From the Rev. Dr. Dennis S. Tierney, Diocesan Property Manager:
Photo by Tanya Paquet on Unsplash
Some of you may know that the insurance premiums went up in 2023. Part of the reason for the increase from Church Insurance is that several of our congregations made large claims last year which influenced all our rates. Most of the large claims were because of water damage to buildings and furnishings. Some of the water damage came from broken pipes, or leaking water heaters, or blocked gutters and downspouts. These sorts of damages are remarkably expensive to remediate and can cause the loss of buildings for long periods of time or the complete loss of a building. The title of this paper is a nod to Barbra Streisand’s hit song of the 1970’s in which she sings that no one is going to rain on her parade. Would that we all could sing away the rains of our lives. But it is not so. Rains do ruin parades and buildings but rain brings life to the earth. This paper is about the dangers of water when it goes where it is not wanted. When that happens, buildings are damaged, programs disrupted, and unplanned expenses are incurred. And water damage always seems to occur at the worst possible moment in the life of a church – Christmas Eve, Easter morning, or an hour before a major funeral. Ask me how I know.
Water damage can come from broken pipes, leaks in fittings or faucets, or failed sprinkler systems inside a building. Water damage can also occur when gutters and downspouts fail or are blocked. Water damage can adversely impact carpets, flooring, interior paint, furniture, musical instruments, electrical and computer systems, and church furnishings like robes and vestments. Un-addressed small water damage can create mold and mildew and make a building uninhabitable unless major repairs and renovations are done.
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What can church leaders do to prevent such expensive problems?
- Walk the buildings, inside and out, once a week and check for evidence of leaks of any kind. All toilets should be flushed to check for proper operation and checked to ensure that all the seals and fittings are functioning. Similarly, faucets should be turned on and off to ensure they are operating properly. Outside, irrigation systems should be checked for leaks. In winter, all irrigation systems should be shut off and drained of water. In freezing weather, all outside faucets should be shut off or protected from freezing. You may also want to check inside faucets if they are in areas that are not heated adequately. In very freezing weather, leaving the water to trickle out of a problematic faucet can save you from broken pipes. In enclosed areas, consider leaving a light on during freezing weather to keep pipes from freezing and breaking.
- Know where all your water shut-off valves are located and know how they work. There will be a main water valve from the street or well. There may be sectional water cut-offs inside your buildings. There may be shut-off valves on toilets, dishwashers, and other appliances with water connections. Map them and check them to be sure they work. Teach your building and grounds people about them.
- Consider purchasing water leak detectors for kitchens and water heaters. They can be slaved to a smart phone so that you can get alerts if there is water where it should not be at any time. Some devices can also shut off water to the affected area when a leak is detected. One could also purchase a water monitor and place it on the main water connection into your building so that any water movement will be noticed. This can be extremely helpful during the pandemic when fewer people are using your building(s). Such devices are available for less than $100 and do not require professional installation.
- Water basins can be installed under water heaters or washing machines or dishwashers, especially if these devices are on the second or higher floors. Since water runs to the lowest level, if you have leaks upstairs, the water will run down and flood other areas. Such devices take no power to operate and are silent. They can overflow so having a means of notifying someone of a leak makes good sense as well.
- Ensure that all gutters and downspouts are clear and working properly. It rains in the Pacific Northwest and gutters and downspouts are critical to have water stay where it belongs. Cleaning them is necessary at least annually, and, depending on the foliage on your property, cleaning them two or three times a year may be necessary. If your buildings have flat or membrane roofs, making sure that the water moves off the roof is extremely important. Keep water from pooling on your roof; you will be glad you did. And do not forget to move the water away from your building foundation by ensuring that all downspouts direct the water away from the building.
One thought on “Don’t Rain on my Parade: An Occasional Paper on Property Management in the Diocese of Olympia Series”
These are all sage advice for church property caretakers, and I’ll bet many have similar stories from your “voice of experience.”
To which I would offer, as friendly additions, a couple more thoughts as the raindrops keep fallin’ on my head:
A. In WA state, the Department of L&I has responsibility for oversight of all boilers and water heaters on commercial/public properties. If they haven’t already been around to you, they will be, and they want to inspect all heaters, no matter how small, how old, or well hidden. Their focus is on safety, and in general their observations are intended to be helpful. Nevertheless, it pays to stay aware. Keep on top of these devices.
B. Absence of water can also be a challenge. In recent years, some properties have lost beautiful, mature trees due to drought. Last year was particularly extreme. We can no longer depend on “natural” watering to be enough for all our foliage. It’s cheaper to water during the hottest months than it is to have to pay to have dying trees removed later. Drought-affected trees are also more susceptible to to pests and diseases.
C. Wastewater systems deserve attention too. Backed-up drains can do as much damage as leaking freshwater, and remediation can be really stinky and expensive. Scant groundwater can make outdoor sewer lines attractive to tree and plant roots.
D. Water vigilance is in everybody’s interest. Just like at home, all users should pay attention to the incoming and outgoing water, and raise a concern if they think there are issues. Dripping faucets can get expensive, and slow running drains can require pricey digging projects. Paying attention is the only way we can keep up — much less get ahead — in this game.
Thanks for your “occasional papers.” I find them helpful, and hope others do too.