Every church, chapel, or meeting house is unique. Each was built and has developed relative to its local area and community. There will be maintenance tasks which you need to do which your neighbouring church does not, and vice versa.
However, there are standard tasks which ALL those who care for churches, historic or not, should be carrying out on a regular basis. Historic England is one of a few organisations which has a great amount of detail about what to look for, and what the underlying causes could be.
Historic England: maintenance plan
Keeping your roof weatherproof and watertight is vital for the maintenance of your entire building. Depending on your roofing materials, and how complicated your roof structure is, you might need to check for:
- cracked, punctured or lifted lead
- slipped or broken tiles or slates
- missing or broken ridge tiles / leading
- debris or corroded lead in valleys and gulleys
- moisture or damp in roof timbers
- active beetle infestation in roof timbers
- debris, infestation or signs of bats in roof space
Please remember: roofs can be dangerous and all inspections should be done with proper risk assessments and safety equipment. Buy some binoculars and a torch and make friends with your neighbours... their first floor window might be a good place to start your inspection. If you spot a problem, don’t carry out any work without consulting an expert with the right equipment.
National Churches Trust: resource centre 'roofs'
Many cases of damp inside a building can be traced back to something very simple outside, like a blocked or faulty gutter. Keeping your rainwater goods clear and allowing the water to flow freely away from your building is one of the most important routine maintenance tasks.
You should clear all gutters twice a year (November and May), but interim checks to your rainwater goods are best done when it’s raining… grab your umbrella and walk around your building, checking for leaks, overflows and any other problems and making a note of them ready for a dry day.
Check all drains and soak ways. Lift any manhole covers, and flush drains to ensure that they are running freely and without blockage
Again: take care if you plan to do any work yourself, and make sure you have the right safety equipment for the job.
National Churches Trust: resource centre 'gutters, raimwater goods and drainage'
Solid and stable, and sometimes ancient, it is easy to take the walls of your church for granted. Yet, walls are often a key part of the heritage of your building… showing off local building materials and techniques, and the telling the story of building, rebuilding and enhancing as your community’s needs changed.
You should check carefully for damage or wear, as well as for the use of inappropriate and damaging materials or techniques in the recent past. Inside, you should check for signs of damp or water penetration. You should ensure that any problems are dealt with using matching materials and techniques, which will not only look better than modern alternatives; but will also allow your building to breathe. If pointing is required, flush pointing is preferred and you should avoid ‘strap’ pointing which can cause damage to stonework.
National Churches Trust: resource centre 'stonework'
National Churches Trust: resource centre 'brickwork'
Floors and ceilings
Floors and ceilings probably need little maintenance beyond cleaning.
Check ceilings for any signs of damp, or structural movement… which may indicate a lack of ventilation in the roof space.
Check all floors for signs of damp and timber floors for excessive spring. Both may indicate lack of ventilation or poor drainage outside. Carefully check stairs for soundness, and keep clear of clutter.
National Churches Trust: resource centre 'floors'
Windows and doors
Window openings, stained and plain glass, and original wooden doors are real assets to your heritage. They help to tell the story of your church, and may have been changed over time to reflect fashion or architectural and artistic advancements. Many are centuries old, and will last for many more if maintained properly.
Window openings should be checked for signs of wear and weather damage to stone or brickwork. Also check for damage caused by expanding metal, embedded in the structure to hold glass in place.
You should check glass, especially stained or coloured glass, for signs of condensation or damp. It can cause huge deteriation if left unchecked. Usually the cause is lack of ventilation, which should be addressed as soon as possible.
Check that all doors, and door furniture is in working order. Check wooden doors for signs of damp or active beetle infestation. Ensure that all doors forming part of fire protection or means of escape are not blocked or locked shut.
National Churches Trust: resource centre 'windows'
National Churches Trust: resource centre 'stained glass'
Furnishings and fittings
Organ: check in the organ chamber for damp or structural problems. Remove all rubbish or stored items and keep the area clear and well ventilated. Also check that the annual tuning and maintenance has been carried out.
Furniture: check that all furniture is in good order and structurally sound. Dispose of unwanted and surplus items of furniture and fittings if possible.
Fabrics: check storage of all fabrics, but particularly historic or delicate altar cloths and vestments. Make sure they are stored correctly so prevent damage or decay through damp.
National Churches Trust: resource centre
Utilities and protections
You should carry out regular checks on utilities and appliances, such as checking for leaking pipes, dripping taps, worn wires or inefficiency. These checks will help you protect your church from accidental damage, and may also highlight areas where you can reduce energy or water consumption and save money.
All electrical equipment should be PAT tested, and gas boilers should be serviced… both annually.
Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors should be fitted where possible, and regularly tested. If you have fire extinguishers check them annually to see if they need servicing or replacement.
National Churches Trust: resource centre
Always make time to check any external areas around your church.
You should check churchyard walls, monuments and memorials, paths for any structural problems, and keep them clear of moss and leaves. Also check hard landscaping for water drainage, and make sure that rainwater is not running towards your building.
Check trees and other vegetation for disease or in case they are obstructing paths, and cut back or remove where necessary. Make sure you check with planning authorities if any trees have preservation orders.
Check that external septic or fuel tanks are sealed and working correctly, and make sure that nothing is stored or gathered up against external; walls (eg debris from churchyard cleanups) as this may cause damp.
National Churches Trust: resource centre 'churchyards'
National Churches Trust: resource centre 'boundary walls, gates, lychgates and haha’s'