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Looking after your church in the cold snap

January marks the chilly beginning of a new year and its frequently sub-zero temperatures will inevitably take their toll on churches across the country. To make sure you can weather this bitterly cold month unscathed, think about how you can protect your church and its people from the elements. In particular, consider how to maintain your water pipes and pathways.

Watch our video

Take a look at our short video for advice on preparing your church during the cold weather.

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    The freezing weather often has a tendency to creep up on us, so it’s important to make sure your church is prepared for winter. Our winter risk advice can help you to guarantee that your new year starts with a cheer.

    Ensuring your pipes are in good condition, keeping your church heated throughout the cold spell, making regular visits to your church and taking a few minutes to find out where the stopcock is are all things that can save you a big headache, and even bigger bills, this winter.

    One thing to think about is that the number of slips and trips shoots up when there is snow on the ground, so it’s important to take preventative measures to protect others and, ultimately, yourself. You and your church trustees have a duty of care to ensure the safety of all church visitors; and this becomes even more relevant when the freezing weather comes to town.

    Don’t forget that the safety of anyone clearing snow and ice must be taken into consideration as well!

    When the worst of winter hits, you’ll be glad you took the time to minimise any risks that can accompany cold weather.

Look after your pipes

Ensure your pipes are in good condition, are well lagged and that the church’s heating system is working efficiently. Even a tiny hole or crack in a pipe could mean the start of much bigger problems once the temperature drops below freezing, with a rupture sending gallons of water into your church. Water damage can affect the very fabric of a building, not just soft furnishings, books and valuables.

By making sure that your boiler and heating systems are serviced regularly and that the frost thermostat is working correctly, you can reduce the risk of a burst pipe significantly.

Do you know where to find your stopcock?

If you are unlucky enough to have a burst pipe, the time in which it takes to shut off the water supply is critical. The very last thing you need is for a full-scale search for the stopcock to be mounted at this point. Before the cold weather sets in, check where the stopcock is located and ensure that other people know its location too – your trustees and volunteers.

With water entering the church, it’s not just the building that is at risk: your safety is vital too. Once you have stopped the flow of water, consider the church’s electrical wiring system before you do anything else. Switch off anything electrical that you think has been affected, and only when you have had the all-clear from a professional electrician, should you use them again. If any fuse boxes have been affected by the water, it may be sensible to turn off the electricity supply until you can have the system checked.

You may be able to find a frozen water pipe before it bursts. If you do, turn off the water supply and then try to thaw the pipe using gentle heat. On no account should you apply a naked flame to the pipe: this is more likely to damage it. A hairdryer or hot water bottle are the most effective means of thawing a frozen pipe.

Getting away from the cold

Are you planning to jet abroad to escape the cold winter weather? If so, it is important to ensure that your church is being cared for in your absence. You should also think about your own property as many pipes burst while owners are absent, meaning that the water damage is more severe because there was no one to turn off the stopcock. Keep your property heated, even if it’s just at a minimum setting; this will reduce the chance of a pipe freezing. Also, ask a friend or neighbour to keep an eye on things and check the property regularly. If you are going away for a long time, you may also need to drain and shut off your water system to comply with the conditions of your home insurance.

Keep church access safe for visitors

A pleasant walk to church during the summer months can turn into slippery ice rink when the snow arrives. But to clear the path...or not to clear the path? It’s a debate we’ve seen conducted in the media on a number of occasions and it has left a lot of trustees confused about just what are their duties. The answer, in simple terms, is that church trustees have a duty of care to ensure the safety of all church visitors.

What this translates as is, whenever it is reasonable for you to do so, it is your responsibility to ensure at least one path – including its lighting and signage – is clear of snow and ice. The key word in this sentence is ‘reasonable’; that means if a service is being held in the middle of a snowstorm, it’s probably not going to be reasonable for you to clear a path there and then. However, once it stops snowing and the weather clears, then it might be construed as ‘reasonable’ to get out a brush and shovel.

A sensible measure is to keep a close eye on the weather forecasts during the winter months. Then, if there is a chance of heavy snow or very low temperatures, measures can be taken in advance to maintain safe access – for example, putting down gravel or rock salt on a path way. Remember, not every path needs to be treated: just one is acceptable. It is also important to consider the safety of the people clearing the snow and ice.

For more information call the team on 0345 606 1331

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