Given the current restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many church buildings will be unoccupied for potentially long periods, and as such emphasis should be placed upon putting various measures in place and conducting certain checks to ensure damage is not occurring to the building fabric.
A general note is that all churches should inform their Building Insurers that the church building is currently not being occupied and provide them with any information required to ensure that their cover remains valid. The insurers may want confirmation that there is a designated person who will be carrying out routine visits and inspections of your property.
Many members of your church may live locally and as such will often be passing the church premises on their daily activities. You could ask these members, if they visually pick up on any notable issues to the external appearance of the church building which cause concern, they should relay these concerns to a designated person/keyholder.
It is recommended that routine inspections of the church property and items of routine maintenance should, if possible, be carried out by one designated person, rather than multiple people. This limits the risk of cross-contamination with numerous people touching door handles and using the toilet facilities etc. If duties do have to be shared, care should be taken to thoroughly disinfect surfaces touched prior to use by the next person.
The below is a non-exhaustive list of items that should be checked on these regular visits, broken down into external and internal building items:
- Inspect guttering and downpipes to check for visible blockages. If it is raining during the visit and there is any water coming over the edge of the guttering rather than discharging freely into the downpipe then there could be a blockage in the gutter which may need clearing out.
- If the building has a slate or tile roof, a quick visual inspection from the ground should indicate any slipped slates/tiles. Additional visual inspections of slate/tile roofs may be required after particularly high winds, and, if there is any slate debris found on the ground, this could indicate issues which may need remedial work.
- Visually check flashing locations (at roof abutments with walls etc.) to ensure that all flashings are intact. There is quite a prevalence of lead flashing being stolen from notably unoccupied sites in recent times, given the perceived high market value of lead.
- Visually inspect external walls for any obvious defects such as cracks, deep erosion, or missing pointing to joints. Checked the bases of walls to see if there are any signs of rising damp.
- Check low-level vents in external walls (such as air bricks) to vent the internal floor void to ensure that they are not blocked or broken (which may allow rodent access).
- Check the water and heating system pipework for any obvious evidence of leaks.
- If the central heating system is oil-fired, ensure that the levels of oil have been dipped to ensure that there is adequate supply and no risk of running out.
- Keep the heating system running either at a constant low level, or on cycles on a thermostatically controlled or timed basis. This should ensure that the building temperature does not drop to levels which would be detrimental to the building fabric over a long period or cause frost damage and burst pipes. If adequate heating cannot be provided, heating and water systems should be drained down.
- Visually inspect plaster to walls and ceilings for any damp patches, which could be indicators of issues to be explored.
- Flush all toilets weekly and run taps in basins for a few minutes to avoid the risk of legionella.
- Keep kitchen areas free of perishable food items. This would include ensuring the fridge is kept clear. If any non-perishable foods are being kept within the kitchen, they should be stored in sealed containers within closed cupboards.
- Conduct a general check to see if there is any evidence of rodents or other pests (e.g. with droppings etc.). If there is any evidence, conduct a check to see if it is evident where the source of any infestation is, and traps may need to be laid, or if a persistent problem, a specialist contacted.
- Ensure that background ventilation systems are working effectively where present, including leaving trickle-vents to windows in the open position. This in combination with the running of the heating system intermittently should help to prevent issues of damp, condensation or mould.
- Check all hand sanitiser dispensers and fill/replace as necessary.
- Vacuum carpets at least once a month to try and keep spaces dust free.
- Check the fire alarm once a week, and check any local smoke alarms and replace batteries as necessary.
- Check the intruder alarm and give any monitoring security company the contact details of the designated person, who is generally attending the church premises to conduct inspections.
Church of England – Securing & Caring for your Church Buildings during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Historic England – Maintenance Plan for Older Buildings.