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Guidelines for the Re-Lighting & Rewiring of Churches

Why The Need To Re-Wire?

The most common reason for needing to re-wire a church is that the existing electrical installation does not meet the required standards for an electrical test certificate or "Periodic Inspection Certificate" to be issued. This is sometimes referred to as an "NIC Certificate". Under BS7671 this is the standard to which installations must comply and is often a pre-requisite of local authorities, and building insurers.

In the worship areas of most churches the lighting system in the worship area represents approximately 80% of the electrical installation. The remaining 20% is other electrical circuits including 13A power sockets, electric heating supplies, kitchenette water heaters, vestry and sacristy areas etc. If the church has a larger number of ancillary rooms then this percentage will be adjusted accordingly.

As the lighting installation will normally represent the largest proportion of the wiring it is often the lighting wiring that fails to meet the standards and is therefore the primary cause of the need to rewire. It is also possible that the re-ordering or partitioning of a church might make the existing lighting and electrical systems unsuitable which will also lead to some re-wiring and re-lighting.

A lighting or electrical system which needs replacing now may have been in place for between 30 to 50 years. It may have been designed as a simple and economical post-war installation, possibly with some repairs and alterations carried out in the interim. It is in the nature of churches that willing helpers will have added spotlights, heaters and other appliances along the way. The present system may well have evolved somewhat organically rather than be the result of an initial design.

What To Do Next?

Knowing that a new installation should last for another 30 to 50 years, it is important to assess the needs that exist now and to consider what might be required in years to come. Thought should be given to the changing trends in liturgy and the resulting uses of key spaces for services, and the repositioning of furnishings. These all have an enormous impact on lighting, particularly in the use of spotlights.

A schedule of lighting requirements helps to clarify what is needed for the future. This should include:

How are the congregation to be lit, and to what level of illumination (how much daylight is there)?

Does the lighting for the congregational need to be adjustable in terms of areas (large or small)?

Does the use of the church require a dimming system which would enhance the atmosphere?

What are the lighting requirements for key features including the altar, lectern, table, platform, pulpit, font etc, what about the sanctuary and the side chapels?

Are there other architectural features which would benefit from being lit, is there a timber roof structure which should be uplit?

Developing a Specification

As with many types of major projects it is important to develop a detailed specification for this type of work. This sets out the requirements for the work, how it should be implemented and to what standards. It is also important to ensure that any minor housekeeping requirements such as electrical repairs and additional power points are included. It is always more cost effective to include these items from the outset.

In the first instance the parish architect may help to set out the requirements of a new scheme in terms of how it should perform. It may then be necessary to take advice from a specialist lighting and electrical consultant to ensure that a new scheme meets the requirements and is designed and installed in the most cost effective way.

If the works are minor and uncomplicated then it may be possible to employ a competent electrical contractor to produce a scheme on a "design and build" basis. However whilst this avoids the direct cost of a consultant it is difficult to ensure that this is truly cost effective without a full tender process.

Normally a specialist consultant will carefully guide their client through a detailed briefing process, perhaps will illustrations of the types of fittings that may be used and even visits to other recently completed projects - this often helps to demonstrate modern lighting options, clarify the scale and extent of works under consideration - and put the likely budget in context.

Once a full specification has been agreed this may be used as part of submissions to regulatory bodies for the appropriate permissions. The specification can also be used as the basis of a tender document so that competitive prices can be obtained from potential contractors.

Tendering & Contractor Selection

The consultant should manage a tender process so that the client can be sure they receive competitive bids from competent contractors; based on a common and unambiguous specification. Tendering often results in costs which vary by up to 25%. This is normally a far higher figure than the consultant's fees. However care should be taken to clarify the extent of all contractors' costs and professional fees to ensure that all contractual requirements are covered.

Implementation & Handover

Once a contractor has been appointed and the installation dates planned it will be necessary to schedule meetings to assess the progress of the works and to ensure that the original dates and costs are adhered to. The consultants should co-ordinate these meetings and ensure that the project is brought to a timely and satisfactory completion.

Costs and Fees

Consultants' fees may vary from project to project. Generally a lighting and electrical specialist will charge a fee of between 10% and 15% of the actual installation costs although this will vary according to the scale and complexity of the work. Perhaps the best way to gauge the worth and value of this is to seek references from parishes where this type of work has recently been undertaken.

Further Information

Further information may be obtained from your architect or from the DAC's lighting adviser