by | Property, Safety |

Freezing Pipes and Roof Collapse Prevention

An English astronomer, Francis Baily, is credited with the saying, “A stitch in time saves nine”, meaning a little effort in prevention can save multitudes of time and money later.  Winter is certainly one of those seasons where this advice is very true.  This blog focuses on two areas that will help prevent property losses this winter: roof problems and freezing pipes.

Roof Collapse and Leaks

Winter weather in New England is notorious for wreaking havoc with building roofs.  Heavy snows alone, or together with stiff winds, can cause a roof to collapse or leak, particularly when coupled with a melt and freeze situation.  A business owner may potentially avoid costly repairs or replacement if he or she follows the tips below for proactive roof care and winter hazard prevention.

Have someone knowledgeable inspect the roof and be sure they consider the condition of the roof, including both the surface materials and the structures that support it. The underside of the roof should also be evaluated. Over the summer, many roof structures are used to hang materials and increase storage areas. Those changes add weight, causing additional loadings which could be the difference in whether the structure collapses or not.

During the summer or fall months, it is a good idea to identify areas of the roof that may need to have snow removed during the winter. Flat areas, particularly at elevation changes, are most susceptible to collapse.  Plans should be in place to remove snow and should include a predetermined snow level that needs to be removed when reached.  Avoid feeling helpless when getting a call at midnight about strange noises coming from the roof structure and wondering what to do.  When determining the load, be sure to add the weight of personnel and equipment in addition to the snow load.  You don’t want your people to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Also consider implementing methods to clear ice and snow without going on the roof by using ladders, applying de-icing materials, or using snow rakes and drag lines from the ground.  Use of aerial lifts by qualified personnel to clear snow off of roofs can be a safe alternative if available.

Other things to consider when it comes to snow removal are:

  • Equipment should be located where it can be conveniently accessed and safely moved to the roof, if not already staged there.
  • If you have mechanized snow-removal equipment, make sure your employees have read all operations instructions, are adequately trained on usage, have practiced using the equipment before the snow flies, and are competent to operate the equipment.
  • Appropriate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) should be available and be pre-staged.  Examples include: cold weather gear, eye protection if materials might ricochet, fall protection equipment with tie off points and slip resistant footwear or cleats.
  • Secure and maintain detailed drawings showing locations of all drains, skylights, and other openings that may pose a danger to someone attempting to clear a snow loaded roof.  Many accidents have happened due to snow cover hiding hazards, or when someone not familiar with the hidden hazards steps on a skylight.
  • All skylights should meet fall resistant standard, or have appropriate guards.
  • When removing snow from a roof, pay careful attention to potential electrical hazards from power lines and extension cords which might be used.
  • Be sure all fall protection needs are handled before employees or contractors ascend to the roof.
  • If contractors are used for snow clearance, be sure your attorney has reviewed any applicable contract for legal duties, insurance requirements, and hold harmless and indemnification clauses to protect you and your business.

Freezing Pipes

Frozen pipes can likewise be a potentially devastating result of winter’s frigid temperatures and are something that can be prevented with a little pre-season inspection and preparation.  First, inspect and evaluate the building for cold spots and drafts.  If any changes to the building have been made since the previous winter, be sure to check any relocated walls, changes in heating zones and any new building openings.  These can become trouble spots for potential frozen pipes.

Proper insulation can be your best defense against frozen pipes.  Check that all wall and ceiling openings are properly insulted.  Adding insulation to pipes, especially those that are more exposed to lower temperatures, will help to keep them from freezing up.  If you are unable to repair or fill any cracks or holes in exterior walls, adding insulation may help protect you during the winter until you can properly fix them.

Develop a contingency plan for reliable back up power so that you have continuous power to the building if you do not already have a stand-by generator. Conduct preventative maintenance and check fuel supply if you do have a generator.  If you use heat tape or heat cables, use only approved products and in accordance with all of the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and operation. Thoroughly inspect all equipment in place from last season.  Consider a water leak alarm for low, or below grade areas. Did you know even sump pumps are going hi-tech?  A text message from your sump pump might not be at the top of your favorites, but it would be better than a call from the fire department saying that water is pouring out from your front door.

Other preventative measures to consider in regards to freezing pipes include:

  • Keep building temperatures at 45 degrees or more.
  • Open cabinets or doors to spaces where concealed pipes are located so heat can get to them.
  • Automatic sprinklers should be inspected by a reliable contractor.
    • Dry systems must have all low points drained.
    • Dry pipe valves should be checked to be sure the area is properly heated.
    • All sprinkler system water flow alarms should be monitored by a constantly attended location.
    • Disconnect hoses and close inside valves supplying outside hose faucets.
    • Check or consider adding low building temperature monitoring.

Make certain that you have a plan in case pipes do freeze.   “Hot work” or an open flame should not be used to thaw pipes.   Keep up with weather reports and put plans into action before storms or cold snaps occur.  Investing a little time and a few dollars in preparation can save many dollars in lost production and building damages in the event of a winter emergency.

Don’t forget loss control questions and answers are only a phone call away with our Virtual Loss Control Team 1.800.870.1100 ext. 570.

Enjoy the season!

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