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Fixing Facilities to Face Winter

Winter is on its way, in all its snowing, sleeting, blowing and freezing glory. In the next few months, a big part of your job will involve getting your vehicle fleet prepped for the cold. But there’s another part, just as important, but too often overlooked in the flurry of equipment preparation: your facilities.

As the winter season approaches, cold and rainy weather present extra challenges for facility management teams: Just like any of the machines you’re getting ready to face winter’s worst, your facilities require the same attention.

• Heavy snow and ice are tough on roofs, gutters, siding, windows and doors.

Alternating periods of cold and warm weather can create ground upheavals, ruined asphalt, tilted sidewalks and compromised building foundations.

• Sub-zero cold can crack or burst pipes and render sprinkling systems useless. Frost or water seepage can lead to structural failure, costly repairs and energy leaks on a major scale.

• Melting salt tracked in can ruin floors.

• HVAC components can fail from overwork.

What About Energy?

On top of physical damage and equipment failure, there’s energy efficiency to consider. Will buildings that are unprepared for cold weather generate additional expenses? Almost certainly. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), commercial properties account for 39% of total energy use and 68% of total electricity use. Energy wasted through leaks, cracks, drafts and other facility flaws can cost you dearly during the winter months.

The fact is, energy often represents a commercial property’s single largest operating expense - meaning that optimizing efficiency is as important as any other part of your winter facility planning.

These are just some of the reasons why winter facility preparation is so crucial to your peace of mind.

We’ve included some areas below to consider as you work out a winter facilities-prep master plan. These ideas are far from comprehensive, but do give you an idea of how to protect structural integrity, while optimizing for energy efficiency and safety.

Key Areas to Inspect

Roofs

Facility roofs are one of the greatest critical points of potential failure when it comes to winter weather.

• Flat Roofs

Flat roofs require continual maintenance. Conduct required repairs of flat roof membranes and seams before cold weather compromises ability to do work. Be sure to identify areas where water can accumulate and where ice or heavy snow can pile up in wintertime.

Consider forming a snow and ice removal plan to prevent snow burden or ice overload from causing breakdowns in roof surface or even structural integrity. This is especially important when large snowfalls are followed by a fast warm-up that can lead to standing water on roofs.

• Inspect roofs each week leading up to and during the winter season.

• Sweep up debris and check tar seals.

• Keep roof drains clear and be prepared if necessary to pump water off the roof.

• Check that flashings are flush and secure.

• Plan for emergency snow removal in event of heavy accumulation. Identify and supply proper equipment and check it in advance of predicted snows.

• Slanted Roofs

The various materials from which slanted roofs are made can present different kinds of problems. Even though water runs downhill and shingles or tiles are designed to shunt it off, slanted roofs can still leak and must be sealed correctly to prevent seepage.

• Inspect shingles and roof vents if applicable.

• Check roof-edge waterproofing and seal to prevent potential drafts.

• Install or check ice breakers to protect public safety.

• Trim back trees or branches that may impact roof integrity.

Grounds & Building Envelope

Beyond roofs, look carefully at building exteriors and the areas immediately around them.

• Check for cracks in foundation and sidewalks/parking lots. Freezing water will expand and make them worse, plus could lead to outbreaks of mold.

• Have salt and sand on the ready for icy days and take note of high-traffic walkways.

• Trim branches and bushes that could break and damage your building during wind and rain or heavy snow.

• Monitor landscaping for areas prone to being washed out in the rain. Use sandbags to deter erosion if necessary, especially near building foundations.

• Check which windows are prone to condensation and check periodically for mold.

• Shut off water to any exterior water faucets to keep spigots and pipes from freezing. If possible, use insulated covers for an extra layer of protection.

• Drain irrigation systems and ensure that valves are clear of water.

• Run enough heat in unoccupied buildings to keep pipes above freezing temperatures.

• Know where emergency water shut off valves are in case of a pipe burst.

• Pests will be seeking warmer places during winter-check for possible points of entry and seal them or set traps.

Gutters

Gutters are critical to control drainage from rain, snow and melting ice, and to prevent flooding inside and outside the building. Given the recently severe fluctuations in winter weather, gutters may be called upon to handle flood-level downpours in all seasons, including wintertime. That means it’s important to:

• Clean gutters thoroughly, removing all debris and unclogging drains.

• Run a test of gutters and downspouts to be sure water does not back up.

• Check outflow of downspouts to push water away from the building foundation.

Snow and Ice Removal

Snow can present major maintenance problems when it accumulates enough to impact roof structures or drifts where it can block entrances or cause ice to form on sidewalks. When weather fluctuates, it is important to keep ahead of freezing and thawing cycles to avoid dangerous slips and falls caused by black ice.

• Provide clear snow removal instructions to your contractor or internal staff and advise that safety comes first. Budget for adequate staff time and have plenty of snow shovels and snow pushers on hand.

• Choose and purchase adequate deicing materials depending on your region.

• Apply deicers and traction control products before the storm hits to lay a base of clear walkways. Follow up with ice melting compounds afterwards.

• Provide transitional areas with mats where people can clean their feet and remove boots to prevent slippery floors. Entry mats

• Determine in advance where excess snow is to be stored.

• Conduct inspections at peak foot traffic periods, when ice forms and people are heading to and from the building.

Entrances and Exits

If your facility was designed with doors that open flush to the outdoors, cold or moist air drafts can radically affect the temperature and air quality of your facility.

• Consider tenting the front doorway or creating some diversion to keep wintry air from rushing into the front foyer, cafeteria, or plant floor where workers are trying to conduct business.

Sprinkler Systems

• Dry pipe and wet pipe sprinkler systems should be mapped along with low point drains, should the system ever need to be initiated.

• Wet pipe sprinklers need to be protected from cold air so that pipes do not freeze, which would render the system useless.

Gas Lines and Connections

Many facilities seem to take their gas line connections for granted, yet for businesses that use it frequently, natural gas is one of the most efficient fuels – but it does come with risk of ignition or explosion if connections are not installed or managed correctly. That can be particularly true with buried gas lines.

• Install corrosion-free underground gas lines to prevent metallic pipe breakdown and eliminate underground pipe threads.

• Flexible gas risers can be used to install gas lines in tight places and respond to frost common in wintertime, preventing potential gas leaks and explosions.

Floors

Tracked-in ice melting salt and chemicals can damage flooring materials. A few precautions now can go a long way in preventing costly replacements next spring.

• Apply a few extra coats of finish to hard surfaces such as VCT to act as a buffer against abrasion from salt and boots.

• Have extra entryway mats ready if need be during peak traffic hours and be prepared with mini air blowers to help keep vestibules clear.

• Have water removal equipment ready to avoid slippage on wet floors.

Preparing your facilities for a harsh winter makes great sense on so many fronts. If the winter ends up being a mild one, you’re still well ahead of the game. If you need other ideas on how you can make your facilities safer and more efficient this winter, feel free to reach out to the experts at Imperial Supplies. Our Dedicated Account Advisors are available to answer your questions and help you find solutions to meet your challenges. Contact us any time during business hours by phone, email or mobile app! Don’t have a free account yet? No problem, we’ve made it easy to get started.

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