Tips to Prepare Your Commercial and Multifamily Properties for Winter in Mild Climates

In many parts of the country, such as Dallas, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; and Seattle, Washington, mild winters are mostly par for the course. But that doesn’t mean that extreme winter weather won’t dramatically impact your city and business at some point.

Just think back to Super Bowl 45 in Dallas. In the week leading up to the game, the Dallas area was hit with a deep freeze. Snow and ice blanketed the area, causing havoc with Super Bowl preparations as well as in businesses across the Dallas metro area.

Seattle also had an unusually cold winter in 2017. That year the city saw the most snow it had seen in a decade, and some of the earliest snow it had ever seen.

When extreme winter weather hits a typically mild climate, chaos almost always follows. Icy roads and parking lots can make travel very difficult and broken pipes and other freeze-related issues can create significant challenges for business owners. That’s why it’s always worth dedicating a few hours to preparing your business for a potential worst-case scenario. Let’s explore 6 key things you can do to prepare along with why they are important:

1) Check Your Heating Systems
Whether or not heating systems run regularly during the winter, it’s worth inspecting them before you need them. Part of the reason is because mechanical contractors are hard to come by once a storm hits and everybody is calling for help. We also frequently hear from customers who are surprised by bad odors when they turn up their heat. These types of issues can usually be avoided with a regular annual inspection and cleaning.

2) Preorder Deicer to Be Ready for Difficult Conditions
In many mild areas, an ice storm or two during the winter are not unusual. And even small amounts of snow can quickly turn to ice and create hazardous conditions. For buildings with large parking lots and parking garages, icy conditions can make it very difficult for people—including emergency response teams and disaster restoration vendors—to get into or out of the property. What’s more, when a storm is predicted or hits it can suddenly become very difficult to find deicer when everyone is clamoring for it. That’s why it’s worth always having a supply of deicer on hand as you enter the winter season along with a plan for keeping your building accessible. Work with your supplier to calculate an ideal amount for typical winter conditions in your area and then add 20% to it—since you never know how long a storm will last. The storm preceding Super Bowl 45 in Dallas lasted well over a week.

3) Carefully Consider Occupant Safety 
The risks from icy and snowy conditions don’t stop with driving. Ice sliding off of roofs and other building fixtures can also be life threatening. I was personally onsite at a 3-story multifamily building when a large sheet of ice slid off a roof and destroyed five cars. And during Super Bowl 45, six people were injured from ice sliding off of Cowboys Stadium. 

If your building or properties have potentially dangerous rooflines or fixtures that could expose passersby to falling ice, develop a plan to warn people and redirect traffic around the area when overhead hazards may exist.  

4) Inspect and Protect Exposed Pipes
Exposed pipes often lead to burst pipes, when temperatures drop below freezing. Being aware of any exposed pipes on your properties is half the battle. In many cases, you can add protection, such as foam insulation and take other steps, to reduce the likelihood of freezing. It’s also important to make sure the power is on and the heaters are running in vacant units or properties before the first freeze. Once again, it will be easier to line up a mechanical contractor for repairs so you can avoid the headaches of burst pipes.

If a deep freeze does hit your city, you probably won’t be able to tell if pipes have frozen until the temperature starts to rise above freezing. The reason is because although pipes expand and break open when they freeze, there typically isn’t enough water pressure to push out the clog. We usually start getting calls once temperatures have gone up, clogs have melted and water starts flowing. Remembering this point can be helpful in mitigating the extent of potential damage and speeding your recovery.

5) Check Sprinkler Systems
If your buildings have sprinkler systems running across patios, it’s imperative that the antifreeze loops on the systems are flushed and maintained annually to minimize the chances of flooded patios.

6) Remember to Monitor Unoccupied Units or Properties
As winter hits, less-occupied properties may be the last thing on your mind. But they shouldn’t be. If you have vacancies in a property or unit, it’s important to regularly check to make sure that the power in on and the heating systems are in good condition and running. Also be sure to stop by the properties or units after a freeze to make sure that nothing has gone amiss. Otherwise, you could end up dealing with a far greater loss as water continues to flow unchecked.

Icy Conditions Impact Everyone
Considering these various factors in advance of extreme winter weather in a “mild” climate, will put your business in a much better position when a big event hits. After all, once roads are icy, everyone—including your disaster restoration vendor—will have to contend with road closures and difficult conditions that slow down the entire city or region. Being proactive will help you avoid or reduce the impact of some of the biggest common issues. 

About the Author:
Harley Jeanise is a Regional Director at Interstate and has extensive experience in the restoration and reconstruction industry. Harley is currently based out of the Dallas, TX office.

1Super Bowl in Super Weather Mess: Dallas Hit with Bitter Cold, Ice; ABC News, 2011.
2This Was the Coldest Winter in 32 Years, Q13 News, 2017.
3Falling Ice Injures Six at Cowboys Stadium, NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth, 2011.  

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