Winter Risk Management: Impact on Buildings

Water Damage: Solutions for Commercial Clients
December 6, 2019
Winter Risk Management: Slips & Trips Accidents
February 11, 2020

snow on roofIn its recently published Winter Risk Management Bulletin, Aviva deal, among other things, with the potential impact of heavy snowfall, freezing temperatures and strong wind chills on the business premises. In Ireland, extreme conditions of prolonged winter snow combined with sub-zero temperatures are fortunately quite rare. However, the potential to experience such conditions still exists and it is, therefore, important that property owners and occupiers are prepared for such eventuality that may result in significant property and contents damage, and business interruption.

For example, a 1cm-thick, 10m-square area of freshly fallen snow at 4°C weighs around 100kg – which could potentially cause a lot of damage to your buildings. And as it compresses and freezes, it can weigh even more. While severe winter weather cannot be avoided, following these simple practical guidelines will help avoid or mitigate damage to property and prevent business interruption.

Risks to look out for

  • snow and ice on a roof can create vertical and horizontal forces through the structure, causing the roof, walls and canopies to deflect, bow or collapse
  • snow and ice can impair louvered ventilation systems and roof lights
  • ice can seal shut venting systems, and the weight of snow can stop explosion relief vents from opening
  • fluid-filled services or equipment, and sprinkler piping, can freeze if left exposed
  • unheated buildings are vulnerable to freezing
  • roof drainage systems can become blocked or plugged by ice and snow
  • melting snow combined with rainfall can easily overwhelm building drainage systems and those in the surrounding area, which can result in localised flooding.

Buildings at greater risk

  • Geographical location and exposure to wind
  • The age of the building: newer building regulations provide better guidance for estimating snow loads
  • Roof overhangs that project several feet beyond the horizontal support
  • Buildings with extensions or modification to roofs without considering the original load design
  • Buildings with lightweight roofs such as profile steel, asbestos or cement sheeting
  • Roofs which have had their insulation properties improved allowing snow to accumulate for longer periods
  • Large span or low pitched roofs
  • Some older structural steel framed roofs can suffer from corrosion.

Maintenance before the winter season begins

  • Regular and systematic building inspections are key in order to help identify problems promptly
  • Rainwater debris removal: gutters, gulleys, downspouts and drains
  • Inspect the structural elements of the building for accidental damage that may detrimentally affect the structural strength
  • Roofs need to be inspected at least twice a year or following particularly stormy weather
  • Repair or replace: missing, slipped or broken slates or tiles; damaged or rusty cladding; cracked flat roof coverings such as felt; leaking or damaged rooflights; gaps and missing mortar between ridge tiles
  • Moss, which retains moisture, needs to be removed to prevent excessive build up
  • Internal inspection of the roof and framework must also take place.

Steps that can be taken during winter weather

  • Keep roofs, gutters, downspouts and drains clear of ice so water can freely drain away
  • When clearing snow, make sure that snow is not deposited against the foot of any downspouts as this may interfere with effective drainage
  • Only where it is safe to do so, chip and channel any ice dams to ensure that water can flow freely
  • Be watchful for signs of stress and deflection of the roof and wall structure such as deflection, cracking, splitting or twisting, particularly in trusses, purlins, joists, beams and girders
  • Be alert to any unusual sounds emanating from the building such as cracking or creaking from the roof
  • Keeping attics well ventilated can reduce the build up of snow and formation of ice dams
  • If portable heaters are being considered you should first seek approval from your insurance company and comply with any additional requirements. In addition, ensure that fire risk assessments are updated to reflect the additional hazard.

In any case, safety of life is of utmost importance so if there is any doubt about the integrity of a roof in such extreme snow conditions then the building or area should be evacuated until professional advice can be sought.

Being prepared for such events will increase your business’ resilience and enable you to resume operations in the most effective and shortest possible time should disaster strike. Insurance has a vital role to play in supporting your recovery, but it makes sense to have a plan as well. While it may seem an extra burden to prepare a plan, challenging situations place severe pressure on individuals to make decisions and take action. Experience proves that it is easier to consider all the issues surrounding a potential crisis objectively beforehand, than under stressful conditions.

If you have any questions on this topic, would like a quotation for Business Interruption and Property Damage insurance for your business, or want to discuss your existing insurance arrangements, please call us on 049-4332944, e-mail or complete our online enquiry form.

Disclaimer: The material contained is this article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice.

James Martin
James Martin
James Martin has 16 years of experience as a general insurance broker. He is a member of the Chartered Insurance Institute and has completed a Diploma in Corporate Finance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *