SWG Property: Faith Organizations – Is Your Client’s Ministry Building Winter-Ready?

Oct 2020

Today, most faith organizations provide extensive services while operating on a very limited budget. Most face the complex challenge of taking on an expanded role in their communities with far fewer resources.

Furthermore, many of them are operating with the additional challenge of an older and/or outdated building.

More than just religious activities such as last rites, confessions, bar mitzvahs, baptisms, weddings, and communion, a single place of worship may host a variety of outreach services. These services range from daycare, community and afterschool programs, immigration and counselling services and warming shelters.

This makes property and liability needs and coverages complicated for religious organizations.

A single incident without insurance can wipe out many faith institutions financially yet there are many that feel they don’t need insurance.

Property and Liability Insurance that is tailored to faith organizations covers sanctuaries, air conditioning and heat, electrical, plumbing, commercial kitchens, and similar assets within a place of worship.

Some policies, such as South Western’s Ecclesiastical Insurance product, also cover headstones, monuments, tombstones, crypts, and high-value assets such as stained-glass windows, pipe organs, and artwork.

This article outlines some of the most common risks for faith buildings enduring Canadian winters and the steps that religious organizations can take to prevent costly damage to their property.

  1. Snow Load

Accumulated snow and/or snow load can strain a roof’s integrity to the point of collapse, this is especially prevalent in older buildings. Flat roofs are especially susceptible as snow drifts can accumulate in amounts much greater than seen on the ground, such as downwind of a higher roof.

When winters are especially harsh, we see more incidents of roof collapses due to added snow weight in places of worship and other community buildings. (1)

How to prepare:

  • Property owners should have snow removed from roofs as often as needed, starting with areas with the heaviest drifts or uneven accumulation.
  • Snow removal is a dangerous activity and should be done by a roofing contractor rather than maintenance volunteers.
  1. Ice Dams

When snow melts, it runs down the roof and refreezes along the edges and forms continuous chunks of ice called ice dams. Ice dams are often caused by warming outdoor temperatures or heat escaping through the ceiling and roofs and melting the snow on the roof above. This causes melted snow to run down, collect, and freeze on colder areas of the roof.

As more snow melts off the roof, the water can start to pool behind the ice and may seep back up under the shingles, eventually dripping through the roof into the building’s walls and ceilings.

How to prepare:

  • Property owners should aim to prevent heat from escaping through ceiling openings. Key areas to check to ensure air flow is sealed off include around vent pipes and electrical cables.
  • Any attic areas should have their insulation levels and ventilation checked and any insufficiencies addressed. This will ensure the attics are neither cut off from heat nor prone to trapping heat.
  • Should an ice dam form despite the owner’s best efforts, it is recommended to have it removed as quickly as possible by a roofing company. This will help prevent not only damage to property but also the possibility of someone being injured by falling ice.
  1. Frozen Pipes

Thousands of properties across Canada are damaged by frozen pipes every year. For historic buildings such as Saskatoon’s Third Avenue United Church, one broken boiler during freezing weather could freeze pipes, damage organs, and lead to roof leaks and flooding. (2)

How to prepare:

  • Property owners should ensure the building thermostat is set to a consistent temperature, above 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius).
  • Pipes tend to freeze where insulation is poor – typically, in basements, attics, and crawl spaces. In these areas, exposed pipes should be fitted with foam sleeves and any gaps or cracks around the walls or ceiling should be filled to prevent heat from escaping.
  • Ensure continuous flow of heat to cooler parts of the building by keeping doors propped open and opening cabinet doors to where piping is exposed.
  • Maintain regular checkups and maintenance of the building’s boiler or other heating system.

SWG Property – Faith Organizations Liability Insurance

South Western Group understands the unique insurance needs for places of worship.

SWG Property – Faith Organizations Liability insurance program is designed to meet the unique requirements of faith communities with an eye toward helping them avoid the tragic consequences of underinsurance arising from outdated buildings, shrinking or growing congregations, and an expanded role in the community.

Coverage highlights:

  • Aside from providing coverage for your property, we can offer several extensions to include:

○ Headstones

○ Monuments

○ Tombstones

○ Crypts

○ Stained glass windows

○ Pipe organs

○ Religious artifacts

○ Building By-Laws

○ Loss of income

○ Professional fees

○ Day care operations under the faith organization

○ Additional Living Expenses for religious personnel residing in manse or rectory

  • Crime Coverage for Employee Dishonesty, Credit Card Forgery, Computer Fraud and Funds Transfers
  • Abuse coverage
  • Directors and Officers, counselling services liability
  • Umbrella Liability for higher limit requirements
  • Comprehensive Equipment Break-down
  • Cyber Liability

For more information about our policy, visit our website.

Content is current as of the date of broadcast and is subject to change without notice.


  1. https://www.canadianconsultingengineer.com/buildings/heavy-snow-causes-roof-collapses-in-the-maritimes/1000402951/
  2. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/third-avenue-united-church-parishioners-ask-city-for-money-1.5723470