Money to Fix Stuff

Many years ago when we bought our house, we had no idea what to expect regarding upkeep. We had been the first owners of a newly renovated Brooklyn Co-op and were moving to a 70-year-old New England style house. We had a home inspection, but were young and idealistic about starting a family. We didn’t care that we might need a new roof and oil burner in 10 years – we were excited about having 3 bedrooms and a backyard!

So six weeks into suburban home ownership, the hot water heater was on the fritz. The plumber told me it was more than 30 years old- that they didn’t make hot water heaters like this anymore. Each day it worked was a blessing, he said. He tried to fix it, but said we would be calling him weekly to keep it going. Better to bite the bullet and buy a new one.

About synagogue life: It’s the summertime and the HVAC system is on the fritz. The High Holy Days are approaching. The system is 15 years old and really gets a workout during the year for both heating and cooling. The budget is tight, and spending $25,000-$50,000 is not an expense in the approved budget.

In October, there is a leak in the sanctuary from the roof. The last time a new roof was installed was 20 years ago. You think. And no one can remember when anyone has been up there for any ongoing maintenance. Winter is coming, and that means snow. Or rain if you are in another part of the country. The synagogue has a pretty big footprint. A new roof might cost more than the new HVAC.

How do you pay for this stuff?

I read an article about physical plant maintenance recently in “Church Finance Today”. A few things stood out. First, many churches are experiences similar challenges. Second, “good stewardship includes physical assets”. There are many things in the synagogue, which over time will require ongoing maintenance and replacement. Chairs, rugs, computers, desks, electrical & plumbing systems. I learned first hand that building codes change over time and the electrical and plumbing systems may need to be upgraded for safety reasons.

We bought our house from an electrical contractor who had upgraded the wiring a few years prior. Our plumber who installed the new hot water heater said our pipes were in great shape. Thirty years later, both systems had to be upgraded to comply with current building codes.

Also, you want to be prepared for the eventuality that big ticket items like the roof and HVAC will need to be maintained on an ongoing basis. And that they do have finite lifetimes and require replacement. Synagogues should be setting aside on an annual basis $2.00 to $2.50 per square foot (10,000 square foot building would require $25,000) for a capital reserve fund.

If you haven’t already, create a task force that includes an engineer, real estate people and others with knowledge of buildings, systems and equipment and conduct a building audit. You can also hire a building engineer to do this, too. The audit will give you an idea of the lifetime of everything in the building – what you can see from the floor to the ceiling s well as the systems that are hiding in the walls or in utility closets.

4 Comments on “Money to Fix Stuff

  1. David,

    This is such an important topic! Though not sexy, these issues are critical to plan for and budget for. This topic is of great concern to our local NY metro area synagogues, particularly for those located in Manhattan. In fact UJA-Federation of NY published a report on this very topic. Strategies for Maintaining Synagogue Spaces is available for free download here:

    Kate Lauzar
    Planning Director
    SYNERGY, UJA-Federation of NY

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.