Questions & Answers

If you would like to ask Forth Pipe Organs a question about organ building, restoration or maintenance please click here.

We are having work carried out in the church, what steps should we take to protect our pipe organ?

  • Where there is any exposed pipework, this should be removed to storage for protection, preferably to the premises of an organ builder rather than on site. Parts of the organ that are fixtures should be covered in heavy duty polythene sheeting and this should be done by professional organ building personnel rather than the contractor.
  • Where there are enclosed organ chambers, entry to them should be prohibited without the organ builders being in attendance.
  • Access to any blowing chamber should also be prohibited and any door kept locked, the lock being provided by the church authorities and the key held by them.

The work will involve changes to the power supply and/or wiring in the church. What could be the implications for the organ?

  • Where the instrument has electric or electro-pneumatic action, contractors should be made aware of any DC electric cabling under the floor which connects the console to the organ switch system. In the case of tubular pneumatic action there may be tubing or where there is mechanical action, trackers may be concealed in the floor space. In each case these items should not be disturbed without the organ builders being present.
  • Great care should be taken that the DC electrical supply to the console from the transformer/rectifier is not cut. This may run separately from the multicore cable. If a contractor is uncertain if any wiring or ducting belongs to the organ, he should consult the organ builder before taking any action.
  • Where there are working lights within organ or blowing chambers, these should be included when any rewiring work is being considered in consultation with the organ builders.

What other points should we consider?

  • Where any structural change within a building affects the organ, the contractor should maintain contact with the organ builders and advise them when it would be safe to carry out any related work.
  • Contractors should also be made aware of any wind trunking under the floor and this should also remain untouched during the duration of the contract.
  • When any structural or other work has been concluded, free access to the site should be given to the organ builders to carry out any work or other items such as the repositioning of the organ console. In addition, an electrical engineer will be required if it is necessary to reconnect the AC electrical supply between the organ console and the contactor and this will be the main contractor’s sole responsibility. The engineer should ensure that he consults with the organ builders and understands the various items which an organ requires.

We have a humidifier unit in the church, is there anything we need to be aware of?

  • Where there is a humidifier unit, it should have a constant 13 amp AC supply.

We suspect the presence of asbestos in our building, what should we do?

Extreme caution should be exercised where the presence of asbestos is suspected and if necessary a survey carried out by suitably qualified personnel. Older blowing apparatus in particular should be checked, as the substance was used in the past in this connection both as sound proofing and as a fire retardant.

The contractor will need access to the organ chamber(s), what should be done?

  • Any work required within organ or blowing chambers should be carried out with the organ builders in attendance and a small contingency fund of, say £1,000 should be set aside to cover any expenses which may be incurred by organ builders while attending or overseeing work being carried out under these circumstances.
  • The contractor should regularly keep the organ builders informed of progress to allow access at a mutually agreed date for work such as the moving of wind trunks, cabling or the repositioning of a console.
  • Any protection which has been applied by the organ builders to the console or parts of the organ which are fixtures should not be moved or disturbed without the prior consent of the church authorities. It should be borne in mind that any damage caused by the contractor to the organ would not be covered by an existing contract with the organ builder.
  • In buildings where the organ is susceptible to overheating, everyone working within it should be made aware that leaving the heating on for long periods will cause shrinkage in the timbers which can affect the operation of the key action and the winding system. In these circumstances the church authorities should regularly check the humidity levels within the building using an electrical thermo-hygrometer.

We need to replace our central heating system and the building is inclined to be dry, what conditions would best suit our pipe organ?

  • Aim to maintain a relative humidity level of between 55% and 75% during the winter months.
  • Ensure that your heating system heats and cools the building gradually. This is best for both the fabric and any structures which react unfavourably to sudden changes of temperature such as organs.

What should we do about the temperature of the building during the week?

  • During weekdays, when the church is not being used, the temperature should not exceed 10 degrees Centigrade (50 degrees Fahrenheit). Cold conditions will not cause any damage to an organ unless damp is present.

And on a Sunday?

  • On a Sunday or other occasions when the church is in use, the temperature should be between 18 and 21 degrees Centigrade (68 degrees Fahrenheit). High temperatures, if sustained for long periods may cause damage to an organ through low humidity. If the organ is tall or in a gallery, it should be borne in mind that the temperature within the organ may be higher than in the pews. Allowance should also be made for the heat generated by the presence of people within a building and the setting on a thermostat adjusted accordingly.

Organ builders usually ask for the heating to be on in the church when they tune the organ during the winter months. Is this really necessary?

  • When the organ is being tuned, the building should be at the usual temperature for services. This is not merely for the comfort of the organ tuners, but will enable the church to get the best out of their tuning and maintenance contract because an organ tuned at a temperature other than that in which it will be used (i.e. when the building is heated) will sound out of tune and will only sound in tune when the temperature drops to the level present when the tuning was carried out.

When should the church heating be switched on before a service?

  • If a building is heated quickly, the fabric of the building will not have absorbed any heat in a short time and it makes a sudden transition to a different climate. This is sometimes called “thermal shock”. Much will depend on the individual building and the nature and possibly the age of the heating system, but in general, the building should be heated as gradually as possible, often as much as 24 hours.
  • Inside the church the relative humidity levels will reflect those outside. Thus in cold, frosty weather this will be low and more heating will be needed to maintain a normal temperature resulting in lower indoor relative humidity and potential problems with the organ. In wet or misty weather the outdoor relative humidity is correspondingly higher and the woodwork of the organ will absorb moisture.