Prepare your station for winter weather

CarolinaFireJournal - By Ben Wilson
By Ben Wilson LEED AP BD&C
01/10/2013 -

Many of us look forward to the coming holiday season, but not so much the cold weather. The switch from fall to winter and the associated weather it brings can wreak havoc on your building. Cold weather will exacerbate any problems you have with your building, and finding out about and fixing those problems isn’t easily done during the winter months. This article provides tips for helping get your building through the cold weather, which is fast approaching. Remember that preventing problems is far more cost effective than fixing problems after they happen.

Building Exterior

Check all your caulking. Caulk is the simplest item you may have on your maintenance list, the easiest to inspect, and the easiest to forget. Caulk can last for years when it is properly installed, but regular inspection is needed. Inspect all your exterior window and door openings, wall openings, pipe penetrations and roof flashings for failing or missing caulk. If any deficient caulking is recognized, simply re-caulk the areas in question with an exterior grade caulk meant for that application. Caulking supplies and caulk can be easily found at your local hardware store and it is a relatively inexpensive item to fix.

Inspect all exterior walls for cracking, missing mortar, or evidence of water intrusion. If any of these areas are present on your structure, be sure to seal them immediately. Any water infiltration, coupled with freezing conditions, can cause these small cracks to separate further, increasing your risk of water infiltration. Also, be sure to check steel lintels above your openings for signs of bowing, which will cause further separation of your brick and mortar joints.

As you do your exterior inspection, be sure to disconnect all hoses from the wall hydrant. Any hoses left connected will freeze the wall hydrant supply pipe, causing a leak within your walls. As an additional measure of protection, install insulating boxes (found at any hardware store) on all exterior wall hydrants and insulate or drain any exposed pipe or water lines that are not buried below the frost line, such as irrigation lines. If pumps are used for irrigation, disconnect and drain the pumps as well.

When ice becomes present on concrete sidewalks or drives, do not use rock salt, as it will cause damage to the finish of your concrete surfaces. Instead use a less corrosive de-icing agent, such as calcium magnesium acetate.


During the colorful months of fall, be sure to check your roof systems for any ponding water, and the source from which it may come (HVAC condensate lines, clogged roof drain, etc.). Check all coping, flashing and fascia for signs of rusting or deterioration in caulking or connections. Re-caulk these areas and paint any rust that is present. Check all penetrations on the roof (pitch pockets, vents, roof curbs). If deterioration is present in any form, immediately repair the area to provide a weather tight seal. Should any of these areas allow water infiltration and then succumb to freezing temperatures, you can almost be assured of a failure in the roof system.

Inspect and clean all gutters, roof drains, scuppers and collector boxes of any debris. This will help prevent ice dams from forming. Ice dams can cause roof system leakage, pose a threat of falling ice and the development of icicles on the exterior of the gutter system. After heavy snow, inspect your roof system for excessive snow build-up at parapets, roof top units, and step conditions, which may cause structural problems with the support of your roof structure. Be sure to have a snow removal plan in place if your location typically receives heavy snowfall or you have areas where snow build-up is likely.

Mechanical Systems

Have your heating unit serviced at regular intervals. Experts suggest twice a year, at least once prior to the arrival of colder temperatures. Inspect heating ducts and seal any air leaks. Experts also suggest changing the filters at least once a month during the winter season, as dirty filters restrict the air flow, keeping your units from operating efficiently. Make sure that condensation lines are clear and draining properly, and empty the condensation pan prior to freezing. Use the sun’s energy to help heat your space during winter by leaving blinds open.

As with your heating unit, continue regular scheduled maintenance on your generator. Verify that your generator is working properly and backing up your systems. Experts recommend that during the winter months you keep your water heater setting at 120 degrees for maximum efficiency of the unit. Many feel that anything higher results in wasted energy to keep the water warmer than necessary.

Benjamin Wilson, LEED AP BD&C, is a project developer with Bobbitt Design Build, a leading design-build contractor for Fire/Rescue facilities throughout the Carolinas.
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