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Choosing the right heating system for your church

22 January 2009


During the work: pipes are laid inside St Wenn’s

During the work: pipes are laid inside St Wenn’s

MY RECENT column on heating installations, coinciding as it did with such a cold, wintry spell of weather, brought several responses.

Needless to say, the heating in my church is still on the blink, and, while the congregation wraps up in coats, gloves, scarves, and the occasional woolly hat, clerics make do with long underwear beneath their vestments. Sermons are most appreciated when succinct.


One correspondent has asked me for more detailed advice with regard to the potential installation in a church. Unfortunately, I do not have that kind of technical expertise, as the calculations and design of heating requires particular training and experi­ence.


The correspondent was wary about underfloor heating. Many churches have successful underfloor installa­tions; so I have a couple of sugges­tions. A heating engineer will couch information in the essential technical terms, and will give a reasoned presentation on the cost of installa­tion. Then I would suggest that a church should talk to its architect, to the secretary of the Diocesan Advisory Committee, and to the heating specialist on the DAC.


My next correspondent is a church- heating consultant, who points out that there are three ways to heat a church. First, and often most efficient for a church that is in use every day, underfloor heating. Second, and often cheapest, a forced-air system. Third, a radiator system, although this can be unsightly and is apparently the least efficient at heating. If yours is a “mostly Sundays” church, the latter two are likely to be better options.


I would consider underfloor heating only if you already have to take up the floor for other essential works: the cost is so great, financially, to the fabric, and environmentally, that justifying it from an efficiency viewpoint is difficult. And you must consider your chances of raising the money for installing a new system.


I have experienced the forced-air system in churches in the United States, and find that it is relatively easy to adjust to the sound of the blower, and ignore it. From the efficiency and cost viewpoint, this can be a good system.


My approach is the layman’s approach: if you have existing radia­tors, even old-fashioned Victorian ones, new connecting pipes and boilers can do wonders for the temperature, and it would take a long time, even with a far more efficient system, to offset the financial and environmental costs of a new installa­tion.


What will suit your church? As someone who is often raising funds, I would ask questions about cost. And as someone who works mostly with listed churches, I would also ask about existing, although maybe cur­rently non-working, systems, and about the impact of installing an entirely new one. My own church was completely gutted for its repairs, and the PCC could choose whatever system it wished, as all the floors had to be rebuilt.


Think of the decision as a matrix with several headed columns: on­going efficiency; disruption of his­toric fabric; environmental im­pact; potential for upgrading old system; cost of installation. Create a points system, and score your poten­tial heating solutions. It will help you to decide.


Follow the adage “Measure twice, cut once.” If you are unsure, do more research, perhaps by visiting other churches.


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