How to Prepare for a Winter Storm

If your business is in the United States, winter storms should be on your radar. They can come with severe consequences ranging from operational interruptions to significant safety hazards. As we’ve seen, even warmer areas like Texas and Florida aren’t safe from winter storms.
Fortunately, preparation can go a long way. Preparing for winter storms can help keep your infrastructure in good shape, improve emergency responses and prevent expensive recovery needs like equipment replacements or construction. To help you prepare for blizzards and other cold weather threats, we put together this guide on preparing a commercial property for a winter storm.

Know Your Property

A winter storm has a variety of effects. It can turn sidewalks into safety hazards, flood a building with burst pipes or cut off access to essential utilities. Every business is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution for commercial winter preparedness plans. Instead, you’ll need to have a comprehensive understanding of your property, including potential threats, resources and mission-critical business needs.

Consider factors like:

  • The most likely environmental threats in your region.
  • Characteristics of the building, such as old construction or existing damage.
  • Access to resources, like emergency services and utilities.
  • Equipment or infrastructure that needs maintenance.
  • Land grading, which can affect water drainage.

Winter Weatherproofing Checklist for Commercial Properties

Before the snow or subzero temperatures hit, spend some time checking on these aspects of your building to prep for winter storms.

1. HVAC System

Your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system works hard in the winter. Have it inspected and address any issues such as:

  • Old air filters.
  • Broken parts.
  • Leaks or holes in vent systems.

You may also want to cover up any outdoor AC units that won’t be used and make sure the system properly ventilates any exhaust gasses.

2. Insulation

Your insulation might be wearing away in some areas or not as effective as you’d like it to be. Consider whether it’s time to replace or repair your insulation, especially in unheated areas like attics or warehouses. Inspect insulation for holes or damage, and evaluate how the building’s heat loss might be affecting your energy costs. Improving insulation can bring down utility bills, minimize your carbon footprint and reduce strain on your HVAC system.

3. Drafts

A similar concern is draftiness. Drafts often occur through the gaps around windows and doors and cracks in walls. Look into weatherstripping products, repairs or caulking to help seal up these holes. Eliminating drafts offers the same advantages as improving insulation, with the added benefit of blocking up spaces where moisture or pests could enter the building.

4. Plumbing

Plumbing issues can be some of the most expensive effects of winter storms. Freezing temperatures can cause pipes to burst and flood a building, leading to water damage and unnecessary downtime. Prevention is the best approach. Here are some ways to prep for snow storms and the effects of cold temperatures on your plumbing:

  • Test any alarms and protection devices like freeze stats and valves.
  • For unheated areas or those with limited heating, wrap faucets and pipes with insulating materials.
  • Keep the thermostat at a minimum of 55 degrees Fahrenheit, even in vacant spaces.
  • Locate your water shut-off valve, and make sure appropriate personnel know where it is to ensure a quick response.
  • Winterize any irrigation systems you have for your grounds, such as sprinklers, by disconnecting them and draining the water.
  • Inspect fire sprinklers, which hold high volumes of water and can quickly cause large-scale water damage.

5. Roofing

Between heavy snow and high levels of moisture, roofs can be under significant stress in the winter. Before the snow hits, inspect the roof for any signs of damage, including holes, loose shingles or structural problems. These issues could lead to leaks — and subsequent mold or rot — or more damage after a harsh storm. Along with overt damage, you’ll also need to consider how your roof will respond to ice dams and high snow loads.

Ice dams are thick sheets of ice that form on the edge of the roof, usually due to inconsistent heating. They occur when the snow melts on one part of the roof and travels to the edge, where the temperature is lower and water can refreeze. These heavy slabs of ice can damage your gutters and melt into large pools of water that could cause rot, mold and roof damage. Stay proactive in preventing ice dams by fixing any air leaks and improving insulation.

You’ll also need to keep an eye out for excessive snow load. Snow load is the pressure exerted on the roof from the weight of compacted snow. Some roofs are more prone to heavy snow loads than others, such as low-sloped or saw-toothed roofs. Consider the age of your building and whether structural changes might be in order. Get a professional inspection, and watch for signs of potential collapse, like leaks, cracked roof joints and sagging sprinkler heads.

Creating a Disaster Plan

A disaster plan is a vital part of any organization’s emergency response. Knowing what to do in these situations can keep people in the building safe and minimize damage and recovery costs. These plans should be robust, and it’s usually a good idea to work with emergency response professionals when developing one.

Your disaster plan should cover information on:

  • Risk assessment: The first step in emergency preparedness is to document the risks you identified for your property and the steps you’re taking to mitigate them.
  • Protective actions for life safety: Outline and disperse plans for your protective actions for life safety. The four actions include evacuation, sheltering from severe weather, lockdown and sheltering in place from exterior airborne hazards.
  • Communication plans: Communication is key in any disaster event. Create a clear chain of command that outlines individual responsibilities. Establish a procedure for communicating the situation to employees, customers, contractors and anyone else on the property.
  • Nearby resources: Create a list of resources you can use for incident stabilization, such as emergency services and contractors. Make sure appropriate personnel understand when and how to contact these resources. Keep your business needs in mind. Your contractor, for instance, should be focused on commercial needs and understand the importance of resuming operations as fast as possible. 
  • Site plans and information: Your emergency response plan should provide information about your property, such as building plans and layouts. These documents can help facilitate quick evacuation, effective emergency responses and utility shutoffs.
  • Asset protection: Map out any action that must be taken to protect your assets, such as unplugging equipment to avoid technical issues or securing sensitive items to prevent water damage.

A disaster plan won’t do much if employees don’t know how to use it. Emphasize training, regular drills and strong communication about new protocols.

Staying Safe in Winter Weather

Winter weather threats are similar for individuals and businesses, but businesses have a responsibility to keep people on the property safe. Here are some safety tips to prepare for a snow storm:

  • Know your advisories and keep an eye on the weather: Brush up on your knowledge of winter weather terms, including the difference between a warning, watch and advisory.
  • Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia: Make sure everyone in the business knows what frostbite and hypothermia look like and what actions to take.
  • Keep parking lots and walkways clear: Use de-icing materials like salt, and shovel snow when it’s safe to do so. Make sure emergency services can access all entrances of the building.
  • Build a stockpile: Storms can last several days and cause power issues for much longer. Maintain a stock of emergency supplies such as water, food, flashlights and two-way radios.

Plan Ahead With URI

When winter emergencies happen, Ultimate Restoration is on call for your business. With a wide range of emergency response services, we can get you back to work as soon as possible after a storm or other disaster. Our planning and consulting services help you minimize risk and be prepared for whatever mother nature has to offer.

Snowfall is just around the corner. URI can help you get ready for it. Reach out today to learn more!


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