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Is your church’s heating system ready for winter?

On paper, the average Anglican church is a tricky place to heat. The building will have large internal spaces, high ceilings and, putting the more modern churches to one side for the moment, the construction of its doors and leaded windows will make it difficult to insulate. So, unless you want a rather chilly congregation stamping and blowing into its hands during the hymns, a well-maintained heating system is important – which means conducting a number of checks throughout the year. Furthermore, from an insurance perspective, heating systems create several risks of their own, of which trustees need to be aware.

Annual inspections

Most churches will have a system powered by either mains gas or fuel oil, stored in an external tank. Both require an annual service by a suitably qualified engineer, which means they are registered with CORGI or its replacement body, Gas Safe – or, for oil systems, OFTEC. You will need to have records of these inspections and they also provide an opportune moment to tidy up the boiler room and remove anything that might fuel a fire.

Frozen pipes

At Ecclesiastical, the most common problem we see with heating systems is water leaks. Pipes burst in cold weather as the water inside them freezes; when the ice thaws, water pours into the church damaging the fabric of the building as well as furnishings, books, carpets and electrical equipment. In order to prevent this, we recommend an annual inspection of the church’s plumbing system by an engineer registered with the Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers.

All pipes should be lagged to protect against the cold and it’s a sensible idea to find the building’s stopcock and make sure other volunteers and trustees know its location, too. A froststat is another good investment: this device will turn on the heating should the temperate drop too low, thus preventing pipes from freezing.

Carbon monoxide

During recent years, we’ve all become more aware of the potential for ill-maintained heating systems to produce fumes. Carbon monoxide is particularly dangerous as it is odourless. Installing a carbon monoxide detector is a simple way of managing this risk – they’re quite common in homes and are relatively inexpensive. One is probably sufficient for most churches.

Portable gas heaters

Some churches supplement their heating with portable heaters powered by cylinders of liquid petroleum gas (LPG). These are not recommended as they pose a fire risk and, should a fire break out in the church, the emergency services will be wary of entering if they know there are LPG cylinders inside which could explode. There is also the risk of children or vandals entering the church and interfering with the cylinders. If your church does need to use them, think carefully about where you site them.

Oil heating

Finally, a word on external oil tanks. Under current legislation, anyone with an oil tank is required to have a drip tray or a bund – a protective wall or embankment – beneath the tank to capture any oil that leaks. The law also specifies how large these should be; if in doubt, speak to an engineer or contact our customers services team on 0345 7773322.

Apart from leaks, problems with church heating systems are few and far between. By ensuring annual checks are carried out and just being vigilant, you can ensure your church is not one of the unlucky few.

Ecclesiastical Insurance Group plc (EIG) Reg No 1718196. Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc (EIO) Reg No 24869. Ecclesiastical Life Ltd (ELL) Reg No 243111. Ecclesiastical Financial Advisory Services Ltd (EFAS) Reg No 2046087. Ecclesiastical Underwriting Management Ltd (EUML) Reg No 2368571. E.I.O. Trustees Ltd Reg No 941199. EdenTree Investment Management Ltd (EIM) Reg No 2519319. All companies are registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester GL1 1JZ. EIO and ELL are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 113848 (EIO) and 110318 (ELL). EFAS and EIM are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Firm Reference Number 126123 (EFAS) and 527473 (EIM). EUML is an appointed representative of EIO who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 402228.