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Protecting Your Facility Against Winter Weather

Protecting Your Facility Against Winter Weather

By David Wilhite

Are you ready for winter? Freezing temperatures, blustery winds, ice, sleet and snow can all cause severe damage to your self-storage facility and property, especially if you are not prepared for them. Winter conditions can present severe exposures to your buildings and the systems necessary to keep your facility running. Wet and icy conditions can also increase your liability risk by presenting greater potential for your tenant 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, causing an estimated $1.75 billion in damage. Much of the damage attributed to this storm was from frozen pipes, collapsed roofs due to the weight of snow and interior water seepage from blocked roof drains, and could have been reduced or eliminated if business owners had been properly prepared. Unfortunately, because of the late date of the storm (mid-March) and its unusually wide geographic coverage, many unsuspecting business owners found themselves either unprepared or uninsured and, therefore suffered major losses.

When considering the risk that winter weather poses to your self-storage facility, keep in mind that 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 to record lows. At that time, below-freezing conditions extended from the citrus country in Florida, all along the Mexican border and reaching 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-chill temperatures 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 Fahrenheit in heated areas to prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Ensure that 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 repair any deficiencies immediately.
  • Ensure heating equipment is capable of maintaining building temperatures above freezing at the coldest point within the building.
  • 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 that snow and ice is cleared away from hydrants, sprinkler control valves, smoke and heat vents, and other essential equipment, so that 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. Remember, 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 is the marketing manager of Universal Insurance Facilities Inc. Universal offers a complete package of coverages specifically designed to meet the needs of the self-storage industry, including loss of income, employee dishonesty, comprehensive business liability, hazardous-contents removal and customer storage. For more information, contact Universal at Box 40079, Phoenix, AZ 85067-0079; phone (800) 844-2101; fax (602) 970-6240; Web:


The following is a list of commonly used terms to forecast winter weather conditions:

Winter-Storm Watch: Severe winter weather is possible in the affected area, which may include snow, ice or dangerous wind-chill temperatures.

Winter-Storm Warning: Severe winter conditions have begun or are about to begin in the 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 temperatures.

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.

Please note that the information provided within this article should be used as a guide to help avoid conditions which might result in a loss. This article does not guarantee a complete discussion of the topic, nor does it guarantee that the compliance with the suggested guidelines will assure the safety of persons or property.

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