FM Articles

Winter Facility Preparation Checklist

Winter Facility Preparation

Identifying and tracking facility maintenance problems can be complex if you have multiple buildings on your campus or site. That means your winter facility prep checklist may require a segmented approach, especially if your facilities vary in style of construction or architecture.

Safety protection and compliance for your occupants is one critical issue, but as facility management evolves it is woven into the master plan of a property. Facilities built for industrial, retail, commercial or governmental uses are also subject to guidelines for energy use, waste and materials management, emissions and air quality.

Winter changes
The Environmental Protection Agency also notes the growing connection between energy and climate change relative to facilities management:

“In the United States, buildings account for 39 percent of total energy use, 68 percent of total electricity consumption and 38 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions. Energy often represents a commercial property’s single largest operating expense. By adopting strategies that increase energy efficiency, use renewable energy, and minimize waste, (businesses) can maximize both economic and environmental performance.”

Creating a checklist to address these responsibilities and concerns shifts the focus of facilities management. Energy wasted through leaks, cracks, drafts and other facility flaws can cost you dearly during the winter months. Winter can crack or burst pipes and render sprinkling systems useless. Alternating periods of cold and warm weather can create ground upheavals, ruined asphalt, tilted sidewalks and compromised building foundations. Frost or water seepage can lead to structural failure, costly repairs and energy leaks on a major scale.

These are just some of the reasons why winter facility preparation is so crucial to your peace of mind.

Dealing with cold realities
What follows are strategies for addressing unexpected problems when they arise, and how to prevent them if possible.

Facility roofs are a critical point of risk when it comes to winter weather.

Flat roofs: Flat roofs require continual maintenance. Conduct required repairs of flat roof membranes and seams before cold weather compromises ability to do work. Be sure to identify areas where water can accumulate and where ice or heavy snow can pile up in wintertime.

Consider forming a snow and ice removal plan to prevent snow burden or ice overload from causing breakdowns in roof surface or even structural integrity. This is especially important when big snows are followed by a fast warm-up that can lead to standing water on roofs.

  • Inspect roofs each week leading up to and during the winter season.
  • Sweep up debris and check tar seals.
  • Keep roof drains clear and be prepared if necessary to pump water off roof.
  • Check that flashings are flush and secure.
  • Plan for emergency snow removal in event of heavy accumulation. Identify and supply proper equipment and check it in advance of predicted snows.

Slanted Roofs: The various materials from which slanted roofs are made can present different kinds of problems. Even though water runs downhill and shingles or tiles are designed to shunt it off, slanted roofs can still leak and must be sealed correctly to prevent seepage.

  • Inspect shingles and roof vents if applicable.
  • Check roof-edge waterproofing and seal to prevent potential drafts.
  • Install or check ice breakers to protect public safety.
  • Trim back trees or branches that may impact roof integrity.

Gutters: Gutters are critical to control drainage from rain, snow and melting ice, and to prevent flooding inside and outside the building. Given the recently severe fluctuations in winter weather, gutters may be called upon to handle flood-level downpours in all seasons, including wintertime. That means it is important to:

  • Clean gutters thoroughly, removing all debris and unclogging drains.
  • Run test of gutters and downspouts to be sure water does not back up.
  • Check outflow of downspouts to push water away from building foundation.

Foundations, Moisture & Mold
Water seepage that reaches interior walls can be absorbed and lead to formation of mildew and molds that make air quality poor and even dangerous to breathe. Ensuring adequate ventilation and completely drying any areas impacted by moisture collection or seepage are vital to your employees’ health and well-being.

Snow & Ice Removal
Snow can present major maintenance problems when it accumulates enough to impact roof structures or drifts where it can block entrances or cause ice to form on sidewalks. When weather fluctuates, it is important to keep ahead of freezing and thawing cycles to avoid dangerous slips and falls caused by black ice.

  • Provide clear snow removal instructions to your contractor or internal staff and advise that safety comes first. Budget for adequate staff time.
  • Choose and purchase adequate deicing materials depending on your region.
  • Apply deicers before storm hits to lay a base of clear walkways.
  • Provide transitional areas with floor mats where people can clean their feet and remove boots to prevent slippery floors.
  • Determine in advance where excess snow is to be stored.
  • Conduct inspections at peak foot traffic periods, when ice forms and people are heading to and from the building.

Entrances & Exits
If your facility was designed with doors that open flush to the outdoors, cold or moist air drafts can radically affect the temperature and air quality of your facility.

  • Consider tenting the front doorway or creating some diversion to keep wintry air from rushing into the front foyer, cafeteria, or plant floor where workers are trying to conduct business.

Power Loss & Surges
Strong storms or high winds in any season can lead to power loss, but losing electricity in the winter months can be particularly inconvenient.

  • Connect power surge protectors in offices with sensitive data needs.
  • Encourage companies to back up their files off-site with real-time, cloud-based storage, which removes the immediate risk of data loss when storms hit.

Winter Fire Safety
Fire safety involves both preventative and responsive measures at most facilities.

  • Have electrical contractors run tests on “last mile” connections from input source to buildings and throughout the facility to check wiring and loads placed on outlets, panels and equipment.
  • Run daily checks if necessary to prevent storage of flammable materials including cloths or other solvent-soaked items.
  • Educate all people to proper fire escape and fire drill procedures.
  • Inventory and check all fire extinguishers.
  • Supply adequate heat to keep fire response equipment functioning safely, including value houses, water tanks, pump houses and other supplies.
  • If your facility has fire protection tanks, check daily to prevent freezing.

Sprinkler Systems

  • Dry pipe and wet pipe sprinkler systems should be mapped along with low point drains, should the system ever need to be initiated.
  • Wet pipe sprinklers need to be protected from cold air so that pipes do not freeze, which would render the system useless.

Mobile equipment
Your maintenance equipment, such as mowers, carts and lawn implements, may be dormant in winter.

  • Drain old fuel and store machines in a low-humidity environment if possible.
  • Get snow blowers checked and operating well.
  • Inspect oil levels on all equipment, including equipment being placed in storage.

Gas Lines & Connections
Many facilities seem to take their gas line connections for granted, yet for businesses that use it frequently, natural gas is one of the most efficient fuels – but it does come with risk of ignition or explosion if connections are not installed or managed correctly. That can be particularly true with buried gas lines.

  • Install corrosion-free underground gas lines to prevent metallic pipe breakdown and eliminate underground pipe threads.
  • Flexible gas risers can be used to install gas lines in tight places and respond to frost common in wintertime, preventing potential gas leaks and explosions.

The checklist for winter facilities management may be long, but the list of problems avoided by doing preparatory maintenance is longer. That means preventative measures are always a good investment in terms of safety, cost management and a healthy work environment.

Tom Bonine is president of National Metal Fabricators ( The Chicago area firm, established in 1944, offers custom fabrication, angle rings, welding, and bar milling services.