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Winter Weather Precautions

Severe ice and snow storms are a significant factor in insured catastrophic losses. While we can’t control what nature may bring us this winter, we can be mindful of the importance of building maintenance. Preventive actions can significantly reduce exposure to winter weather liabilities and property risks. 

The checklist that follows, though not all-inclusive, can be an effective part of your organization’s advance preparation to mitigate winter weather impacts, operations and business continuity. 

Buildings and Structures

With the likelihood of sustained extremely low temperatures paired with snow, ice and strong north winds, the risk for frozen pipes is at an all-time high, especially for plumbing located on north-facing walls or attic spaces. It is extremely important to be sure all buildings have the heat set to a minimum of 65 degrees and that all doors and windows are sealed to protect against strong winds. 

  • Look for any evidence of past damage to your building’s structure, paying special attention to damaged roof equipment that may need replacement, and take note of any areas of likely instability during severe winter weather.
  • Review building additions or new roof equipment that may increase snow drifting. Areas where snowdrifts are likely to occur include: intersections of low and high roofs; valleys between two peaked roofs; and intersections of roof and roof-mounted equipment. Excessive snowdrifts increase the weight applied to roof structures and may cause collapse.
  • All building openings should be weather-tight so they will not admit cold air that could cause fire protection systems to freeze.
  • Schedule routine inspections of heating equipment.
  • Check that gutters and downspouts are secured to buildings and clear of leaves and debris.
  • Check that all roof equipment (air conditioner, fan housing, antenna, sign) mounts are secure against damage during heavy winds.
  • Test low building temperature alarms.
  • Maintain roofs in good condition, including repairing leaks and securing flashing.

Heating Equipment

Boilers, furnaces and other heating equipment must be inspected and maintained in accordance with regulatory and manufacturers’ guidelines. Winter storms frequently cause electrical power failure which may deactivate your heating system. If this occurs, water-filled piping (e.g., sprinklers, domestic water pipes and air conditioning systems) may freeze and rupture.

  • Inspect heating coils, air-handling units and space heaters.
  • Store combustibles safely away from heating equipment.
  • Inspect and test safety shutoff valves and cutoff switches on combustion equipment.

Mechanical and Process Equipment

Equipment located outside or near exterior walls is vulnerable in cold weather. Check all outside tanks and indoor pipes for moisture or condensate and proper operating condition. Remember to secure outdoor equipment against strong winds.

  • For water-cooled equipment, provide adequate heat, locate in heated enclosure, or provide the proper antifreeze solution.
  • Remove low points and dead ends from piping where possible; otherwise, elevate low points and provide drain valves.
  • Provide heat tracing and insulation on water-filled instrumentation and control lines, and Drain and close all exposed water pipes and valves.

Fire Protection Equipment

As with other equipment, fire protection equipment—from water mains, to extinguishers, to hydrants—can be highly vulnerable to drops in temperature during a severe weather situation. If a fire emergency does occur, you might find yourself without sufficient means to contain it. Remember to verify all fire protection equipment is operating effectively.

  • Ensure hydrants are properly marked for easy locating and clearing after a heavy snowstorm.
  • Drain connections to water motor gongs and fire department connections properly.
  • Drain wall hydrants and fire pump test connections of water that may be exposed to freezing.
  • Check the packing on post indicator control valves for leaking and repair as necessary.
  • Check hydrants for tightness and repair any leaks; also check buried valves and repair leakage.
  • Check that portable and wheeled fire extinguishers located in areas subject to freezing are suitable for such locations.
  • Ensure that underground water mains have adequate depth of cover.
  • There should be plans in place to isolate mains that are not properly buried.
  • If pump suction is from an open reservoir, make sure the intake and pipe are below the frost level underground and deep enough in the water to prevent ice obstructions.

Sprinkler Systems

Sprinkler systems are a vital part of fire protection, and can be the best means of containing an outbreak. As such, you should make sure that all systems are functioning properly in advance of a severe winter weather event.

  • Inspect and maintain all sprinkler systems in accordance with NFPA 13. Maintain air pressure and set dry-pipe valves.
  • Provide heat for dry-pipe and deluge-valve enclosures. Make sure the heaters are in good operating condition.
  • Drain dry-pipe low points and condensate collection points. Continue your check weekly until no water will drain.
  • Test solutions in all antifreeze sprinkler systems and add antifreeze as necessary.
  • Ensure correct temperature rating for sprinklers located near steam pipes, unit heaters or other heat-producing equipment.

Snow Removal

Make sure snow and ice removal equipment and manpower are readily available. Keeping active walkways, driveways and parking lots clear will help minimize slips, falls and motor vehicle accidents. Designate a safe area for dumping snow. Remember that melting and freezing will occur until the snow pile is gone. Your snow removal plan should also address situations and conditions that require additional equipment or manpower (such as lack of manpower due to illness or strike, extreme snowfall or icing that may require special equipment or ice melting chemicals).

  • Service snow removal equipment. Make sure the keys are accessible.
  • Contract for snow removal or have a snow removal contractor on call to assist your staff if they cannot handle snow removal.
  • Designate snow deposit areas. These areas should not obstruct access to hydrants, post-indicator valves, emergency exit doors or fire-pump house doors.
  • Create a plan that allows your staff or contractor to safely remove snow, ice and/or water accumulation from rooftops.
  • Identify snowplow obstructions and emergency equipment so they are visible under heavy snow. Obstructions include fire hydrants, post indicator valves and speed bumps. Emergency equipment includes hydrants, post indicator and in-ground curb box valves.
  • Maintain adequate supplies of sand and snowmelting chemicals on-site.
  • Ensure fire protection equipment access roads are included in snow removal plans. 

Employee Awareness

Advise employees of your emergency plans. Make sure they know how to obtain closure information.

  • Remind employees to carry emergency supplies such as blankets, shovel, flashlight and jumper cables in their vehicles in case they are stranded during a storm.
Last Modified on Nov 28, 2023
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