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Midwinter not so bleak after new church heating guidance issued

10 December 2020


WORSHIPPERS can be reassured of not shivering in a cold and draughty church this Christmas, after updated guidance on heating and ventilation issued by the House of Bishops Covid-19 Recovery Group this week.

There had been fears that external doors and windows would have to be kept open during services, but the guidance makes it clear that church heating can safely be turned on and the door closed in most circumstances. The guidance is given in the understanding that existing Covid-safe practices such as social-distancing, hand-sanitising, and mask-wearing are already in place.

The guidance says: “No Covid-related concerns have been identified with the use of traditional hot-water radiator systems, electric heating (including under-pew), underfloor, gas heaters, including gas convector heaters, and in a ventilated space, fan convector heaters. In a ventilated space, fan convectors can assist with reducing pockets of stagnant air.”

The only type of heating that does present a Covid risk is one that takes air from one occupied space in a building and moves it into another: something unlikely to be found in a traditional church building, the guidance suggests. Such a system would require advice from the company that serviced the heating.

Cold air from outside is naturally drawn into a warmer, heated building, it points out. Heated air will move up inside the building, drawing moving air around and promoting ventilation, so it can be adequately ventilated with a reduced number of open windows.

It advises: “The cooler autumn and winter weather will promote some forms of natural ventilation, meaning that adequate ventilation will be achieved with a reduction in the number of windows open, and the amount they need to be open. If there is a high-level ventilation, such as a clerestory, ventilators built into the ceiling or roof, or ventilation through the method of construction of the roof, it will not be necessary to leave lower-level windows open.

“If your current Covid-safe practice relies on leaving doors fixed open to promote good ventilation now would be a good time to consider how you would operate with fewer (or no) doors fixed open.”

The document also links to separate, more detailed guidance from the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, which suggests that any windows that are opened are open at least 15 minutes before the building is occupied. Fire doors, it emphasises, should never be propped open to aid ventilation.

Most church buildings are large spaces, compared with small shops, offices, pubs, and restaurants, and are naturally well ventilated, it says. “It is not necessary to keep external doors open for added ventilation where this causes discomfort.”

And those entering the church can safely close the external door behind them, as existing guidance provides for hand-sanitiser inside the door after entering. This will remove any risk of transmission of infection from shared use of the door handle.

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