A lightning strike to a church can be devastating. A large church might expect to be struck by lightning once every 50 years. It's important to have suitable protection in place and to have it tested every two and a half years in line with the following:
- Historic England guidance - 2019 online guidance
- Lightning Protection for Churches - a document produced jointly by Ecclesiastical Insurance Group and English Heritage which includes guidance on the recommended timescales between tests
- The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) - online guidance available from their website
- Churchcare - online guidance
- Ecclesiastical Insurance - online guidance
With the continuing risk of metal theft, parishes should monitor the condition of their lightning conductor and associated cabling, and take quick action to repair any damage.
Suitable accredited contractors can be identified via the Association of Technical Lightning Access Specialists (ATLAS), formerly known as the National Federation of Master Steeplejacks and Lightning Conductor Engineers. The ATLAS website allows you to search for accredited contractors by geographical area. Non-ATLAS contractors are also available but you should check with your insurer before appointing any such contractor.
Upgrades to existing lightning protection systems
Contractors sometimes recommend high-specification upgrades to church systems. These can be expensive and may not be necessary for your particular building. For example, Faraday Cage systems prevent any charge from a lightning strike from entering the interior of the building - these are advisable for buildings with large amounts of electrical equipment but would not generally be necessary for most churches. If in doubt, consult your insurer. You should ask your insurer if the upgrade would:
- Be proportionate to the risk for your particular building
- Reduce your insurance premiums! A reduction may be possible if the upgrade would be simply desirable rather than a requirement of a professional risk assessment.
If you have CCTV or other high-level circuitry you should consider adding a surge breaker to protect the internal church electrics in the event of a lightning strike - particularly if you have valuable electric equipment in the church. Again, we woudl suggest that you take advice from your insurer.
Advice from your architect
Parishes should contact their Church Architect for advice on:
- the lightning protection itself and associated regulations
- any associated works (e.g. roof structure, fixings or cable runs)
- suitable contractors.
A new system for a small or average church will cost in the region of £3K - £4K, and up to £10K for a large building. PCCs should bear in mind that the east end of the building is vulnerable, not just the tower or spire. Towers should ideally have more than one down conductor - two are generally recommended. Different finishes are available to the down conductors to minimise the visual impact.
Authorisation for works
If the works are simple like-for-like replacement (not materially altering the appearance of the building) then the works can be carried out without permission under List A You must seek the permission of the Archdeacon (via List B on the online faculty system) for the installation of any new lightning protection system.