Winterproof Your Fire Station

Many of you will read the title of this article and laugh at the thought of winter in the Carolinas – especially when it’s the middle of fall and still 85 degrees outside! However, the Carolinas are not immune to winter weather as evidenced by the snowstorms that hit the Low Country in South Carolina last year. Making your station winter ready can prevent costly damage, increase your fire station’s energy efficiency and prepare the facility when severe weather hits. image

Waterproof the Building

A lot of problems created by winter weather are due to freezing water. Of course, everyone thinks about their pipes freezing, but water infiltration can also cause problems. Small cracks in brick mortar or stucco; failing or missing caulk at roof and wall penetrations such as windows, vents, and roof curbs; and rusted building components such as coping, flashing, or lintels can all be susceptible to the expansion of water as it freezes. If left alone, freezing water can make a small problem bigger and increase the risk of water infiltration into your station. In some instances, especially when it comes to roofs, water can get between building layers and cause a system to fail.

Now is a good time to inspect the exterior of your building to identify these easy-to-fix maintenance issues. Re-caulking penetrations and cracks and painting rusted building components can be accomplished with materials from your local hardware store.

When inspecting your roof, be sure to check for evidence of ponding water. If present, identify and repair the source of the water. Some repairs are easy, like improperly piped HVAC condensate lines or clogged roof drains, while others may require the assistance of a roofing contractor. Ponded water can turn into ice dams during freezing weather, creating a further buildup of water and ice. Ice dams increase the risk of water infiltration and can present a safety issue from the formation of icicles and the danger of falling ice.

Speaking of those freezing pipes, as you inspect the exterior of your building, make sure to disconnect any hoses from exterior spickets and insulate or drain any exposed pipes or water lines that are not buried below the frost line. Irrigation pumps, if used, should be disconnected and drained as well.

Develop a Game Plan for Snow and Ice

As winter approaches and temperatures drop, it is important to have a plan to manage ice and snow. De-icing and snow removal tools (i.e., shovels) should be on hand for quick response to keep sidewalks and drives clear and safe. When it comes to de-icers, avoid rock salt at all cost and make sure the agent is safe to use on concrete. Some materials can be corrosive and damage concrete; therefore, we recommend the use of sand in lieu of a de-icer. If you do experience heavy snowfall, inspect your roof for excessive snow buildup that could lead to structural problems with your roof’s support system. Have a plan in place to safely remove snow buildup if it occurs.

Finally, be sure to conduct recommended periodic maintenance on your building’s mechanical system and emergency/backup generators. Typically, HVAC service is recommended twice a year, with one servicing in advance of cold weather. Generator maintenance schedules can vary based on the size and type of system. In addition to verifying that the generator is running properly, check to make sure the appropriate systems are being switched to the generator as intended.

Following these basic steps will ensure your station is prepared for winter weather. As an added bonus, you will increase your energy efficiency and save money!

Matt Culler is a project developer at Bobbitt Design Build, based in the company’s Columbia, S.C., office. Culler works with businesses and organizations to help them achieve their goals for new and renovated facilities.

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