Prepare your property for winter weather

From snow on roofs to frozen pipes, make sure your home or business is ready for winter.

Cold weather can cause significant damage to buildings. Heavy snow, ice and water can cause roof collapse. Pipes can freeze and burst, causing water damage and impairing the fire sprinkler system. Freezing temperatures can damage heating and air conditioning equipment, steam piping and boilers. Along with the property damage, you could have a costly interruption to your business operations. 

Roof collapse: The greatest winter loss

All buildings are susceptible to damage in severe winter weather, but these types of buildings face the greatest risk:

  • Multi-level roofs. Snow drifts usually accumulate at the point of a change in elevation. This could be against an adjacent wall or piece of roof-top equipment. Collapse is caused by the concentrated weight of snow in excess of the roof's load design.
  • Poorly designed roof drainage or those more susceptible to freezing ice dams that block or obstruct gutters, downspouts and drains. This results in roof-top ponding and excessive weight.
  • Roofs that are poorly maintained or have roof-top equipment or other weight loads not factored into the building's original structural design. Low slope or flat roofs, roof overhangs, canopies or covered porches.

Control your exposure to cold weather damage. Prepare your building and operations now with these steps. Tweet It 

Plan for emergencies now

Create and document a roof snow removal program, so you're ready to act immediately after a heavy snow. This will help reduce the chance of excessive snow loads and blocked roof drains from ice. Include a list of contractors, suppliers and their phone numbers to call in event of a winter emergency. A back-up electric power generator might be a good option to install to help maintain operations in case of a snow storm that knocks power out.

Prevent roof collapse

You'll need to work with a qualified structural engineer on these steps to prevent roof collapse. Assess your roof's capacity for snow loads. Evaluate the adequacy of nearby adjacent structures with lower roof heights for snow load. Roofs of a lower structure immediately adjacent to a higher structure should be designed to anticipate a much greater snow load from blowing drifts. Check for any changes or additions to the structure that may increase the load on the roof. This would include any roof-top or hanging equipment, mechanical apparatus, cranes, etc. which may compromise the integrity due to excess weight. 

Conduct routine roof inspections to check:

  • Roof membrane, flashing and structure is in good condition.
  • Sagging roofs are repaired, reinforced and braced.
  • There is no ponding of water on the roof, and roof drains are clear and properly draining water away from the building. 
  • Insulation is increased above ceilings to avoid ice dams. You can also install self-regulating heat cables on gutters, downspouts and roof drains.
  • The attic is well ventilated so snow doesn't melt and refreeze at the roof's edge.

There's  a right way and a wrong way to remove snow from a roof. 

Don't take the risk that you or one of your employees will be injured trying to remove snow. Hire a snow removal contractor with verified general liability and workers compensation coverage. Don't use snow removal equipment and shovels on the roof. They might cause damage to your roof, which you are trying to avoid. For safe removal from single-story structures, a snow rake with long extension handles may be used by employees to pull snow off without getting on the roof. Have the snow removed before it reaches your roof's snow-load capacity. Remember, dry fresh snow weighs less than wet snow that has thawed. For example, one foot of accumulated dry snow equals about 3.5 pounds per square foot (or 21 pounds per square foot of wet snow). As a rough estimate, you can double the weight for each foot of snow. If you don't know your roof's capacity, use 20-25 pounds per square foot as the threshold to begin snow removal. Don't chip away ice or use a torch to melt ice dams.

Maintain domestic plumbing and process equipment

  • Insulate water supply, drain and condensate pipes that are susceptible to freezing (in crawl spaces, attics, near doorways, uninsulated outside walls or adjacent to open windows).
  • Wrap pipes with heat tape or thermostaticallycontrolled heat cables. Use only products approved by an independent testing organization such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and only for the intended use (exterior or interior). 
  • For air conditioners, remove water from oil coolers and water jackets and drain condensers of chilling units.
  • For water-cooled equipment such as pumps and compressors, provide adequate heat or locate in heated enclosures.
  • Use lubricants on low-temperature applications in equipment such as pumps, blowers and compressors, in areas subjected to freezing temperatures.
  • Check pressure vessel vents, relief valves and safety valves to assure that moving parts are functional. 
  • Construct wind breaks for piping and instruments subjected to low wind chills.
  • You need to have a contract in place for replacement parts and technical support. Contact manufacturers and contractors of critical machinery to establish a contract.

Maintain heating systems

Before cold weather starts, inspect the heating system including boilers, piping, burners and controls. Make necessary repairs. To maintain boilers, consider the provision of a reserve or dual fuel source for heating or processing equipment that can provide adequate duration in event of a large storm. If you use space heaters in your building, make sure they are UL listed or approved types. Make sure there is adequate ventilation and maintain adequate clear distances from combustible materials to prevent fire.

Prepare your buildings

  • To keep your pipes from freezing, maintain at least a 40-degree temperature in the building.
  • Install low temperature alarms with central station monitoring for parts of the building where it is likely to dip below 40 degrees.
  • Make sure your heating equipment is able to maintain adequate temperatures in remote areas of the building. You may need to consult with a qualified HVAC contractor.
  • Seal unnecessary openings and cracks in outside walls. Ensure windows, doors and skylights are weather-tight.
  • Insulate walls. Inspect areas that may lack adequate insulation.
  • Make sure outside water faucets are "frost-proof" selfdraining types or isolated indoors and opened to drain.

Post-storm precautions

  • Secure the site and assess the damage.
  • Look for live downed power lines.
  • Look for structures in danger of collapse.
  • Implement your emergency repair program with utility contractors after loss of electric or gas power, telephone services or public water supply.
  • Return all fire protection systems to service as soon as possible.
  • Watch for flood potential. Rapidly melting snow adds large quantities of water that needs to drain away from the building. Watch for storm water, stream and river overflows as well.




State Auto Insurance makes no representations or guarantee as to the correctness or sufficiency of any information contained herein, nor guarantees results based upon use of this information. State Auto does not warrant that reliance upon this document will prevent accident and losses or satisfy federal, state and local codes, ordinances and regulations. The reader assumes entire risk as to use of this information.

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