This Web Exclusive was prepared by Keith Domagala, Vice President and Engineering Manager for Affiliated FM, a Johnston, RI-based company focused on creating comprehensive, global commercial and industrial property insurance and engineering-driven risk management solutions.
It was more than a century ago when Charles Dudley Warner penned the proverbial phrase, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
But, with regard to property loss prevention, much can be done to respond to weather predictions and forecasts in order to protect your business facilities.
For TFM‘s coverage of cold weather maintenance, see “Essential Winter Maintenance” from the archives.
A number of familiar weather patterns and terms—such as El Niño, La Niña, air masses and jet streams-affect temperature, precipitation, wind and natural occurrences like hurricanes, floods, blizzards and tornadoes. Paying close attention to those weather patterns can help you determine when winter’s favorite hazard, bone-chilling temperatures, may be heading your way.
This is very important, because freeze is a formidable winter hazard. Damage from freezing temperatures can cost companies as much as US$200,000 on average (based on Affiliated FM loss statistics). Freeze can also cause substantial damage and affect facilities throughout the middle latitudes, including subtropical regions where freeze is thought to be rare.
Freeze: It can happen almost anywhere
In areas where freeze is common, the typical freeze incident results from change within a facility, such as not replacing insulation after a repair or leaving a door or window open. In regions where freeze is infrequent, inadequate insulation and heat may prove insufficient to prevent freeze, possibly resulting in broken water piping and water damage, or impaired fire protection sprinkler systems and sprinkler leakage, making the facility vulnerable to fire.
The most common losses involve freeze-ups of fire protection lines and domestic water lines. Once temperatures increase, the break in the line is apparent and water often damages interior building contents and the building itself. More severe losses involve process and control lines, gauges, and other unite exposed to the outdoors, such as at chemical plants, power generation facilities, or paper mills.
In regions such as the U.S. Gulf Coast and the southern parts of Europe, freeze is expected to be moderate and short-term, or is not expected at all. In these areas, freeze can break sprinkler systems and other water-filled piping. There is generally less reliance on adequate insulation, heat or heat-tracing cable for outdoor equipment in these regions. As many winters go by without a severe freeze, people tend to think it won’t happen again. This is when a facility is most vulnerable to having a freeze loss.
What you can do about it
Freeze prevention and mitigation begins with a carefully drawn freeze plan to prepare buildings, equipment and personnel for the season’s potential impact. Make sure to develop and train your emergency response team (ERT) well before winter to deal with pre-freeze precautions, as well as address events during and after a severe drop in temperature.
In the meantime, here are some steps you can take now to protect your facility:
– Inspect and confirm your buildings are closed to cold air infiltration. Keep all openings in the envelope closed.
– Test the heating system for proper function and confirm ample fuel is available. Maintain two fuel sources if one is based on an interruptible contract.
– For outdoor piping and equipment, inspect and test heat tracing and confirm insulation is in place.
– Check dryers on instrument air systems for proper operation. Verify dryers can remove sufficient moisture to prevent condensation during coldest possible weather.
– Do not shut down operations during unusually cold weather.*
– Ensure heat is maintained in the facility for a minimum of 40°F (4°C) temperatures.
– Place thermometers inside buildings at strategic locations to monitor building heat.
– Ensure adequate depth of cover for all underground water mains.
– Ensure sprinkler systems are well-maintained and supervised.
o For wet sprinkler systems, ensure sufficient building temperature is maintained at all times.
o For dry sprinkler systems, ensure dry pipe valves are adequately enclosed, system trip-tested annually, and drip lines drained and air dryers well maintained.
o For antifreeze sprinkler systems, ensure adequate maintenance, including antifreeze checking.
In addition, these are some steps you should take soon to protect your facility:
– Establish a freeze emergency plan, including a reliable weather watch, and train employees in proper response techniques.
– Install an alternate fuel source if an interruptible contract exists that cannot be changed.
– Obtain portable heaters for use during cold-weather emergencies.
– Provide additional dryer capacity for outdoor instrument air systems to avoid condensation during extended cold periods.
– Plan to maintain full operation of the facility during cold periods.*
* Murphy’s Law would say that if a severe cold spell is headed your way, it will be during a holiday shutdown! Be sure to weigh the risks before deciding to shutdown your facility. Keep in mind: it generally takes a period of 36 hours of sub-freezing temperatures to cause damage.
If a complete and extended shutdown is necessary, be sure to monitor building temperature continuously, either with the assistance of an alarm connected to a security service, or by a continuously touring watch service. In the warmer temperate regions, it is important to have an alert weather watch and a ready response, such as activation of on-site portable heaters.