By: Dieter H. Nickel


Winter’s cold can be a lot more than just uncomfortable. Because without proper protection, cold weather can drive your church’s fuel bills sky-high, cause your facilities to age prematurely, and even cause severe, expensive damage that interrupts your services and activities.

Consider the damages suffered by a beautiful, stone Baptist church parsonage in Pennsylvania. When cold weather caused its water lines and radiators to freeze and crack, several walls, floors, and ceilings were saturated. Oak floors were warped and carpeting was ruined. Their loss totaled almost $40,000.

A similar water line problem caused a flood in the foyer and sanctuary of a Baptist church in Georgia. And caused over $25,000 in damages to sheet rock walls, carpeting, and pews.

An Illinois church sustained $45,000 in damages caused by ice that built up as a result of melting snow.

And when the furnace failed between regular off-season building checks at a Michigan church camp, pipes froze and burst. The pipes had been drained, but not completely enough. Damages to the camp totaled $108,000.

Although not all problems can be foreseen, you can learn to avoid most cold-weather damage to your church by taking simple steps to protect it.


Your heating system is the last thing you want to have to do without in winter. So follow these suggestions to help reduce the possibility of breakdowns.

* Inspect and thoroughly clean heating systems well before cold weather sets in.

* Inspect chimneys and vent pipes annually for cracks, missing mortar, and rusted holes. Correct any damage immediately.

* Maintain a minimum temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit inside all buildings.

* Do not leave buildings unattended for extended periods of time during the winter months. Make daily checks if possible to ensure that the heating system is operating properly.

Portable heaters

Whether your portable heater is the electric or kerosene type it should be used with caution Here are some safety measures to keep in mind.

Electric heaters

Electric heaters are safer, although they require care in their use. Users are encouraged to:

* Read manufacturers’ instructions and warning labels.

* Keep flammables, combustibles, furniture, and curtains at a distance.

* If an extension cord is necessary, use one that can handle 1,500 watts or 12 1/2 amps, not the common lamp-type extension cord.

* Keep the electric heater away from water.

* Do not use on the same circuit with other high-wattage items.

* Inspect the wall outlet and heater plug regularly for excessive heat while the unit is on.

* Unplug the heater when not in use.

* Make sure the element on your radiant electric heater is free of flammable material. Cleaning the reflector of dust improves the heater’s efficiency.

* Since heater cords get warm don’t cover or leave coiled or knotted.

Kerosene heaters

Because kerosene heaters do not provide a venting system outside the building, their use constitutes a building code violation in many communities. Church Mutual does not recommend their use. But if you’re in an area where portable kerosene heaters are allowed and you want to purchase one, use this checklist while shopping:

Purchase only a name-brand model; one that is approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or another nationally recognized testing lab.

The kerosene heater should have a battery ignition system to avoid having to light a wick with a match.

Make sure the heater has a leak-proof fuel tank with a gauge to indicate capacity.

A capillary-action fuel system with wick located above the fuel tank is recommended.

The heater’s center of gravity should be near or at the bottom for stability.

Make sure the heater has an automatic shut-off device to stop the flow of fuel to the wick and extinguish the flame if the unit is jarred or tipped over.

Look for a model that has a pan with flared edges at the bottom of the heater. This feature will catch fuel that might be spilled during filling. A protective guard should cover parts capable of causing a burn.

When using a kerosene heater, the following safety precautions should be observed:

* Make sure the room has proper ventilation so the heater does not remove all the oxygen.

* People who have respiratory or circulatory problems should consult their doctor before being near a kerosene heater.

* Go through the instruction booklet step-by-step with all people authorized to use the heater.

* Never use any other flammable fuel in the heater or mix fuels.

* Burn only high grade 1-K kerosene. 2-K, colored or yellow kerosene may smoke, smell, and cause improper burning of wick, increasing the risk of fire. Use of lower quality fuels may also result in serious health hazards.

* Use a siphon pump to aid in filling the heater.

* Never fill the heater while it is warm or in operation.

* Make sure you leave some air space in your fuel tank when you refill it. Kerosene stored at cold temperatures will expand when warmed indoors, and may cause your fuel tank to overflow.

* Position the heater at least three feet away from combustibles such as couches, chairs, or draperies.

* Do not place the heater in a walkway or a place where it might be bumped accidentally.

* Heater should not be used in small, confined areas.

* Never operate a kerosene heater when painting, stripping floors, or in areas where flammable products exist.

* If possible, store kerosene outside the church building in a clearly marked container.

* Do not store more than five gallons at a time, or in the same location.

Wood burning stoves

The comforting glow of a wood burning stove recalls the romance of times gone by. Unfortunately, it also recalls the fire hazards of those times. And the current popularity of wood burning stoves as a heat source has led to an alarming and rising number of fires. These have been mostly caused by improper installation. use, and maintenance.

So if your church or parsonage has a wood burning stove protect it by following these important safety tips:

* Your stove should be made of a suitable, sturdy material, such as cast iron or steel. and listed by a recognized testing laboratory.

* Before installing your stove, check with local authorities to be sure you comply with local fire and building codes.


Make sure there is enough clearance between your stove and any combustible walls, ceilings, or floors.

Place the stove on a fire proof base.
Have your chimney inspected by a mason or another knowledgeable person.
Burn only dry, well-seasoned wood.
Stove should be in a somewhat ventilated area.
Use a closed metal container when disposing of ashes.
Stove pipes should be extended through a wall or ceiling ONLY if there is no other alternative, and then it must pass through a thimble or collar.

The National Fire Protection Association has set these standards:

* A ventilated type metal thimble must be at least 12 inches larger in diameter than the stove pipe. (It can be made by a local sheet metal company or tinsmith.)
* A metal or burned fire-clay thimble must be surrounded by not less than 8 inches of brickwork or equivalent fire-proofing material.
* Otherwise, all combustible material must be cut out of the wall to provide at least 18 inches of clearance on all sides of the pipe
* Material for closing this opening must be noncombustible and insulating.
* Never connect a wood stove to a fireplace chimney unless the fire-place has been sealed off.
* Your wood stove should not be connected to a chimney where appliances burning different fuel are connected.
* Never start a stove fire with flammable liquids.
* Never burn trash in the stove.
* Don’t leave fires unattended or left burning overnight.
* Check and clean your stovepipe and chimney regularly, and make any needed repairs (Depending on your usage, weekly or monthly checks may be necessary to prevent accumulation of creosote and soot.)

In case of fire…

You can help control the fire in your chimney or stovepipe by closing the stove’s draft louvers and the solid damper in the stovepipe. Then call your fire department immediately. Do not risk your life or personal safety to control the fire.


It is important to check the plumbing of your buildings every year to ensure that it’s in good working condition, and protected against freezing. Leaks and burst pipes can cause extensive damage to floors, walls, electrical equipment and your contents. These tips can help you avoid such problems.

Occupied buildings

* Insulate all water or drain pipes that travel through poorly heated areas, such as cupboards, closets, corner areas, and areas against outside walls.

— Wrap the pipes with two layers of 1-inch insulation wrap.
— Secure in place with duct tape.
— Be sure not to compress the insulation unnecessarily, as this will reduce the insulating value.

* Pipes in attics, exterior walls, and other unheated areas are particularly
susceptible to freezing. Consult your local plumbing or heating contractor for
necessary modifications to prevent freezing.

* Remove all garden hoses from outside faucets.

Unoccupied buildings

* Shut off water services to vacant buildings at the stop box.

* Open all faucets to drain remaining water.

* Turn off electricity or gas to the water heater.

* Drain the water heater and water softeners (To drain the water softener, tip it on its side, drain, then return it to the upright position.)

* Sponge out water in toilet tanks. Pour antifreeze into bowls.

* Well pumps serving vacant buildings should be equipped with adequate drain fittings and switched off. Make sure the well access is well insulated.

* All pocketed or trapped water lines should be cut and drained (The help of a professional plumber may be necessary for this.)

* Have someone in the building when normal heat is restored. Often, pipes begin to leak when thawed. When a leak is detected, take immediate action to reduce damage to your building and contents. Turn off the water to stop the leak, move endangered items, begin clean-up operations, and have the pipe repaired. Report the loss to your insurance company — coverage may apply.

Sprinkler Systems

Don’t neglect your sprinklers when you’re winterizing your church. Here are a few things to keep in mind that will keep your system ready for a winter emergency.

Wet pipe sprinkler systems

Sprinkler systems that are constantly charged with water receive the greatest exposure to cold weather.

* Maintain temperatures of at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit in all areas covered by these systems. To facilitate this, place thermometers in the coldest areas of all buildings and frequently check them.

* If your wet pipe sprinkler system has a special anti-freeze system, make sure the installation company services it properly.

Dry sprinkler systems

* Drain piping all the way back to the dry valve or to auxiliary drains if they are installed in your system. If pipes are improperly installed, they can trap water which can then freeze and damage your entire system.

* During sub-zero weather, conduct daily checks of the auxiliary drains located in cold areas.

* Keep the dry valve enclosure in good repair and make sure the heating device can maintain a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


A fairly common winter problem is heavy snow buildup. Snow melts and refreezes, working its way under shingles, which is where damage begins. And major structural damage can occur as the ice under the shingles eventually melts. So use these tips to keep a good strong roof between your congregation and the cold winter sky.

* Keep ice and snow away from drain areas on roofs by clearing a path from the roof center to the drains.

* On a pitched roof without drains, open paths leading to the roof edge to assure proper drainage.

* Never attempt to melt ice from drains or roof surfaces with blow torches or similar devices.

* Be careful when walking on roofs to avoid surface damage and falls.

* Occasionally, it may be necessary to clear your roof of a major snow accumulation. If heights or climbing are involved, seek professional help for this potentially dangerous task. A professional has the knowledge and tools to do the job safely.

* When building — make sure footings, walls, and roof are designed to handle the snow expected in your area. Use of a qualified contractor is recommended.


Putting the time and money into good insulation is well worth the effort. Completely insulating a poorly sealed building can give you substantial savings on annual heating costs. And most insulating jobs are relatively easy do-it-yourself projects requiring no special skills, and very few tools. All it takes is the initiative to begin the project and see it thru completion,


Sealing exterior cracks and seams with caulk is an important part of building maintenance, because it reduces the amount of air and moisture that can pass in and out of a building. So it helps save energy you need to condition the air.

Caulking should be applied wherever two different materials or parts of the building meet For example;

* Windows and doors — between the frames and siding; at the top (drip caps), sides, and under the bottom sills.

* At inside corners — where siding boards meet.

* At sills — the bottom of the building where the wood structure meets the foundation.

* Around openings cut for water faucets, electric or gas services, or other special breaks in the outside surface of the building.

* Where chimney or other masonry meets siding.

* Under overhanging floors.

Weather stripping

This type of insulation can really help make your winter energy bills more manageable. Several kinds of weather stripping are available for both windows and doors, and each one offers a different degree of effectiveness and ease of installation. Choose the one that best suits your church’s needs


Thin spring metal or plastic

* Thin metal and plastic weather strips have one side flared out. When the window (or door) is closed, strip pressure against the flared side makes a tight fit. The plastic is adhesive-backed and is the easier type to install. Both are very durable and neither is visible when the window or door is closed.

Vinyl tube

* For general purpose use, vinyl tube weather strips are available with or without a metal or wood attachment strip. They can be applied to wood or metal with tacks, staples, screws, or a good commercial adhesive. They are durable and easy to install. However, they are visible after installation.

Foam rubber or plastic with adhesive backing

* Install adhesive-backed foam on all kinds of windows, but not at points of wear, such as the sides of sliding windows. On double-hung windows, apply it only on the bottom and top rails. You can use foam strips in many more places on other kinds of windows.

* Cover stained and art glass with Lexon or Plexiglass. This serves a dual purpose — it helps insulate and protects the valuable glass from acts of vandalism.

Glazing compound

* Sometimes referred to as putty, this sealant is “doughy” in texture, and is applied with a putty knife. It is used to seal glass panes to movable window frames. Old sealing material which has cracked or chipped away causes air infiltration problems through windows. Check for this and completely remove and replace any older material with new glazing compound.


You should be aware of the National Electric Code which requires that insulation be kept 3 inches away from recessed light fixtures, and that no insulation be placed on top of the fixture. Failure to follow this rule can create a fire hazard. A simple four-sided box or other rigid metal form can be used to shield the fixture from insulation.

Installing insulation safely

* Provide adequate temporary lighting and flooring.

* Wear gloves, clothing with long sleeves, and a breathing mask when working with fiberglass, rock wool, or cellulose.

* Provide adequate ventilation.

* Treat electrical wiring with care. Don’t try to pull or bend it out of the way. Have wiring replaced if it’s in poor condition.

* Do not cover electrical junction boxes that face into the attic with insulation. Use a barrier around them or, if there is enough slack in the wires, raise the boxes above the insulation.

* Be careful not to snag yourself on nails protruding through the roof.

* Never smoke in the attic.

* Keep insulation at least 3 inches away from recessed light fixtures and other heat sources. Never use cellulose to insulate around the chimney.


You can set up your own emergency procedure and distribute it at the organizational meetings for all church activities. That way, everyone will know what to do if an accident or injury should occur, and the victim will receive help as quickly as possible. In case of serious accidents, even a few minutes can be critical.

1. First, make the victim as comfortable as possible. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE THE VICTIM. Keep him or her warm. Administer first aid only if you have the proper training.

2. Next, call an ambulance and the police or fire departments as necessary. It’s best to call directly, rather than dialing the operator. Don’t forget to give the address clearly and distinctly.

3. Get the names and telephone numbers of any witnesses.

4. Notify the victim’s family. Avoid undue panic — explain the situation calmly. Tell the family that you have called an ambulance and that help is on the way. If the ambulance has already arrived, tell the family which hospital the victim is being taken to.

5. Cooperate with police and fire department investigators. If you are a witness, you can answer questions about the accident. Provide investigators with your list of witnesses.

6. As soon as possible after the victim has been provided for, and preliminary investigation has been made, inform your insurance agent of the accident. Tell what happened simply and factually. Provide the names of any witnesses. This will facilitate fast, equitable settlement of claims for those injured.


Church Mutual’s Loss Control Department. The National Safety Council, or your local gas, electric, and fire departments. In most cases, information is free.

(The above material is one of a series of safety pamphlets published by the Church Mutual Insurance Company.)

Christian Information Network