An opinion piece by Chris Hopkins, MD and founder of renowned heritage eco roofing specialist, Ploughcroft.
More and more individuals and private organisations are waking up to the very real benefits of energy-efficient insulation as a way to not only reduce a building’s energy bills, but to reduce its overall carbon emissions. ChurchCare, the Church of England’s resource for expert information on churches and cathedrals – including repairs, maintenance and funding – is one such organisation.
Through its forward-thinking Shrinking the Footprint campaign, the organisation aims to influence the entire church body to address in faith, practice and mission, the issue of climate change. A major part of this initiative is a pledge to reach an 80% carbon reduction target among its 42 dioceses and 16,000 churches nationwide by 2050, with an interim target of 42% by 2020.
This is all positive stuff, and we applaud those who are taking steps to operate in a greener capacity.
Individual churches and dioceses across the UK are already taking a variety of measures to achieve energy efficiency, including switching to energy efficient light bulbs, installing thermostats and in many cases, installing solar panels.
However, when it comes to solar panels, we would urge caution, as in many cases, these could in fact end up costing churches far more than they bargained for. This in turns far outweighs any benefits that could be gained from the measures in the first place.
Let’s explore the issue in a little more detail. Due to their historic architectural heritage, the majority of churches in the UK have roofs that may be in need of basic routine maintenance, major roof repairs, or even total re-roofs within the next few years, if not already.
Unfortunately – just as we are seeing in the domestic market – people are installing solar panels without first completing a comprehensive roof survey. This oversight can significantly add to the costs of roof maintenance and repair throughout the life of your solar panels.
Here’s a typical example in the domestic market to illustrate the point:
A standard, slate tile roof repair on a domestic house built in 1965 with no solar panels on the roof will take two roofers with a pair of roof ladders approximately one-hour to complete and will cost a total of £200.
For the same house with solar panels, the cost of repair will significantly increase. Scaffolding to comply with ‘working height’ rules will need to be erected, costing up to £500. Secondly, a solar engineer will be required to isolate the system and remove the panels before repairs can take place costing £200. Once the panels are removed and isolated a roofer will need to repair the slate tiles adding £200. Once the repair has taken place a social engineer will be required to reinstall the panels and re-boot the system, costing a further £200. Finally, the scaffold will need to be taken back down, leaving us with a total cost of £1000-1100.
Because many churches in the UK are notably older and bigger than our example house, this price is likely to be significantly higher, and the job even more complicated.
So what’s the solution for churches considering investing in solar panels? Press on regardless or abandon the solar panels all together?
As it happens, neither. As a starting point, we recommend paying for an independent, qualified heritage-roofing specialist to survey and inspect the surface of the roof internally and externally to give you a report on its condition. Solar companies may offer you a discount on surveying as an incentive to purchase their product, but we would advise against this due to the clear conflict of interest in determining your roof’s suitability for solar and then making a profit off the installation.
Following this process, it is vital that all proposed repairs or reroofing works are carried out before the installation of solar panels. The Solar Guarantee for your panels is at least 20 years so your roof needs to last at least that long.
Insulate before you generate
This is also the stage where you should consider roof insulation work, which can increase a typical heritage building’s thermal efficiency up to five-times. Why, after all, would you want to generate electricity through solar panels, if that heat is then literally going through the roof? Here at Ploughcroft, we offer an energy saving “Thermal Blanket”, approved for use in heritage buildings which can not only save churches significant money, but keep the congregation warm.
It’s also important to understand which existing funding streams are available for this kind of work – many of which are either in high demand, or are not adequately publicised.
Here at Ploughcroft, we have recently launched a campaign to help historic churches access funding for restoration work from the government’s ‘Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund’. Churches that qualify for this funding can access up to £100,000 for repairs to their roof, but in order to apply for this funding, churches must have a professional survey completed in advance, outlining all roof repair work necessary within the next five years.
To help making applying for the fund easier, we are offering free information and advice to churches who are interested in applying for the funding, which is a great way for iconic churches to get the roofing repairs that their building needs and achieve the Church of England’s mission of carbon reduction.
Our advice for any church planning energy efficient improvements is to seek professional advice and to explore all the options before embracing solar panels. While ChurchCare’s ambitious carbon reduction targets are a step in the right direction, it’s important that a church’s valuable funds are invested in measures that will bring a genuine return, and not just short term gain.