SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1986

Potential Hazards Resulting from the Misapplication of Energy Conservation Measures in Existing Religious Buildings


The development of a practical information data base covering a wide cross section of religious buildings is essential to determine the most effective approach in reducing their demand for energy without creating negative side effects.

Very little information is available on religious building profiles which is of use in determining the potential hazards resulting from the misapplication of various measures.

Applying energy conservation measures to religious buildings presents unique problems. For instance, attempting to apply cost-saving energy conservation measures with an unqualified committee working in its spare time with limited funds often results in structural damage, safety problems, and fire hazards to existing structures; examination of several hundred religious buildings in the province of Ontario has confirmed the existence of many problems.

The most common problem is the improper application of thermal insulation to the roof and walls of buildings. This has resulted in the loss of structural integrity due to dry rot caused by inadequate moisture control. The accelerated deterioration of a building can result in prohibitive maintenance and repair costs to many heritage edifices.

The various effects of insulation on fire safety are also a major concern. For instance, when insulation is applied around heat-producing devices such as lighting fixtures, lack of adequate ventilation can result in dangerous levels of heat accumulation to adjacent combustible materials. Insulation applied to linings under 5 mm (for example, plywood) can accelerate ignition when exposed to an ignition source.

The presence of plastic foam insulating materials is also a major concern due to the potential for vertical spread of fire in cavity walls. Materials such as urea-formaldehyde foam insulation can cause eye and nose irritations in some people and is linked to other health risks.

In geographic areas experiencing heavy snowfalls, the snow loads on roofs can cause failure due to heavy accumulations resulting from the improper use of insulation. Serious wetting occurs inside buildings from infiltration of blowing snow where gaps in insulation exist and where moisture barriers are installed in a faulty manner.

Most of these potential hazards can be significantly reduced or entirely eliminated by obtaining competent technical advice and by the adoption of proper installation and construction practices.

Hundreds of questionnaires, in addition to visits to examine a wide variety of religious buildings, have revealed the existence of many of the anticipated problems.

Documentation of these problems should provide a useful resource base of information for those involved in the operation, maintenance, and retrofitting of these important community buildings.

Author Information

Chick, WS
Ontario Ministry of Energy, Toronto, Canada
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Developed by Committee: E06
Pages: 111–120
DOI: 10.1520/STP23016S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-4968-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-0458-7