Water damage mitigation | Winter hazards

Take action now to help prevent winter water damage claims

December 29, 2015
Tips for maintaining building heat and integrity.

Head of Real Estate Zurich North America

Adam Hurley is Head of the Real Estate customer industry segment for Zurich North America.... About this expert

blue pipe with ice

We have entered a time of year that some people look forward to and others dread — winter. Freezing weather in areas not used to these conditions, lengthy periods of extreme cold and weather events with power outages all create an environment for cold weather-related water damage losses.

While we are still in the early stages of the winter season, a good activity to perform at this point (if you haven’t already) is a risk assessment of your facilities. Both domestic and fire protection liquid lines should be evaluated. The facility should also have temperature monitoring — either automatic notification when the building temperature goes below 40 degrees or a site person regularly reading thermometers mounted at strategic locations. The value 40 degrees is used so time exists to rectify the situation before a freeze occurs. We are mainly concerned about water as it expands when frozen and can result in water lines being compromised.

Some areas of a building typically have a higher susceptibility to freezing incidents. These include vestibules, stairwells, fire pump rooms, above ceilings, dry pipe valve closets, and elevator and mechanical penthouses. To help ensure these areas maintain their ability to keep temperatures above freezing, the functionality and status of certain systems should be evaluated. Examples of systems and procedures include:

  • Heating systems — Provide annual service.
  • Air-handling units — Verify dampers work and fans are controlled by thermostat for automatic shutdown in the event of freezing temperatures.
  • Non-freeze fire protection systems — Check air sources, air pressure levels, low point drains and antifreeze solution in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association’s standard NFPA 25.
  • Insulating systems protecting water-filled pipe — Verify coverings are intact.
  • Heat trace systems protecting water-filled pipe — Verify system performance and supervision.
  • Building envelope — Verify windows and doors are functional, weather tight and in good repair.
  • Fire alarm systems — Check building low temperature and sprinkler system air pressure supervisory devices in accordance with NFPA 25 and NFPA 72.

Extreme weather events will require that added measures be taken, since long or severe cold snaps can overwhelm normal building system operation. In these cases, periodic full facility inspections should be performed, temperatures raised in the facility and building management systems verified that they can match the needed building temperature. If not, they may need to be overridden or reprogrammed for the event. When extreme events are forecast, it provides a good opportunity to verify your emergency generator fuel levels and to ensure your phone numbers for appropriate vendors are up to date (including glazing contractors, water extraction companies, heating companies and Zurich Claims). Plans also should address items identified as having potential for freezing and subsequent water damage.

One key to preventing a cold weather-related incident is maintaining building heat and maintaining building integrity during cold events. Losses during cold weather can displace tenants and damage critical equipment when it is needed most. Performing a pre-incident assessment and ensuring your response capabilities can go a long way towards helping prevent freeze-related water damage incidents. 

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