York YO30 4WJ
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THE DIOCESE OF YORK
Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches
Church Buildings Officer
& Secretary to the DAC
Guidance Note on external window protection
The quality of light, and the windows through which it falls, are often among the great beauties of our English church buildings. Light gives form and life to architecture, and for most people stained glass is probably the art or craft most closely associated with the Church. Fine painted, leaded glass has been made in Britain in every period from the early middle ages to the present day - a magnificent thousand-year-old Christian legacy. And glass need not be painted and leaded to be significant or inspirational. The subtle variations of tint and texture in old or well-designed plain glazing can contribute an enormous amount to the atmosphere and character of a church.
Well-made leaded glazing, carefully maintained, can last a surprisingly long time without major conservation or repair - sometimes for centuries. Unfortunately, the need for sound window protection has become an unavoidable fact of modern life in many places. Indeed, some insurance companies now demand external protection of important stained glass, which does not just mean ancient glass.
Reasons for protection
There are three main reasons why external protection may be necessary: (i) to protect glazing from damage by vandals; (ii) to increase the security of the church building; (iii) to stabilize important or fragile glass and protect it from corrosion. Occasionally protective glazing is also suggested as a cure for draughty or leaking windows or even as a crude form of ‘double glazing’ to keep the church warmer. This is always unsatisfactory, and is likely to cause long-term damage through condensation, the growth of mould or algae, rusting or the eventual destruction of the surrounding stonework. You should never consider using ready-made commercial double-glazing systems or uPVC on your church unless it is a new building for which they were specifically designed.
This Guidance Note is concerned only with (i) and (ii), above. The protection of precious or rare conserved glass from corrosion and temperature changes is expensive and highly specialised. It must only be considered with the benefit of the most careful and knowledgeable advice, as should the protection of historically or artistically important stained glass (ancient or modern) or historic plain-glazing. The Council for the Care of Churches has experts on the care and protection of glass.
If your church suffers from persistent vandalism you should consult the police who will be able to offer advice on lighting, access, alarms and surveillance, but remember they are not experts on the glazing of sensitive buildings and will probably welcome any form of protection. Keeping your churchyard tidy will also help. The likelihood of vandalism is lessened if there are no handy potential missiles (broken stones, rubble, bricks, flower vases and so on) lying close at hand. If building works or road works are going on nearby, you should discreetly ask the contractors to bear this in mind.
The choice of methods and materials
The proper protection of church windows is an expert job, and should not be attempted by volunteers. Single, overall guards covering the entire surface of a window which has several sections (lights) or an elaborate pattern of openings at the top (tracery) look insensitive and tend to undermine the character and integrity of the building. Only guards fitted into the individual openings will usually be recommended and it is vital that the fixings of all guards should cause as little damage as possible and be reversible. Never use glue, mastic or hard cement to secure guards of any kind, or their fixings or framing, to the surrounding stonework. However apparently benign, this will eventually cause serious damage to the stone and be very expensive to repair.
When discussing which type of window protection to install, you should look carefully at the character of your church and try to go ‘with the grain’ of the building. Take into account such factors as its colour, texture and materials, whether or not it has intricately painted or leaded windows, how visible and important it is when seen from nearby roads, public spaces and neighbouring properties.
In the overwhelming majority of cases the choice of window protection will be between wire mesh guards (now usually powder-coated stainless steel) or plastic sheeting (polycarbonates such as Lexan or acrylics like Perspex). York DAC recommends the use of powder-coated stainless steel mesh guards wherever possible, but accepts that plastic sheet may be necessary or even preferable in certain specific circumstances. The DAC has based its view on the following observations:
1. Powder-coated stainless steel mesh guards do not rust. Types of mesh guards which can stain masonry (copper or galvanised iron) are no longer recommended.
2. It is likely that even modern forms of plastic sheet will eventually discolour or become brittle in sunlight. Some manufacturers are prepared to offer guarantees, but these have not, as yet, been tested.
3. All plastics are flammable to some extent and subject to surface abrasion and erosion which increases opacity and encourages mould or algal growth.
4. Properly manufactured, coloured and fitted mesh guards are virtually invisible externally.
5. Most modern mesh and plastic guards can be fixed securely and quickly with stainless steel
clips, but some kinds of plastic can be relatively heavy and may require more fixings.
6. The visual effect of plastic sheets can be disastrous externally, destroying the scale and texture
of buildings, contradicting the intricacy of leaded glazing and creating unfortunate large, reflective surfaces. Transparent sheets will not look colourless, they will look the colour of whatever is reflected in them.
7. Mesh guards can be intrusive internally, especially when windows have a high proportion of
clear glass, or when the guards are mounted very close to the glass surface.
8. Plastic sheet is unobtrusive internally, unless scratched or discoloured.
9. Mesh grilles allow wind and rain to clean the outer surface of the glass.
10. Plastic guards must be fitted with ventilation gaps top and bottom to reduce condensation
damage to both glass and leading.
11. Plastic guards must be removed at regular intervals to allow careful, gentle cleaning of the
glass, which must be done without any kind of abrasive, chemical or detergent. Cleaning the
guards is not usually recommended as their surfaces are easily scratched.
12. Neither steel mesh nor thin plastics will necessarily provide protection from air-gun pellets.
13. Plastic sheeting is initially cheaper than wire mesh, but has a much shorter life-span. Wire mesh is likely to be cheaper in the long-term.
14. Wire mesh guards are recommended or preferred by English Heritage and the Amenity
Some additional points to consider
1. Keep a photographic record of all your stained glass. If serious damage occurs, carefully
collect up every fragment that can be recovered, however small. Not only will this aid future
restoration, but modern techniques sometimes make it possible to repair what at first appears
2. You should always consult your church architect before deciding on a scheme of window
protection and ask his or her advice. The DAC Secretary will also be pleased to offer advice
and to direct parishes toward other useful organisations.
3. All forms of protective glazing on churches will require Faculty permission before any work
can be done. The DAC Secretary or Archdeacon will help to guide you through the procedure.
4. Include inspection and care of your window protection in your regular maintenance
programme. Plastic sheets should be checked for changes in colour, buckling, cracking and
fungal growth. Wire guards should be checked for rusting. All fixings should be inspected.
5. If you have received grant aid from English Heritage in the past, it is likely that you will have
to inform them of future works, including window protection. Your insurance company may
also have requirements on the kinds of protection they will accept.
Finally, if you require further information on window protection and much more beside, an excellent and inexpensive booklet called The Repair and Maintenance of Glass in Churches by Jill Kerr, is available from Church House Publishing, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3NZ.
Church Buildings Officer
& Secretary to the DAC
Window Protection Guidance Note:xii.2002
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