Mechanical Insights

Winter Dangers in Facility Maintenance

Jan 18, 2021 8:30:00 AM / by Tate Engineering

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Nature often shows its full power during winter. Anyone who’s ever been stuck in a winter storm knows how dangerous and destructive it can be. So how can your facility be properly prepared for severe winter weather before it strikes? Knowing the common failure points and planning ahead will keep your facility safe and prepared this winter.

Assess Your Risk

Every facility is different, and so are the risks that severe winter weather can bring. When trying to prepare your facility, one of the best ways to start is by looking at the level of risk you can expect to see at your facility. Some critical questions to ask are:

  • Has winter weather had a significant impact before, especially from snow or ice?
  • Does your facility operate continuously, or does it shut down on weekends?
  • Does any of the process equipment generate supplemental heat that also warms the building?

What Are the Dangers?

Low temperatures can obviously be a threat to life, but what other dangers can your facility face from extreme winter weather? The three biggest winter weather dangers are:

  • Collapse
  • Freeze-up
  • Flood

As light and innocent as snow may appear, deep accumulations of snow on the roof of your facility can become an emergency. As snow, ice, and rain accumulate on rooftops, the weight of the roof increases. If the roof can’t drain fast enough, the weight can become more than what the roof was designed to hold. Each year, many roof collapses are caused by excessive snow buildup.

Freeze-ups are dangerous because they can happen so quickly. Not only can a freeze-up cause a shutdown, but water damage from burst pipes is also a major cause of damage from winter storms. If parts of your facility are unoccupied, make sure they are properly protected against freeze-ups.

When thinking about severe winter weather, the risk of flooding may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Deep snow cover and frozen ground can lead to a dangerous scenario when the sun comes out and the snow begins to melt. As the snow melts, that water has to go somewhere - and it can start to build up quickly. Your facility should have a flood plan to help ensure that damage is minimized.

Related: Facility Contingency Planning Tips

Make Preparations

Guarding against collapse is fairly straightforward. Work with a structural engineer to determine how much snow the roof of your facility can handle. The roof may need to be reinforced so that it can handle a higher snow load. Develop a plan so that your team can work to keep it cleared if the snow starts to build on the roof. Marking things like skylights ahead of time helps to prevent people from getting hurt while working on a snowy roof.

To protect against freeze-ups, prep your facility before the temperatures start to drop. That way, if a cold snap happens, you won’t have to scramble to get your facility protected. Schedule a date each year where your facility will do the winter prep to protect against freeze-ups. Make sure that all water pipes are properly insulated or heat traced. If your facility will be operating during extremely cold conditions, be sure to have dedicated personnel to monitor for cold spots. Keeping the temperature in your facility above 50 degrees can also help to prevent freeze-ups.

If a freeze-up does occur, your facility will need a plan to repair and replace equipment as fast as possible. The most crucial objective should be restoring the fire safety system. You want your facility to be protected in case a fire breaks out while also preventing the fire protection system from causing water damage throughout your facility after a freeze-up. Keep a list of contractors available so you won’t have to search for them during an emergency.

Flood preparation is good to do year-round, but especially when the winter snow melts. If you’re not sure how bad your facility might flood, take a look at the 500-year flood level for your facility. This is a good benchmark to go off of in determining what kind of flooding conditions your facility should be prepared for. Critical items and equipment should be kept at this level or higher.

Every facility needs to be designed for water to drain away. In order for the water to move, it’s important that culverts, drains, gutters, ditches and other water management structures are kept clean and free of debris. Regular facility maintenance should include inspecting and cleaning these structures. Immediately after a storm, your facility response plan should include an inspection of all of these features so that the water has somewhere to go when it starts melting.

Boiler Recommendations

For boiler systems specifically, these are recommendations for winter inspection and preparation:

  • Inspect flue stacks, combustion air intake dampers and duct work to be sure that they are installed in accordance with the boiler manufacturer’s instructions and code requirements. These requirements ensure that snow or ice won’t cause restrictions which could lead to carbon monoxide forming in the system.
  • Have a remote alarm system installed so that your building maintenance staff will know immediately if boiler systems go down. They will then be able to attend to repairs before freezing occurs.
  • For steam systems, check condensate piping that could freeze. Air heating coils can drain by gravity, so if there is a temporary boiler failure, the coils and piping won’t freeze.
  • For a hot water heating system, having a backup power supply to the circulation pumps can help prevent coil freeze-up if there’s a power failure and the boiler goes down.
  • If your boiler has interruptible natural gas service with oil backup, test oil firing before the winter begins, and then monthly during cold weather, to ensure it will work properly when needed.

Winter weather preparation is important for keeping your facility operating year-round. Although it's important, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Let our experts assist in implementing a winter maintenance plan for your facility.

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Tags: Seasonal, Maintenance

Written by Tate Engineering