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Fixing Facilities to Face Winter

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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.

• The frequent changes between cold and warm weather creates uneven surfaces, damage to asphalt, 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.

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 frequent maintenance. It's important to repair roof membranes and seams while the weather is cooperating. Pay close attention to areas where water, ice, and snow could accumulate.

Snow and ice removal is important to prevent breakdowns of the roof's surface or structural integrity.

• Weekly inspections are recommended in the months before the winter season.

• Clean the surface with a broom and check tar seals.

• Clear roof drains and pump any standing water off the roof.

• Ensure that flashings are flush and secure.

• Document an emergency snow removal plan in case of heavy accumulation. Secure the necessary equipment and double check stock before forecasted snowstorms.

• Slanted Roofs

Slanted roofs are made of many materials, each presenting benefits and drawbacks. Although water runs downhill and shingles or tiles shunt the water off, a correct seal is still important to prevent seepage.

• Check shingles and roof vents for signs of wear and damage.

• Inspect roof-edge waterproofing and seal to prevent drafts.

• Install or check ice breakers for public safety.

• Prune trees or branches that could 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.

• Keep salt or sand nearby high traffic areas for icy days.

• Remove branches and bushes that are weak or hang over your facility.

• Monitor your grounds for areas prone to washout and consider using sandbags to deter erosion, especially near building foundations.

• Monitor windows for condensation and check periodically for mold.

• Exterior water faucets should be turned off to keep spigots and pipes from freezing. Insulated covers provide an extra layer of protection.

• Ensure irrigation systems are drained and valves are clear of water.

• Maintain any unoccupied buildings' temperature high enough to avoid frozen pipes.

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

• Set-up traps near potential points of entry for small pests and seal cracks and holes.

Gutters

Gutters are crucial to control drainage from rain, snow and melting ice, and to prevent flooding inside and outside the building. Severe fluctuations in winter weather have brought about flood-level downpours. That means it’s important to:

• Remove all debris and clear any clogged drains.

• Run water through gutters and downspouts to test for back-ups.

• Ensure downspouts push water away from the building foundation.

Snow and Ice Removal

Accumulating snow can be a major maintenance problem when roof structures are impacted, drifts block entrances, or ice forms on sidewalks. It is best to keep ahead of freezing and thawing cycles to avoid injury, slips, and falls.

• Set clear expectations about snow removal with your contractors or internal staff. Be clear that safety comes first, and demonstrate your commitment by budgeting for adequate staff time. Keep plenty of snow shovels and snow pushers on hand.

• 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

• Plan in advance for storage or removal of excess snow.

• Inspect walkways before peak foot traffic periods for ice.

Entrances and Exits

If your facility's doors open directly to the outdoors, you know how cold or moist air drafts affect the temperature and air quality of your facility.

• A temporary tent like structure can divert air from the front doorway, or at least keep it from rushing in.

Sprinkler Systems

• Dry and wet pipe sprinkler systems should be mapped including the low point drains.

• Protect wet pipe sprinklers from cold air to avoid freezing.

Gas Lines and Connections

Buried gas lines shouldn't be taken for granted. While natural gas is one of the most efficient fuels, it comes with risk of ignition or explosion if connections are not installed or managed correctly. This risk is higher with buried gas lines.

• Corrosion-free underground gas lines prevent metallic pipe breakdowns and eliminate underground pipe threads.

• Flexible gas risers are used to install gas lines in tight places. The material responds to frost in cold temperatures preventing potential gas leaks and explosions.

Floors

The salt and chemicals used in ice melt products can damage flooring materials. Take a few precautions to save a lot of maintenance cost in the long run.

• VCT and other floor coatings act as a buffer against abrasion from salt and boots.

• Simple air blowers and extra entryway mats can also go a long way to keep vestibules clean and clear.

• Be sure to have water removal equipment handy to take care of 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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