Potterton Commercial helps North London church in time for Christmas


An unfinished bell tower proved to be a godsend for a north London church when its old non-condensing boiler packed up two months before the parish's busiest period and it had to find a new solution in time for the Christmas rush.

As with many historic buildings, problems of accessibility, working sympathetically with its surroundings and where to place the flue, just added to the problems St Johns Church in Friern Barnet had to solve quickly. But it was only after the church made contact with Christopher Dunphy Ecclesiastical (CDE), a specialist in church heating systems and also a finalist in last year's HVR Contractor of the Year Award, that a rather unique solution was found.

It involved two new Potterton Commercial condensing boilers being hoisted through a hatch left over from an uncompleted bell tower, which was never put to its originally intended use. Plans for the bell tower are clear in an early illustration by renowned Gothic revival architect John Loughborough Pearson depicting his vision for the church. It was envisaged that the bells would have been brought up through the hatch.

The problem

When Mick Russell of CDE was contacted by the church, he looked at various options in the cramped and rather inaccessible basement room which housed the older boiler.

"We had the option to come back into the basement with a boiler which would have to be a condensing boiler to comply with ErP requirements, but we discounted this straight away."

The drawbacks included:

  • The original burner would have to be used but if there was then a problem, that would have meant extra cost for the church.
  • The room is a natural drain meaning that when it rains it is not unusual for the floor to be three to four inches deep in water which could have presented a risk to any new equipment.
  • Any new solution would have to be brought down in sections and then reassembled on site.
  • Any installation in the basement would have an issue with where to site the flue - critically important in a Grade 2 listed building.

The solution

The vestry above the basement was where the solution was eventually found, but not straight away. At first, Mick investigated the 'blower room', housing a blower used to cool the church organ with wet air in conjunction with a humidifier. However, reaching the room by the stairs would have presented exactly the same accessibility problems as the basement.

"That was when we were told about the trapdoor. This was a bit of a miracle, because when you stand in the vestry and look up, you wouldn't know it was there."

A convenient beam presented a perfect attachment for a winch and two Potterton Commercial 110kW condensing boilers were easily hoisted into place in the 'blower room'. Flueing was always going to be a problem because of the Grade 2 listing and the appliances used, i.e. the 110kW boilers, had maximum resistance of 9m.

"In the new boiler room we have vertical flues, it's near to our 9m so we were just on the resistance level," Says Mick.

The flues exit the building on a flat roof, and beyond them is a parapet concealing them from view which was an added bonus in securing permission for the solution from the diocese. Working extra hours to allow the new solution to be ready in time for Christmas, the crew was able to complete the job seamlessly in five days.

Church warden, Andy Beal, says: "The new boilers work well. It's only been two months but I am hopeful they will be more efficient and cheaper to run in the long run. The team was very respectful and worked around what we were doing in the church at the time because we had carol services and other events, but they came in early and worked late."

Whether it was pure luck, or just clever thinking on the part of CDE, it's clear the church has a sustainable solution which will last for many years to come.