Preparing Your Facility for Winter
As a facility manager, dealing with the stress that winter brings is a huge undertaking, but taking all the right precautions can save you a lot of headaches and money by the time the season's over.
Because your roof has to endure the most wear and tear during the winter, it should be a top priority.
- Have a thorough inspection prior to the winter season: Inspections should be performed regularly, says David Hawn, president of RCI, Inc., an association of roofing, waterproofing and building envelope professionals, but they are especially important prior to the winter season or predicted bad weather.
"Having a qualified professional perform the inspection has several benefits and the cost often can easily be offset by avoiding even one emergency repair during a season when repairs are more difficult and costly," he says.
- Re-inspect where leaks have been in the past: Hawn says it's important to ensure any previous repair was sound and that there isn't another source that wasn't previously detected.
- Look for anything that might be loose on the roof: Damage is often caused by leftover debris, such as old filters, belts, tools, loose equipment covers, that is tossed around by strong winds, says Hawn.
- Double-check recent installations such as antennas: Check if any entry or exit points were created for service wires. Never assume the installer is also specialized in roofing, says Hawn.
- Review entire roof: You should check the roof and the items that extend above it for possible leakage opportunities, and make sure it's sealed properly. "Your roof is not the only building component that can cause a leak through the ceiling," says Hawn. "Joints and sealants at and above the roof can deteriorate, and even a small opening can allow water entry."
- Make sure your roof can drain water and melting snow or ice properly: This includes checking every drainage component-drains, gutters, downspouts-and also removing all loose debris that can clog your drain. Hawn recommends having a secondary drain path in case the primary one clogs.
Other components to consider
- Find a snow removal service: Dennis Hercel, director of facilities at Liberty Science Center, says one of the first things to do is to put out a bid for a snow removal contractor. If you have specialized professionals on your team, he recommends internalizing the service because you'll save on fees. Check all snow-removal equipment to make sure its clean, oiled and serviced.
- Buy the right amount of salt: Hercel says it's important to track every year how much you're using so you know how much to buy the next year. Preventing slickness on sidewalks and steps is especially important to Larry Ross, senior director of maintenance and engineering at Erickson Retirement Communities.
In addition to putting down salt on sidewalks and driveways, Ross says they "also do a lot of pre-treatment dump salt if there's a snowstorm coming."
- Ensure safety before and during a snowstorm: Ross says his team puts mats around every entrance in the buildings the minute the snow starts dropping, and it's especially important that stairs are cleaned instantly and often because of their high risk for slips.
Ross says to double-check your exterior lighting so everyone can see properly during storms, and he also recommends putting long rods on fire hydrants to alert snow plows.
- Prevent leaks and freezing in water systems: The resulting water from melting snow can be a big problem in more ways than one. To prevent leaks, Ross says his facilities are routinely checked all year for cracks in the walls or roof so they are sealed to prevent water infiltration from the next rain or snowstorm. One of the main steps in his facilities' "freeze protection plan" is reviewing wet-pipe sprinkler systems for areas susceptible to freezing so that proper actions can be taken, such as providing auxiliary heat or draining and/or posting a fire watch.
- Equip your team and stress communication: Hercel says he provides heavy coats, hats, gloves and all other appropriate apparel to his snow-removal team every three years. He also stresses the need for constant communication between everyone involved. For example, another company maintains his facility's guest parking lot, so he has to work with his people as well as those of the other company. On the day of a snowstorm, he says he's usually on the phone by 5 a.m. talking to various people, including the LSC president, the operator of the parking lot and his snow removal team, making sure they're all on the same page.
Though preparing your facility for winter isn't an easy undertaking, ensuring you have the proper tools, resources and steps involved will keep your facility's operations running smoothly all season long.