When most people think about the winter months, they picture warm holiday gatherings and family celebrations. Not facilities managers. You have to worry about threats to buildings from normal winter wear and tear and extreme weather events—and now virus outbreaks. Winter can be a season of stress!
But it doesn’t have to be.
With unpredictable, extreme weather becoming a new normal and the possibility of another COVID-19 surge, preparing facilities for winter is critical for health and safety. While you don’t know what you don’t know about the upcoming winter, you know that anything can happen almost anywhere (and probably will). Preventing failures like leaking roofs or burst pipes is far less expensive and disruptive than repairs in the middle of a crisis. In a worst-case scenario, your building has to close, and business is lost.
Fall is a great time to schedule inspections to find any weaknesses or threats to your buildings. Start with rooftops, which often bear the brunt of winter storms. Check for leaks or depressions where snow or rain might accumulate. Next come windows and doors that can be punished by wind, rain, ice, and snow. Check the seals of doors and windows too. Inspect your HVAC service records, and be sure to schedule and change filters, as new filters introduced during the pandemic fill faster. Finally, check the plumbing for leaks, loose connections, and insulation. Test any generators or backup power supplies.
Clear Water Flows
In addition to ensuring your gutters and downspouts are clear of debris, look at where water and snowmelt flow on the ground and clear all drains of obstructions. Also, ensure you have enough deicing, snow, and water removal materials and equipment. Identify where icicles might develop and pose a threat to safety, and add icicle removal to deicing plans. Check sump pumps for performance and review their maintenance schedules to ensure up-to-date service history. For more information about preparing your outdoor spaces for winter, see our hints for landscaping preparation.
Prevent Slips and Falls
Safety issues shift in the winter. Wet weather can lead to slips, falls, and injuries. Prepare floors, especially in entryways, for the extra water, snow, mud, and salt that people will bring in. Add additional coatings to build a more robust protective layer. Make sure you have mats on hand and check that they are in good repair. Some managers use fans to keep floors dry(ish). Provide a sheltered outdoor space for closing umbrellas before entering the building.
Unheated, Uninsulated Spaces
Unheated and uninsulated spaces are harmless in mild conditions. But when temperatures drop, these spaces can be dangerous if water pipes run through them. To ensure a safe space, insulate the room or the pipes, or bring in temporary heaters. As a last resort, you can isolate the water flowing through the space, drain the lines, and shut off the water for the winter.
Prepping for COVID-19
Of course, no one knows if there will be another surge of the COVID-19 virus this winter, but with more people spending more time indoors, an increase in cases is likely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine cleaning when there are no reported virus cases. For most facilities, that means daily cleaning.
The CDC recommends cleaning shared spaces more frequently and disinfecting surfaces if the room:
- Is a high-traffic area used by a large number of people.
- Is poorly ventilated.
- Does not provide access to handwashing stations or hand sanitizer.
- Is used by people at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Here are some extra steps you can take to prevent the spread of the virus and other germs:
- Use HEPA-filtered vacuums to clean carpets to contain germs and viruses.
- Install a UV sanitizer in your HVAC system to eliminate airborne viral particles.
- Increase ventilation (counterintuitive in winter, but COVID-19 remains airborne longer than thought, and ventilation is proven to reduce viral density).
If someone who has been in your facility in the past 24 hours tests positive for COVID-19, you should clean and disinfect the space.
An Ounce of Prevention
Don’t think of inspections and preventative maintenance as costs—they are investments that save money, save time, and improve health and safety outcomes down the road. As winter storms become more extreme, from atmospheric rivers in the West to bomb cyclones in the East, winter preparation calls for new game plans.