Rethinking Winter Weather Risk

Is your Business Protected?

Winter weather is here, and colder temperatures bring the threat of commercial property damage. Are you prepared?  Start planning today.

The Complete Guide to Commercial Winter Storm Restoration

Winter weather is near, and colder temperatures bring a greater need for awareness surrounding potential property damage and the challenges it can present. Depending on the type of damage, property owners and managers are faced with potentially endangering the lives of their building’s occupants and a period of downtime that puts business at risk.

Seasonal property damage affects everyone, regardless of geographic region. Areas typically hit with snow run into a myriad of issues, but these properties were built with material that keeps the changing seasons in mind. Places with warmer temperatures that don’t historically get hit by snowfall are now faced with unpredictable weather and building materials that cannot withstand the events that occur.

To many, restoration is seen as the reaction to the disaster, but this is far from the truth. Here, we’ll provide a complete overview of commercial winter storm catastrophic event restoration, with professional tips on how you can prepare, react, and come back from a major winter weather event.

What to Know About Winter Weather Storms

Snowstorms, blizzards, and ice storms are often the primary winter weather events that have an impact on properties and people. Winter weather advisories slow travel and affect supply lines possibly causing a slower response time of a restoration partner on its way to a property. Making sure facilities teams always have emergency supplies like water, food, and flashlights on hand is a smart first step.

Understanding The Commercial Property

It’s important to have a baseline of knowledge about a property so it can properly be prepared for seasonal weather.

How old is your property?

The age of a property can give property owners and managers an idea of how old building materials are. If items need replacing, it might be good to tackle it before winter weather sets in.

Is there any deferred maintenance?

What jobs has the property needed to repair that they’ve put off? Will any of this weaken the structure’s ability to survive the winter season? Taking care of deferred maintenance can reduce the chance of a repeat event.

What is the grading like on the property?

Given the chance, water will make its way through the foundation and into the lower levels of the property. Get ahead of an inevitable problem and you can shore up the facility with relatively simple fixes.

What kind of building materials are used in the property?

Wood frames are more easily penetrated by water, and metal and concrete can suffer from erosion and rust.

Is the roof sloped or flat?

Sloped roofs are at risk for ice damming, and if too much snow builds up on an older structure with a flat roof, there is potential for a cave-in.

Regional Awareness

How winter affects a property is determined in part by region. Commercial properties in Canada will see buckets of snow while the western United States will see slightly colder temperatures and occasional precipitation. Northeastern communities in the US will see subzero temperatures and the potential for freezing rain. Understanding the type of weather a property will encounter determines the types of risks that are to be expected. However, In recent years there have been exceptions.

Some scenarios aren’t as cut and dry.  When freezing temperatures hit Texas in 2021, the state suffered from widespread power outages. This led to a variety of issues that ranged from burst pipes to unorthodox heating methods that caused some to suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, and in some cases even death. The state’s freeze incident wasn’t expected or prepared for.

Winter weather events can differ from year to year, but the hazards faced are similar.

Common Winter Hazards and How to Prepare for Them

Preparing for winter weather begins long before temperatures drop. Onsite assessments in warmer months reduce occupant exposure to risk of colder temperatures and can aid in identifying issues before snowfall.  Unfortunately, some problems aren’t noticeable until winter sets in, so it’s important to remain vigilant before and during winter months.

Here are some of the issues a property can prepare for…

Frozen and Burst Pipes

One of the most common issues all properties face in the winter is the threat of burst pipes. The phenomenon occurs when standing water inside the pipes freezes, expands and forces its way out. Realistically, any system with running water has the potential to freeze. These incidents are most often seen in vacant properties and basements but still tend to occur in properties that don’t take the right precautions.

Freezing and bursting water pipes are a familiar and expensive headache for many. For businesses in an area like Dallas, where freezing temperatures have been known to occur during otherwise mild winters, here’s an important fact: Nearly 90% of calls First Onsite receives are related to frozen and broken pipes. A minor leak can easily grow into a catastrophic mess if left unattended. Additionally, broken or leaking pipes can go undetected for weeks or even months, causing major flooding and water damage along with serious mold issues down the line.

Drain backups are another real problem. Snow and ice that develop by the eaves can melt quickly, and if outflow becomes impeded by debris or the sheer volume of meltwater, it is possible for the water to back up through drains, sinks, and toilets.

How to Identify and Prevent Frozen Pipes

Routine maintenance costs next to nothing compared to the price to repair a burst pipe. Having assessment teams inspect before the winter season is a great place to start.

Our specialists also recommend:

  • Keep the property slightly warmer than is typical. While this may carry with it the short-term annoyance of an increased heating bill, it’s just a small fraction of the cost of restoring the damage a frozen pipe can cause.
  • Opening all interior doors in the property, allowing for better airflow and temperature regulation to all areas.
  • Consider adding insulation around water lines in vulnerable areas (perimeter walls, basements, etc).
  • Leave faucets running at a slow stream (to keep water moving and avoid freezing).
  • Open cabinets that house water supply pipes, allowing warm air from the property to enter and minimize the risk of bursting.

Properties without running water should assume that pipes have frozen.

  • Inspect exposed pipes for leaks/damage after they thaw.
  • At signs of damage, contact a maintenance crew.
  • If damage is extensive, contact a disaster restoration team.

Ice Damming

Ice damming happens when snow accumulated on a rooftop begins to melt. Water that melts starts to puddle to the edges of the roof, and it re-freezes as temperatures shift. As more snow melts, more water collects to form a dam, causing the ice to expand. If it expands too far, it can gradually freeze under roofing materials and lead to a thaw that causes interior water damage. During an ice storm’s temperatures change between freeze and thaw multiple times in a 24-hour period, making this incident fast-acting.

Properties hit with regular snowfall are also at risk, with internal heating warming the roof and melting the snow on top. Eaves at the edge of the roof are colder, allowing water to build up and turn to ice. As ice collects and temperatures change, there is still a chance that it could find its way under roofing materials and into your home.

Ice damming is most common in properties with sloped roofs, wood-framed structures, shingle roofs.

Ice Damming Prevention

  • Outside assessors should check gutters for debris like leaves and sticks that may have built up over the fall. Any potential clogs will speed up the ice damming process.
  • Watch for large icicles hanging from the eaves of the roof. This is a sign that ice damming may be occurring.
  • Check that roof insulation is in good shape to handle a potential event. Add more insulation if necessary.
  • Check roof ventilation. Proper ventilation can help with better air circulation under the roof.
  • Pay attention to any moisture or dampness developing on the ceiling of the property.

Power Outages

Properties have power outages year-round, but winter outages tend to be among the most severe. Winter storms have been known to damage power lines and other equipment that provide power to commercial properties. And as stated above, winter storms also bring supply chain delays that leave businesses without the power they need to operate for extended periods of time.

Buildings without power can’t keep the heat on, and therefore can’t safely hold occupants that rely on that heat. If occupants are stranded, this is a time for teams to break out the emergency supplies. Pipes will also have to be closely monitored since they are no longer relying on the warmth provided by the heating systems. For facilities that encounter this situation, it’s important to remember that using a generator indoors can lead to an increased risk of fire damage and even severe illness or death.

Fire Prevention

It seems odd to think that fire is also a concern in the winter season, but when cold and desperate, people will do what they have to in order to stay warm. From placing heaters in the attic to warm the roof to propane barbeques in the house. Unorthodox methods for internal heating are a fire hazard, and can also be toxic to the health and wellbeing of all on the property. Don’t use outdoor heating equipment inside.

Preparing For a Power Outage

When preparing for a potential power outage, building owners and managers need to be aware of the risks certain measures may present. Properties that elect to use a generator for heat and emergency power should keep the generator stationed outdoors. The unit should be far from doors and windows, and the building should be fully equipped with carbon monoxide detectors covering all internal areas of the property. Make sure each detector is equipped with backup battery power to ensure that it works while running the generator.

Other items that can assist occupants when dealing with an outage include…

  • Flashlights.
  • Flameless lanterns.
  • Extra batteries.
  • Portable chargers.
  • Emergency radios and rechargeable batteries.

Preparing Commercial Buildings for a Winter Storm

Tips for Protecting Commercial Buildings During Winter

Whether it’s in Texas or Ontario, winter weather can strike without warning. Which is why it’s important to identify and resolve issues before they become a problem. Early detection always results in dollars saved. Our winter preparation checklist can act as a guide for property owners and managers to kickstart seasonal thinking before it’s too late.

Winter Prep Checklist for Property Owners

Use this checklist to keep buildings safe season after season.

  • Inspect building exteriors in the spring and fall, at a minimum
  • Routine checks at least once a week (or more during storm conditions)
  • Check HVAC systems
  • Check window condition and insulation
  • Install smart-home or cloud-based technology to manage heating and cooling systems externally

Want to learn more about winter storm preparation? Check out our Emergency Response Planning services.

How A Restoration Team Can Help

Preparing for winter can be an overwhelming experience for anyone, and that’s why it’s encouraged for property owners and managers to get in touch with a disaster restoration company. The process of developing a partnership is meant to take the weight off of the property owner, and owner and allow for a collaborative plan that mitigates potential damage.

Find a company that will send people to your worksite for an assessment. A strong restoration team will walk your property like a fine-toothed comb, identifying hotspots, expensive artwork to protect, and points of interest like your water and gas shutoff valves. This will develop into the property’s emergency response plan. Property owners and managers will have the procedures they need in place during times of crisis. And there’s comfort in knowing that help is just a phone call away.

Most importantly, the restoration team will know how to handle all winter weather events. Experienced restoration teams have been around for a while, and the threats properties face have been seen time and time again by those who are sent to restore a property after a disaster.

Even with all the right precautions in place, winter weather damage is inevitable. But we’re here to help!

First Onsite is The Complete Solution to Overcome Property Damage

First Onsite is your trusted, full-service disaster restoration and reconstruction company, serving the United States, Canada, and beyond. We partner with you to prepare for the threat of catastrophe and to be the first team on-site immediately after disaster strikes.

Our team in your area is backed by national resources, and we scale to meet the needs of your property regardless of size. We have the experience to respond to your property needs while keeping a close eye on environmental changes that could affect you in the future. We stay a step ahead of disaster so you can too.

We are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and you can request our services at any time.

Learn more about commercial winter weather property restoration services by downloading our Winter Weather Guide and Checklist.

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