Building Services in Historic Places of Worship

Building services include such things as pipes (for gas, heating or plumbing installations), electric wiring and specialist items like smoke, fire or burglar alarm systems. If you are planning to add long-term facilities such as a café, new toilets or a shop, these are likely to have an impact on existing building services and the associated running costs of your overall installation.

Introducing more comprehensive building services for your new facilities can also have a large impact on your building – both how it looks and on the building fabric. Our New Facilities page also covers the basic principles of considering new services and how to house them.

You will also need to find out whether you require permission to make changes, either from your denominational advisory body and/or the local authority.

Issues to consider

Given that any new services are unlikely to last the lifespan of your place of worship, we recommend that you consider the following when planning them:

  • How to plan works so that new services have a minimal impact on building fabric. Works should minimise the loss of and damage to historic fabric, preferably reusing existing services’ routes so that no new permanent damage is incurred.
  • What the new services will look like and the best place to locate them so that the impact on the character of your building is as low as possible. For example, locating new speakers or smoke alarms where they are not immediately visible, or painting the exteriors to blend in with the surrounding fabric. Care must be taken not to compromise the function of any device by locating it too close to parts of the building such as a downstand beam. A check should also be made with the manufacturer that painting it to match the interior will not invalidate the function or guarantee.
  • Ensuring that you have relatively easy access to the finished services like pipework or cables in order to make future maintenance or renewal as easy as possible to minimise disruption and costs.
  • Whether you need specialist technical advice in order to create the best design. We recommend seeking advice from an independent professional rather than a product supplier or contractor.
  • Whether you need to involve your Inspecting Architect in the design and implementation of any services.

Building surveys

It is a good idea to get a detailed building survey when you're planning works which will impact your building services. This will give you a clear picture of what services are already there and the routes they take and how much modification and additional work will be required.

This should also let you know whether your building has any historic building services which were an important part of its design. Some places of worship contain early examples of light fittings or radiators which contribute to their significance. We would encourage you to keep items like this in their original places where possible. Early radiators can often be reused in a modern heating system. It is however advisable to have these units pressure tested first before deciding whether to reuse them. Similarly early light fittings can often be converted for electrical use by specialist companies. If existing systems cannot be reused or left in situ then a photographic record of the installation should be made before any part is removed or modified.

When you are designing new services, take into account current codes of practice and standards, including British Standards. However, if you are using specialists to help you, it may be appropriate to modify the non-statutory codes to meet the particular needs of historic buildings without compromising health and safety.

Please see our advice on finding specialist help for more information.