Keenan Blog

Leaving Your Facilities Out in the Cold?

December 15, 2020

Winter weather brings the need for property protections to prevent damage and avoid injury hazards. Preparations are especially important if facilities are going to be vacant for a period of time, such as during the holidays or when prolonged stay-at-home orders may be in effect. The steps you take in advance of freezing temperatures, accompanied by periodic inspection of buildings during the times they are unoccupied, can help you be sure you can reopen safely and timely.

The combination of cold and water are among the most common property hazards in the winter. If you have ever frozen a plastic bottle of water, you know that the water expands when it turns to ice. Just as the ice makes the plastic bottle bulge, ice that forms in a confined space like a water pipe or structural cracks in a building will exert considerable force that can create damage.

Water pipes that are exposed on the outside of buildings and in unheated interior areas are at risk of bursting during freezing weather. Hose bibbs on the exterior can bring freezing temperatures to its supply pipe inside the building. A burst water pipe that runs for days unnoticed could flood extensive areas of a building and cause severe damage to the structure and its contents. Needless to say, a flooded facility will significantly delay reopening when planned.

Where low temperatures can be expected, exposed plumbing needs to be insulated to prevent freezing. Outdoor faucets can be covered with insulating devices designed to fit over the fixture. Don’t forget drinking fountains that are out in the cold – there are insulation kits for these as well. You can also prevent burst pipes if it is possible to shut off the water supply and drain the pipes before closing down a facility. An empty pipe can’t burst from ice formation. Landscape irrigation plumbing is a system where a complete shut off and draining is particularly effective.

Snow and rain are other wintertime hazards for your facilities. Inspect roofing and vent penetrations regularly to identify potential leaks and make repairs proactively. Take note of any roof areas that accumulate standing water. Water that doesn’t drain off a roof readily tends to find any small defect in the surface that will allow leakage into the building. If you are located in regions that receive heavy snowfall, be sure you know the structural limitations of your roofing and take steps for mitigating exceptionally deep accumulations.

Gutters and downspouts are designed to direct rain and melting snow from the roof away from the building. When functioning properly, gutters help avoid damage to the building and its foundation as well as reduce flooding risks. Gutters clogged with debris will allow water to run onto exterior surfaces and against the foundation. If the drainage gets into cracks, the hydraulic force of liquid water will weaken the materials. If the water in the cracks freezes, more pressure will expand those cracks.

It’s important to keep people safe as they enter or exit facilities in winter weather, which is prime time for slip and fall injuries. Promptly clear walkways, steps and thresholds covered by snow or ice. Use approved ice melting and surface preparation procedures at building entrances to improve traction. Mats to clean and absorb water from shoes at entrance doors will help lower the danger of slipping on hard floors during wet or snowy conditions. Post “wet floor” caution signs in traffic areas and mop up frequently where the hazards persist.

Winter weather hazards are preventable and can be kept to a minimum with advanced planning and routine maintenance. Stay aware of developing weather conditions that can impact your facilities and their use. Set up a procedure for regular inspections of unoccupied facilities to minimize the effect of any malfunctions or damage that happens during closures. If monitoring is available for water intrusion and other hazards, be sure to establish who will receive notification and be responsible for taking action.

Loss control professionals can assist you in identifying your risks and ways to prevent problems during winter cold and precipitation. If you have questions, your local Keenan representative is available to help.

About Eric Preston
Eric Preston is Vice President, Loss Control Services at Keenan. He leads a statewide team of specialists assisting clients with services to reduce hazards, and improve property & casualty loss experience.