Bracing for winter: Tips for reducing risks at your business

Bracing for winter: Tips for reducing risks at your business

Kim Mercado
By Kim Mercado
Jan 17, 2024
1 min read

With winter comes severe weather conditions. These conditions often pose a significant risk of damage to your business’s roof, interior and plumbing — all time-consuming and costly to fix.

However, you can take preventative steps to minimize the risk of damage to your property and its contents. It doesn’t matter whether you own or rent your building; these preventive measures are crucial for everyone.

We’ve compiled a handy guide to help you prepare your business for winter-related incidents and included some real-life scenarios NEXT’s own insurance agents have helped business owners with.

Dive in to learn about:

What are winter weather hazards?

Winter weather can bring several hazards that pose a risk to your business property. Common culprits include:

  • Snowstorms
  • Freezing temperatures
  • Ice dams
  • Heavy snow accumulation
  • Burst pipes

Understanding these risks is the first step toward effective preparation.

NEXT’s top 5 winter-related claims

As a small business insurer, we receive many winter-related claims. If you’ve ever experienced the following, you’re not alone. (These aren’t ranked in any order.)

  1. Fire sprinkler pipes bursting and leaking water
  2. Boiler or HVAC failing
  3. Roof damage caused by ice
  4. Burst water pipes
  5. An issue was not detected immediately (due to holidays or breaks during cold weather) and caused more damage than it would otherwise have.

For example, in one instance, a NEXT customer was notified by his building’s management of a water leak in his space. It turns out that the building’s boilers failed, causing the pipes to freeze and then burst, leaking water into his premises and damaging his business property.

Similarly, in another incident, a NEXT customer closed their business for the Christmas holidays, but periodically monitored the space through their security cameras. During one check, they noticed flooding in their property. When they investigated in person, they discovered burst pipes (due to freezing weather) with water flooding several of their rooms.

Cold weather played a part in both of these claim examples. Prevention is key. Maintain your property before snow, ice and freezing temperatures arrive to lessen your chance of winter damage.

Exterior preparations for cold weather

Prepare your business’s exterior before the first frost with these projects.

Roof inspection and repair

Inspect your roof for any damage or weak spots that could lead to leaks or collapses under the weight of heavy snow. Address any issues promptly to avoid costly repairs later on.

Protect outdoor equipment and structures

Move outdoor equipment, furniture and inventory indoors or cover them securely to shield them from harsh winter conditions.

Disconnect hoses and store them inside. If you have outdoor fixtures, you can shut off the spigot’s water supply, drain the remaining water from the faucet and pipe and cover the faucet with a cover.

Proper drainage to prevent ice dams

Clear gutters and downspouts of debris to ensure proper water flow. This will help prevent ice dams from forming, which can cause water to seep into your building. (Ice dams are when heavy snow melts during the day and then refreezes when temperatures drop overnight.)

Clear snow and ice

While this action is more reactive than proactive, it’s a best practice nonetheless. Regularly remove snow and ice from walkways and parking lots to prevent slips and falls. Consider investing in snow shovels, ice melt or hiring a snow removal service if necessary. If you have a snow blower, keep it gassed up and ready for use.

Interior preparations for winter

It’s best to start early in the fall or even at the end of summer (though it’s always better late than never). If you decide to do-it-yourself, you’ll have plenty of time to complete winterization. However, if you hire a professional, you should arrange servicing appointments as soon as possible to ensure work is finished before the weather worsens.

Insulate pipes and water lines

Insulate exposed pipes and water lines to prevent freezing and potential bursts. Use pipe insulation sleeves or heat tape to protect vulnerable areas.

In the case of extreme temperature, keep faucets dripping. Even a small amount of water running through the pipe will help keep it from freezing.

Setup a leak detector system

The longer a leak goes undiscovered, the more damage it causes, damaging furniture and equipment, generating mildew and fungi, and even jeopardizing structural stability.

A water leak detector/system can lessen the danger by alerting you to problems promptly, allowing you to take action to prevent serious harm.

Maintain heating systems

Schedule regular maintenance for your heating systems to ensure they function optimally during the winter season. Clean or replace filters, check thermostats and bleed radiators if necessary. Maintain temperature above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

While portable electric space heaters are a popular heat source in homes and too-cold offices, they pose a fire and electrical hazard if placed near combustible or flammable items or plugged in incorrectly.

Seal drafts and air leaks

Identify and seal any drafts or air leaks around windows, doors, and other openings with weather stripping or caulking. This will help maintain a comfortable temperature inside and reduce energy costs.

Protect sensitive equipment

Cold temperatures can harm sensitive equipment. Ensure they are stored in temperature-controlled areas or use protective covers to shield them from extreme temperature fluctuations.

It’s also smart to check or replace the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors as part of your winterization plans. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), carbon monoxide poisoning and exposure occur more during the fall and winter, when people increase the use of gas furnaces and heaters

Emergency planning: How to prepare for extreme cold weather

If you live in an area with extreme winter weather, you already know the importance of preparing for the possibility of a winter storm or a power outage. While you may be prepared to get snowed in at home, do you have a plan for getting stranded at work?

Create a winter weather emergency kit

Be prepared for power outages or being snowed in. Assemble an emergency kit that includes essentials like flashlights, extra batteries, blankets, first aid supplies, spare cell phone portable batteries and chargers, water and non-perishable food items.

Winter emergency supplies might include extra warm clothing, hand and foot warming packs, ice scrapers or foldable shovels and a fire starter or striker.

Establish communication protocols with employees

Develop a communication plan to keep your employees informed during severe weather conditions. Utilize phone trees, group messaging apps or other reliable methods to stay connected.

You’ll also want to let customers know if and when you’re closing. If you will be closing early due to a winter storm or blizzard, or not opening at all, use social media channels to relay that information. If you have a storefront, post a sign notifying your customers of your closing.

Identify emergency contacts and resources

Make a list of emergency contacts, including local authorities, utility companies and insurance providers. Keep this information readily accessible in case of emergencies.

(NEXT customers can always contact us via our website, mobile app and virtual assistant.)

Create business continuity plans

A business continuity plan lists the most critical business processes and how to keep them running smoothly when something goes wrong.

When creating plans and preparing your business for the winter, consider what may happen if roads are closed or there are service outages. For instance, what would your backup plan be if you pay vendors or employees via check, but the post office is inoperable?

You’ll also want to conduct training sessions to educate your employees on emergency procedures for your business. Ensure they know how to respond in different scenarios, such as evacuations or building damage.

Consider buying a generator

Depending on your business, you might invest in a generator for necessary equipment, devices, or products requiring electricity, such as walk-in refrigerators and food storage. However, you should not operate most generators indoors due to their carbon monoxide production.

Insurance considerations for winter-related incidents

Commercial property insurance is vital in mitigating financial losses during winter-related incidents. This coverage can help protect your building structure and the physical assets you need to operate your business. It can also help protect you against losing business income and related expenses if you temporarily close your business.

Take the following steps to ensure you have adequate coverage:

Review your insurance policy

Carefully read your policy to understand what is covered and what is not. Pay attention to deductibles, exclusions and coverage limits. Consider consulting with an insurance agent to clarify any doubts.

Update your policy if necessary

If your business has undergone changes, gained or lost employees or acquired new equipment, update your policy accordingly to reflect your business’s current value and needs.

How NEXT helps you weather the storm

Small business owners can protect their properties from common winter incidents by implementing these preventative measures. And if something unexpected happens, we’re here to have your back.

NEXT specializes in providing business insurance to small businesses. Since we only help entrepreneurs like you, we can create customized insurance packages tailored to your specific needs.

You can get an instant quote, review options and buy coverage fast. And you can get immediate 24/7 access to your certificate of insurance (COI) as soon as you buy your insurance.

Get an instant quote today.

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Kim Mercado
About the author
Kim Mercado is a content editor at NEXT's blog, where she writes and edits posts for small business owners. She enjoys helping entrepreneurs solve their business challenges and learn about insurance. Kim has contributed to Salesforce, Samsara and Google.

You can find Kim trying new recipes and cheering the 49ers.

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