When managing property, falling temperatures below freezing in the winter time brings a host of issues that aren’t as obvious or essential in milder times, and these are ones to ideally be aware of ahead of time.
They have to do with the physical fabric of the property as you would expect from the extreme weather conditions; however, you need to check the paperwork to confirm any liabilities. Any lease agreement or insurance obligations are two obvious ones, although others such as terms and conditions with contractors and arrangements with adjacent owners/occupiers should be considered also.
In terms of these physical issues to be aware of, here are three main types:
1. Snow and Ice on the Ground Causing Slips
Any kind of outside areas where both people and vehicles need to go can be lethal in terms of slips and trips when it’s slippery with ice as well as getting stuck if there is a severe snowfall. The government’s HSE website has a few pointers on general issues such as keeping things well lit, slippery items like leaves being cleared, watching out for rainwater, and then of course ice and snow.
Determine who is responsible for these areas, maybe a tenant if within their lease demise or often the ultimate landowner if not. When it comes to ice and snow, it’s best to be really clear on how this is done and then do it well or not at all.
There needs to be a procedure in place to make sure something is done when the temperature drops; for example, grit is placed down or snow removed, which can be automated by an external contractor for larger sites that send vehicles out to spray, but this can be costly.
On the other extreme, maybe there can be just grit-bins full of grit and a shovel good-to-go with written communication to users to use it themselves if they deem necessary; although practically this doesn’t tend to work out, it is often the cheapest way and stops any direct liability of the person otherwise in control of the land by passing over the responsibility.
2. Watch Out For Water Freezing
As well as heating and water-supply systems, there can be sprinkler systems for fires, all normally containing water that could freeze when cold. Water actually expands and gets larger when it becomes ice, which causes a greater force on pipes and systems that could cause them to burst. And believe me, you don’t want the hassle, cost, and devastation of potential mains-water bursting everywhere throughout a building.
One of the most important principles to first deter this is to either fully drain down any system before, particularly if vacant and not being used for a while, or keep it ticking over and working to some degree. Although there will be a cost to this, it will help keep the water temperature higher and keep it moving.
3. Parts of the Building Fabric Can Start Coming Off
This sounds strange, but if water gets in cracks and holes, then when it freezes and expands, it can cause a force on building elements that causes them, in time, to literally crumble off, known as a freeze and thaw effect. Common areas are pieces of masonry, maybe more decorative parts near the roof line, or parts of a roof, including flat roof areas.
Worst-case scenario, falling bits can hit people below, and more property-related, it can cause weakness in the building fabric and further exposure to more elements in the future. The answer: ideally a full building survey, although as a minimum, a brief visual check yourself around the building, including separate outbuildings or areas of garden walls and pavers.
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