Last edited 27 Mar 2022

Main author

Institute of Historic Building Conservation Institute / association Website

Care for your church and church property

Care for your curch.jpg



A small regular investment in maintenance can limit the need for, or extent of, expensive repairs: the annual cleaning of gutters and drains can be much cheaper and less inconvenient than having to cope with a serious outbreak of dry rot in timber roof trusses following years of neglect.

Old buildings also contain ‘embodied energy’. All the effort and materials it took to build them in the past will be wasted if they are allowed to rot, which is hardly a sustainable position in the age of sustainability.


Even minor leaks can lead to severe problems if left unattended. It is therefore essential that regular maintenance is carried out to ensure the roof remains wind and watertight.

It is recommended that inspections are carried out by a Chartered Professional with conservation accreditation, but regular monitoring by Church volunteers can spot slipped slates or other changes which could require urgent attention.

Repairs should be carried out by a trained and experienced contractor under professional direction.

Original slates should be carefully salvaged and set aside for later reinstatement. Replacement slates should be introduced to less noticeable areas of the roof, with originals being set aside for use in the more prominent areas.

New slates should match the original building material as closely as possible in type, colour, texture, size and thickness.

Only where roofing materials have come to the natural end of their life or repairs are no longer cost effective should the full reslating of a roof be considered.

A rough guide is that where one fifth or more of the slates have to be renewed, re-roofing should be considered.

Check for defects such as:


Walls form the main part of the structural envelope and need appropriate protection and maintenance. Inappropriate repairs to brick and stone can cause serious damage. Always seek advice from a Chartered Professional with conservation accreditation before carrying out any repointing and consult a structural engineer if you have concerns about the stability of a wall.

Brick and stone relies on the integrity and flexibility of the mortar used to keep water out of a building. Missing mortar and cracked and open joints all allow water penetration, which is particularly damaging when frost occurs.

Limestone is soft and easily damaged by inappropriate repairs or harsh cleaning. Any work to stonework should be carried out by a qualified professional.

Render is used to provide a protective and decorative finish to a wall and was traditionally lime based. This allowed the wall behind to breathe as well as being flexible enough to accommodate movement in the building materials.

Modern cement renders are harder and can trap moisture behind, forcing it into the building fabric and are inappropriate for traditional solid walls. Boast sections of render or plaster indicate separation from the wall behind and necessitates them to be repaired.

Similarly internal plasters were traditionally lime based. Inappropriate repair or decoration using non mineral/ lime based products can cause damage.

Check for defects such as:

Gutters and downpipes

Water is the main agent of damage to buildings. Blocked, cracked or badly-designed rainwater goods can allow water into the walls and roof timbers of a church building. The resulting damp encourages timber decay through fungal attack and insect infestation. In the winter months water can penetrate the surface of masonry and freeze, causing stonework to crumble. Rainwater goods are essential to remove excess water from the roof area and prevent water penetration. It is vital that they are kept in good order with annual inspections from ground level. Gutters should be kept clear to prevent water overspill onto the face of the building.

Where trees are located near a building it may be beneficial to fit drain covers and wire coverings to downpipes to prevent future blockages. Grass and other plant growth must also be removed regularly.

Cast iron rainwater goods can often be repaired. Regular redecoration, including temporary removal of downpipes to allow concealed faces to be coated and protected from corrosion avoids unnecessary removal of original features and replacement with inappropriate alternatives. Repair methods should always be explored before considering the removal of any original features. Cast iron, available in a range of traditional sizes and profiles, can easily be fitted by skilled workers, if replacement is the only option.

Check for defects such as:

Windows and doors

General maintenance should include regular inspection paying attention to signs of damage or corroded metal work. Repairs, especially to decorative glass should only be carried out by a specialist.

Original doors are important features of historic buildings. Removal and replacement with mass produced substitutes significantly alters the character of the property. Wherever possible, original door furniture should be retained, restored and reinstated.

Check for defects such as:

Building element When to check, service and maintain
Roofs Spring and Autumn
Gutters, downpipes and drains Spring and Autumn
Render Spring
Brick, stone, pointing and wall ventilators Autumn
Windows and doors Autumn
Heating systems and controls including automatic frost protection Autumn
Fire detection, emergency lighting, intruder alarm Spring and Autumn (check insurance recommendations/local regulations)
Internal and external lighting Autumn
Electrical installation testing / certification 3/5 years (check insurance recommendations/local regulations)
Lightning protection Spring (check insurance recommendations/ local regulations)
First aid fire fighting equipment Weekly checks and annual testing
Portable appliance testing Annually
Water pipes Check for frost protection - Autumn
Asbestos Maintain an up to date register, made available to all contractors/volunteers etc in line with relevant local requirements.
Fire risk assessment Maintain an up to date FRA. Employ a Chartered Fire engineer if complex issues exist. Include a management plan. Annual review.



The contents of this article are from 'Care for your church and church property', published by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) in 2020. The Association of Architectural Conservation Officers (AACO) has endorsed the contents as practice guidance for the Republic of Ireland.

--Institute of Historic Building Conservation

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