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Out of the question

01 August 2007

Your answers

Is it appropriate to install a fitted carpet in a medieval or other ancient church? If so, has anyone anyone any advice about it? [Answers, 20 July]

Mary Woodward states that “one certain effect” of fitting a carpet in a church “is that the acoustic will be damaged”. This is at best a biased generalisation. While it is true that the installation of carpet will alter the acoustic to some extent, it is a matter of judgement whether or not this is an improvement, and the effect is often not enormous.

The perceived effect depends on what the acoustic is like in the first place. Most churches suffer from an excessive reverberation time, and some reduction is an improvement, as much for music as for speech. It is a prevalent misconception that the effect is always large: carpet is thin compared with the size of the building, and affects only the higher frequencies; it has little effect on the low frequencies. A big advantage is that it reduces the extraneous noise of feet, chair legs, etc.

My experience is that diocesan advisory committees are generally well aware of the potential effect of carpeting. Many have members or advisers with expertise in acoustics (over 25 years, I have served on or advised DACs in four dioceses), and the architect members are well aware that furnishings have an effect on acoustics.

“Natural flooring” is a recipe, especially with movable chairs, for an acoustic that varies wildly depending on the number of people present (bodies alter acoustics far more than furnishings do), and a sound that is interfered with by every shuffling foot, scraping chair leg, and dropped hymn book.
(The Revd Dr) Jennifer Zarek

I am surprised that no one has mentioned the harm that a carpet can do to the fabric of a medieval church. It is possible, perhaps likely, that there will be some rising moisture coming up through the joints or, if the slabs are limestone, through the stone itself.

This will have passed unnoticed over the years, because it evaporated in the air. If this moisture is trapped by a carpet or its underlay (a rubberised underlay is particularly dangerous), then the surface of the stone slabs will deteriorate.

I once came across a case where polythene had been laid on the stone slabs, then chipboard on the polythene, and a carpet laid on the chipboard. The trapped moisture had encouraged dry rot, and there were fronds spreading rapidly both above and below the polythene.

If a carpet is really required, I suggest sisal or other open-weaved fabric, loose laid, and taken up occasionally.
Philip Mann (retired church architect)
Ivybridge, Devon


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