (we are only human).

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