Common maintenance issues in churches and churchyards

With over 550 Churches in our diocese, a number of them experience the same maintenance issues as their neighbours.

Every five years churches are asked to commission a Quinquennial Report: this is a document which looks at the health of a building. It is prepared by a suitably experienced Professional Advisor and is a visual survey of all accessible parts of the building, roofs, walls, windows, stairs, galleries, toilets, kitchens etc., to give a report on the interior and exterior of the church building, as well as it’s churchyard / setting.

Its purpose is to help identify any maintenance issues that may need attention either urgently, during the quinquennial period, or in the longer term. The benefit of this is to help churches plan what repairs need doing and when. It can also help identify whether it is a job that can be done quickly or whether serious funds and permissions may be required.

Not all maintenance needs to be viewed in trepidation - there are a number of pieces of work that if done on a regular basis, with avoid bigger and more costly work at a later date.

A lot of these jobs include making sure your building is watertight. Here are some of the most common:

  • Replace or re-fix slipped or broken roof tiles.
  • Remove leaves twice a year, and make sure plants are only growing where they are meant to and not in your walls or roofs.
  • Ensure that your gutters and downpipes don’t leak when it rains. If rainwater consistently lands on your walls, it will eventually seep through and cause damage either to the internal plasterwork, or to the stonework itself.
  • Keep drains clear. Rod if possible and remove rubbish or debris from surface drains.
  • Repointing. As older churches age, the mortar used between the stonework begins to wear away. It can be tempting for churches to get this looked at by someone that can re point using a ‘bit of cement’, unfortunately this is not best for your building. Older churches benefit from lime mortar, it lets the building breathe. Lime mortars are generally softer and more porous compared to mixes using cement so allow moisture to evaporate from joints more freely. This can help to lower moisture levels in the wall and reduce the build-up of soluble salts in the stone face, which is the corrosive substance that causes the surface of the walls to rub away.
  • Rising ground levels. When rain hits the ground it causes the soil to move, only by about a millimetre a year, but when you have a Church that is 60, 100 or 150 years old, that begins to add up and as the ground level rises so does the chance of water ingress and damp. If your church has failing internal plaster at low levels, it may be that your architect identifies the need to lower your ground levels in their Quinquennial Report,.

Two other common issues to be aware of are poor ventilation and beetle infestation.

If a church is only used once a week, or even less regularly, it can be tempting close the doors and windows and try to make the building as airtight as possible. One of the problems that this causes can be a build up of damp, which seeps into the stonework and the woodwork.

A building may have damp issues for any of the reasons listed above, but also because heating creates moisture in the air and so do people. This damp needs a way to escape.

It is important to keep a building ventilated; by pulling fresh air in, damp air will be expelled.

Your professional advisor may comment on the lack of ventilation and seek to remedy through potential changes in the built fabric where necessary and with relevant permission. If a building isn’t used regularly, ensure that ventilation is maintained through opening window hoppers or doors where it is secure to do so.

Also think about if there are parts of the building where the air doesn’t circulate freely. Are there bookcases against the walls, does the vestry door only get opened before and after a service, could the door to the toilets be left ajar during the week?

Another side effect of damp and poor ventilation can be beetle infestation. This can be mild, but if left untreated can move freely through pulpit, pews, wooden floors or rafters.

Beetles like the damp, but they leave traces of where they have been, showing up as little holes and what looks like fine sawdust. Beetle infestation can be treated with an appropriate high street product, and if caught early as it will save time and money. If this is observed your professional advisor should be informed.

Maintenance Plans

Some churches find it helpful to have a maintenance plan. A document that lists all the jobs that get done on a regular basis. This might be monthly, quarterly, twice a year or annually. It can be as detailed or as brief as you want to make it but is a useful document for all churches to create.

The National Churches Trust has a template which you can either use or alter to make your own personalised Plan. As a general rule, the larger the building or the more complex it is, the larger the plan should be. A small church might only need a plan that has a couple of pages.

Finally, some churches may feel that they have the resources to employ a contractor to come out once a year to undertake the small jobs listed above. This can be a worthwhile investment, but if not possible, having the jobs listed may mean that a small working party could plan to work together, providing company and making the tasks seem less like work.

Many of these small tasks can be done with List A Permission, which means they just need to be recorded in your Church Log Book. Any works which will have a visual effect on the church, internally or externally, or will alter existing built fabric may require List B or Faculty Permission. If you want to check, then you can contact the DAC (Diocesan Advisory Committee) at

Checked by the Lichfield DAC, May 2021


Page last updated: Wednesday 30th June 2021 8:41 AM
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