Winter storms can last a few hours or several days, causing disruptions in utility services such as heat, power, and communication services and putting people and facilities at great risk. It can be warm one day, and bitter cold the next. And rapid drops in temperature, even when it doesn’t get below freezing, can wreak havoc on school facilities.
These six tips can help you get prepared to protect your pipes, property, and people.
1. Inspect the HVAC system
Make sure your schools’ HVAC systems are in working order to keep your students and staff warm during the next few months. The colder weather and decrease in daylight hours mean your HVAC systems are working longer hours. Spending a little time and money now to inspect, clean, and repair could help avoid costly emergencies.
Make sure you keep indoor air quality in mind during the winter months. Properly ventilated spaces can go a long way in preventing infectious diseases like the flu and COVID-19.
Related: Clearing the Air: Reliable Info on IAQ and Ionization in Schools
2. Winterize pipes and major equipment, including boilers and hot water heaters
Preparing your pipes can save you money and headaches. When you leave for winter break, set your facilities’ thermostats to at least 50 degrees if possible, and keep the boilers running. Pipes that are exposed to the elements can be wrapped with foam or other kinds of insulation.
To avoid damage to the system and ensure proper operation, your boilers should not be shut down over the winter break.
Water intrusion is the leading cause of loss among TASB Risk Management Fund members, according to Risk Prevention Services Manager Joanie Arrott with TASB Risk Management Services.
“We see quick temperature drops — and it doesn't necessarily have to be below freezing, but if we've got a 20-plus drop in temperature, that can be enough to crack some systems — combine that with poor insulation, and thermostats that have been set too low, and you can have real problems,” said Arrott. In fact, she says she’s seen schools with more than a quarter million dollars in damage related to burst pipes.
3. Conduct roof inspections
Make sure your roof is ready for the winter. Check roofs, eaves and awnings for accumulating snow load and ice buildup. Icicles, ice dams, and snow sliding from rooftops can all be dangerous for students, staff, and visitors — and they can also indicate energy loss in your building.
The total weight your roof can hold is another consideration districts need to keep in mind when snow is possible, according to Risk Solutions Consultant Jesse Gonzales with TASB Risk Management Services.
“Dry, fresh snow is about seven to 10 pounds per cubic foot,” said Gonzales. “If it's thawed and refrozen, that we could go up to 60 pounds per cubic foot, and that's not even accounting for any rain that may have fallen.”
4. Test electrical equipment, sprinkler systems, and smoke detectors
This is a good time to double-check any back up power systems your district has and test your knowledge of operating the fire suppression system. If your fire sprinkler systems use anti-freeze to protect pipes from freezing, be aware that the anti-freeze solution deteriorates over time and needs to be checked to ensure continual protection.
Some fire alarms and security systems can remotely monitor building conditions and even detect water leaks. If these features are available in your district, use them.
Related: Turning a Disaster into a Plan: Tips for School Districts
5. Practice powering down and cutting off water to school buildings
In serious situations, you might need to shut off all the water to your school to avoid further damage from a leak. Know where your water shut-off valves are located to act quickly.
If you discover a leak, move quickly to control damage:
- Address leak at its source
- Remove any standing water
- Dry out water-soaked items like carpet
Burst pipes can cause damage to classrooms and equipment, and it can even mean shutting down the school. Unmitigated water damage can lead to mold growth, structural damage, and health issues for students and staff. A burst pipe in the ceiling at one elementary school in Texas recently cost the district more than $260,000.
6. Get expert guidance
TASB Facility Services provides expert advice for all your building needs. Member districts can access to training, consultations, facility assessments, and planning help from our facility experts.
We also encourage you to take advantage of these cost-free resources:
If your district is a BuyBoard member, be sure to check for competitive pricing on a wide variety of building maintenance and repair items, HVAC equipment and supplies, construction equipment, grounds maintenance equipment, and more. These BuyBoard products can help with your winterization projects:
- 657-21: Building Maintenance, Repair & Operations Supplies & Equipment
- 646-21: Construction, Other Equipment, & Vehicle Rentals
- 645-21: Facility Maintenance and Operations Services
- 611-20: Grounds Maintenance Equipment and Irrigation Parts, Supplies, & Installation