Protecting Your Facility Against Winter Weather

Winter weather can present severe exposures to your self-storage operation and the systems necessary to keep your facility running. Freezing temperatures, blustery winds, ice, sleet and snow can all cause extensive damage to your buildings and property, especially if you are not prepared for them. Wet and icy conditions can also increase your liability risk by presenting greater potential for your tenants to slip or fall.

To give you some idea of just how damaging cold temperatures and heavy snow can be, consider the blizzard of 1993, which was the fifth most-costly insured catastrophe in the history of the United States and caused an estimated $1.75 billion in damage. Much of the damage attributed to this storm was from frozen pipes, roof collapse (due to the weight of snow) and interior water seepage (due to blocked roof drains). This damage could have been reduced or eliminated had business owners been properly prepared. Unfortunately, the late date of the storm (mid-March) and its unusually wide geographic coverage found many unsuspecting business owners either unprepared or uninsured, and major losses were suffered.

When considering the risk winter weather poses to your self-storage facility, keep in mind significant property damage may not necessarily occur only in those states that experience the harshest winters. Regions in which cold weather is the exception may suffer even greater losses. For example, an Arctic cold wave hit the deep South in December 1996, plunging temperatures toward record lows. At that time, below-freezing conditions extended from the citrus country in Florida, all along the Mexican border, and far into Texas, causing major losses. Of course, Northern locations are most likely to be hard-hit on a regular basis. That same year, Minnesota and Iowa experienced record blizzard conditions, with wind chills reaching 55 degrees below zero; and many residents of the Dakotas were stranded after two days of heavy snowstorms left drifts at rooftop levels.

Don't wait until disaster strikes--now is the time to take preventive action to minimize your risk exposures and reduce your damage claims. The following checklist can help you get started on a safe, loss-free winter.

Winter Weather Precaution Checklist for Storage Facility Owners


  • Maintain indoor temperatures above 40 degrees in heated areas to pre-vent pipe freeze-ups.
  • Ensure doors and windows are weather-tight and secure any unnecessary openings.
  • Inspect remote areas for possible freezing and keep portable heaters on hand.

Roofs and Gutters

  • With the help of a structural engineer, assess your roof's capacity for excessive snow loads and keep levels within safe bounds.
  • Monitor snow levels in roof areas susceptible to large drifts and clear excess accumulation immediately.

Heating Systems

  • Examine the entire heating system on a weekly basis during cold weather and immediately repair any deficiencies.
  • Ensure heating equipment is capable of maintaining building temperatures above freezing at the coldest point within the building.
  • To winterize boilers, completely drain idle equipment, elevate low points and dead ends, and check all service lines for freezing. Install heat tracing around control-line transmitter boxes and piping that carries water glass.

Water Lines

  • Regularly clear snow away from sprinkler-control valves, vents and other vital equipment.
  • Leave outside water faucets open to drain.
  • Install snap-on insulation on pipes subject to extreme wind chill.

Fire-Protection Equipment

  • Establish a regular maintenance program to ensure snow and ice are cleared away from hydrants, sprinkler-control valves, smoke and heat vents, and other essential equipment, so all equipment is accessible during emergencies.
  • Lubricate all sprinkler-control valves and locks to prevent freezing.
  • Label location of outside sprinkler-control valves and hydrants for easy visibility.

If you do have a loss, take steps to control the damage. Move property out of harm's way and protect it from the elements. Contact your insurance agent or broker as soon as possible. No matter how large or small your self-storage facility may be, securing adequate coverage is essential for protecting your business and your peace of mind.

David Wilhite works for Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd., which offers a complete package of coverages specifically designed to meet the needs of the self-storage industry. For more information on Universal's coverages, or to get a quick, no-obligation quote, call 800.844.2101; fax 480.970.6240; e-mail [email protected]; visit

Winter-Weather Terminology

Know the terms used to forecast winter weather conditions:

Winter-Storm Watch--Severe winter weather is possible in the affected area that may include snow, ice or dangerous wind chills.

Winter-Storm Warning--Severe winter conditions have begun or are about to begin in your area.

Blizzard Warning--Snow and strong winds (generally above 35 mph) will combine to produce a blinding snow (near zero visibility), deep drifts and life-threatening wind chill.

Heavy-Snow Warning--Snow accumulations of 6 inches or more in 12 hours or 8 inches or more in 24 hours is expected.

Freezing-Rain Warning--Significant, and possibly damaging, accumulations of ice are expected.

Snow Advisory--New snowfall of 15 inches is expected.

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