Canadian winters are no walk in the park. From gusting winds and snow squalls to plunging temperatures and heavy snow falls, the weather this time of year can be hard to predict—and hard on buildings. But there are some steps property managers can take to guard against the potential damages of extreme weather. With prevention in mind, here are some winter maintenance tips all building and facility managers should know:
1. When renovating an interior space, limit exposure to pipes.
Indoor construction near all building entrances and exits should be restricted when the temperature plunges in order to reduce the risk of a frozen or burst pipe. Anyone who’s experienced a burst pipe knows how drastic the aftermath can be. Fixing the pipe itself can be expensive, but the damage from uncontrolled water leakage can be downright… draining.
2. Know the limitations of your roof and clear it if you can.
The roof is one of your building’s most vulnerable areas. It’s exposed to a variety of natural disasters—wind, tornadoes, hurricanes—and in the winter, it can collapse from heavy snow. If the weight of the snow becomes a concern, take steps to minimize it immediately. In some buildings snow can be shovelled off, or thaw technology may be in place to help melt it away. In older buildings and in tall towers, roof access may be prohibited during severe conditions for safety reasons, in which case snow should be monitored and addressed as best as possible.
3. When temperatures rise, be prepared for the thaw.
Flooding occurs during the thaw that comes after a heavy snowfall; this is when property weaknesses can really show themselves. If the thaw process coincides with a heavy, snow-filled roof, have a plan for where the water will run off, ensuring it doesn’t run inside the building.
4. Check property for icicles and falling ice.
Falling ice is a risk to public safety. The property needs to be checked on a regular basis to ensure this hazard is minimized. Exterior areas may need to be cautioned off with tape along with signage if falling ice is a concern.
5. Don’t ignore the danger of “slip & falls.”
Ensure all sidewalks and walkways on and surrounding the property are shovelled, cleared and de-iced to minimize the chance of someone slipping and getting injured.
6. Test building back-up generators in case of an emergency.
During winter conditions, ensure back-up generators are functioning properly and that an ample fuel supply is on hand. If severe weather requires that a property or facility manager stays on site, have supplies, such as water, food, and a sleeping bag at the ready.
7. In older buildings, check for boiler room vulnerabilities.
Toronto’s ice storm in 2013 revealed the host of risks associated with frozen boiler rooms. Should a power outage happen, one way to reduce the chance of the boiler room equipment freezing is to look at mechanical alternatives, like connecting air intake vents to motorized, spring-loaded dampers that could be closed without electrical power.
8. Have a service agreement in place with key emergency support vendors, such as snow removal services, fuel or heater deliveries.
Better yet, have an emergency restoration company service agreement in place that provides a priority response during small and catastrophic emergencies.
Last but not least, know the property and have a plan in place should a winter-related disaster strike. For a step-by-step approach to disaster readiness, read this article on how to prepare an emergency response plan.
John Stephenson is vice president, property management services at FirstOnSite Restoration. John has been in the property management industry for more than 20 years and has been involved in planning and restoration efforts for all major Canadian disasters, including recent Slave lake wildfires, the Goderich tornado, the flooding events in Southern Alberta and GTA.