Winter weather brings clients indoors, which means building owners should be aware of the unique challenges colder temperatures can bring and actions that can help reduce the possibility of business interruption.
Most regions of the country will experience plunging temperatures at some point during the winter, even areas in the Southwest and Southeast typically known for warm weather. Unfortunately, many commercial properties are not prepared for the season. This leaves facilities vulnerable to damage and business operations in jeopardy. Having to file an insurance claim and being unable to reopen following an event can be costly.
The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) offers Winter Weather Ready guidance that takes property managers through critical steps to prepare a commercial building ahead of freezing temperatures, ice or snow.
Improving your chance of being able to stay open for business starts with putting a proper business continuity plan in place. IBHS’s free OFB-EZ toolkit can help small businesses start to outline the important actions to take to keep functioning during a minor disruption or major disaster.
The Roof is the First Line of Defense
With a plan in place to help ensure operations can resume quickly after a winter storm, business owners and operators can start to address vulnerable areas of facilities so they will perform better against the elements.
Building owners can spend thousands of dollars to repair costly water damage instead of collecting revenue. An aging, damaged or improperly maintained roof is a common entry point for water.
Water that does not properly drain off a roof has the potential to freeze and expand, which can damage the roof and lead to leaks. A sealed roof deck, or moisture barrier, prevents water from leaking through cracks and into a building. In addition, maintaining roof drains, clearing gutters and checking flashing for cracks or gaps are important steps that prevent leaks.
When it is time to re-roof, consider following the FORTIFIED Commercial method. Utilizing the voluntary construction and roofing standard can strengthen the roof and other vulnerable areas of the facility, minimizing the risk by protecting against high winds and water entry.
Heavy snow or ice load is also a considerable risk to commercial facilities during snow or ice storms. Ahead of winter weather, contact a structural engineer to determine the “snow load,” or the weight of snow that can cause the roof of a given building to fail. After a storm, observe for signs of snow load damage, such as creaking sounds, a sagging roof, cracks in the ceiling or walls, water stains and doors or windows that no longer open and close correctly.
When it comes to the weight of snow, the type of snow is as important as the depth of the snow.
A common cause of damage during winter is frozen pipes bursting. Setting thermostats to at least 55 degrees F. will prevent indoor pipes from freezing. Pipes that may be exposed to freezing temperatures should be wrapped with insulation. Heat trace tape is another option that can help prevent pipes from freezing, and an automatic excess flow valve can provide early detection of a broken pipe or valve and stop a leak when triggered. A monitoring system can notify maintenance staff if the temperature in the facility has dropped below a pre-determined level.
Being proactive and prepared can significantly reduce business operation losses when Mother Nature strikes.
Tips for the Winter Season
The following actions further help property owners and facilities managers reduce the risk of disruptive damage from winter weather:
- Trim back tree limbs and branches so they don’t damage the roof, siding or windows.
- Make sure HVAC systems are running properly by setting up a preventive check with a repair company. Establish a relationship and negotiate an emergency rate in case a unit goes out during a cold snap.
- Consider investing in a generator to keep key equipment running during a power outage.
- Install surge protectors to protect costly electronic equipment.
- Have a secure data backup solution, like cloud storage, to prevent files from being lost if computers are damaged.
- Ensure safe access to buildings by clearing driveways and walkways. Place non-slip mats in front of entryways to prevent slipping as employees and customers enter/exit.
- Always re-confirm expected services when using outside contractors—from removing ice and snow in the parking lot and from sidewalks surrounding the building to security if the power to the alarm system goes out while employees are away.
- Document building condition and assets by taking geo-tagged photos and videos in advance of any storm.
- If you do have a loss, report damage to your insurer as soon as possible. Document losses and keep receipts in an electronic file that can be accessed from anywhere using cloud storage.
To effectively implement any business continuity plan, ensure employees are not only aware of, but well-trained on the program, along with a process in place to enable communication during severe weather.
Find more ways to prepare your facility for winter by visiting disastersafety.org/winter-weather.