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Chicago gets approximately 37 inches of snow per year. While that’s significantly less than the city with the highest annual snowfall, Syracuse, New York, which gets 114.3 inches per year, Midwest winters can still pose intense challenges for institutional and commercial facilities.
Maintenance and engineering managers should be preparing now for a harsh winter. Follow these steps to ensure a successful snow season.
Before the weather ever begins to change, several aspects of a property need to be assessed by managers on an annual basis.
Pavement and concrete: Check the pavement and concrete for deterioration and low spots. These areas will puddle and create a high risk of refreezing between weather events. Pay special attention to high traffic zones like loading docks and entrances. Curbs can also be an easy target for damage.
Sewers: While surveying the pavement and concrete, be sure to inspect the sewers for proper drainage across the facility. There should also be a smooth transition from pavement to sewer cap to reduce contact with the plowing equipment.
Roof and gutters: Snow and ice can put an extremely heavy load on a roof. To avoid leaks or even an all-out collapse, inspecting the roof is vital. Check for holes, missing shingles, proper water flow, debris, and ensure that all flashing and seals are secure.
Windows, doors, and insulation: Are some areas of the building creating a noticeable draft? Address those issues before the winter to avoid throwing hundreds of dollars toward wasted energy. Inspect the pipes for appropriate insulation and add insulation or apply heating tape to vulnerable spots. It’s better to be safe than sorry. In 2022, State Farm paid over $181M for nearly 9,000 claims from frozen pipe damage. A good inspection can help managers steer clear of some costly issues.
Once everything has been inspected and addressed, it’s time for managers to start the planning process.
If hiring a snow removal company, be sure to clearly communicate the level of service and scope of the work so everyone is on the same page. Establish all the particularities like where the snow should be piled, ensuring it is away from the building, and in Americans with Disabilities Act compliant parking spaces with good drainage. Be aware that most snow removal bids occur during the summer months between June and September, and service providers typically prefer to have their contracts in place by the end of September each year.
Review the winter weather plan with building occupants and employees each season. If disaster does strike, everyone should know what to do. Overcommunicating is always better than under communicating in these instances.
Hire a professional for preventive maintenance on the HVAC system and generator if you have one. Have generators ready beforehand in case they are needed for an emergency situation. If you plan ahead, you can typically negotiate a better emergency rate as well.
Brutal winters can significantly impact landscaping. Have snow stakes installed along curb lines, sidewalks, and transitions from hard surfaces to soft surfaces. Put up snow/silt fences along sensitive plants and landscape beds to protect from deicers.
Once the cold weather hits, managers should be well prepared. Shut off all drain irrigation systems and outdoor hoses. Place dedicated containers of deicer at each building entrance to allow for easy salt application between services. Use caution signs when necessary.
One way to prevent pipes from freezing during the winter is to keep the internal temperature set to a minimum of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The average claim when a pipe freezes is $10,800, so the cost of prevention is a lot less than the cost to fix whatever damages may occur.
Actively participating in the inspection, planning, and protection stages will not only save managers a lot of money, but it can also aid in protection from liability risks. If someone falls or is in a car accident on your property, managers can be held responsible if they haven’t done their due diligence. Keep your property running smoothly all winter long by being proactive throughout the year. Following these three stages is the best way to prepare commercial and institutional facilities for winter.
Tom Marsan is a certified snow professional who has been in the landscaping and snow removal industry for about two decades. He is an active member of ILCA and SIMA and is currently the general manager at Beverly Companies in Chicagoland.