Follow these steps to prepare your small business for winter
As your small business gears up for the holidays and year-end reporting, don’t forget to have a plan in place for severe winter weather. Last year we saw extreme winter weather hit such southern locales as Houston, so now’s the time to begin to prepare your small business for winter.
Winter energy-saving tips
Lower your thermostat during off hours. Why pay to heat your building when no one’s there?
Take advantage of off-peak hours. Since energy is the most expensive between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (typically the hours you’re open), try to stagger the use of equipment or save certain tasks for off-peak hours.
Use the sun’s energy and minimize escaping heat. Open blinds and skylights to let in the warm sun. Also seal leaky windows and doors and keep freight doors closed as much as possible.
Before winter storms strike
Begin by identifying potential winter weather threats common in your region. For example, is your area prone to heavy snowfall? High winds or floods? Ice damage and pipes bursting? What about fires from overloaded circuits or faulty wiring?
Prepare your small business for winter by winterizing your building:
- Winterize your physical business location. Seal all openings with caulking and insulation where cold air can enter. Ensure heating and heat-producing process equipment is in good condition and operating efficiently. Identify your business equipment most vulnerable to freezing temperatures such as computer or manufacturing equipment and determine how you’ll protect it.
- Prevent frozen pipes. You can prepare your small business for winter by ensuring pipes are safe from freezing temperatures. This is one of the major causes of winter damage. Insulate areas that aren’t heated, such as attics and crawlspaces; add foam insulation or heat tape to vulnerable pipes. Always keep your building temperature at 55˚F or higher. Drain outdoor hoses and irrigation systems; install a smart leak detector or automatic excess flow switch so you can monitor pipes for any problems. Also, to help prevent freezing, leave the water slightly running to keep the flow of water going through the pipes.
- Check the roof. Look for any loose or missing roofing materials or damaged supports, as these areas are vulnerable to snow loads, high winds and water penetration. Snow accumulation on a building’s roof can lead to many risks, from leaking to a roof collapse. Remember: Don’t judge the snow load on the roof as being the amount of snow on the roof. It can vary greatly, so you need to know your roof’s snow load capability. Also take into account type of snow that’s fallen: for example, 1 cubic foot of fresh light dry snow is about 3 pounds, while 1 cubic foot of wet heavy snow is 21 pounds.Have any roof issues fixed by a professional as soon as possible. Arrange with qualified and insured contractor(s) for removal of drifts, excessive snow, or water-laden snow or ice from roofs. Also, check for clear and open roof drains and for any gaps around flashing or locations where objects are secured to the roof, such as antennas.
Prepare your small business for winter by planning ahead
- Check your insurance for coverage against winter hazards. Ensure you’re sufficiently covered in case your business sustains damage during a winter weather episode.
- Sign up for real-time weather alerts. Download the FEMA App for National Weather Service alerts, emergency safety tips for over 20 types of disasters, and locations for open emergency shelters and disaster recovery centers in your area.
- Create an emergency communication plan. Another way you can prepare your small business for winter is by ensuring your staff knows how everyone will communicate before, during and after a weather disaster. Keep an updated list of employee, vendor, and client contact information off-site for easy access during an emergency. You’ll particularly want to keep close at hand the names and phone numbers of your heating contractor, plumber, fire department, insurance agent and building. Identify critical staff, such as maintenance staff, that may need to enter the premises during the storm or immediately afterwards.
- Tell your customers. If you will be closing early due to a winter storm or blizzard, or not opening at all, let your customers know via your social media channels. If you have a storefront, post a sign notifying your customers of your closing as well.
- Consider buying a generator if your premises store any equipment needing electricity such as restaurants with walk-in coolers. Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and ensure batteries are in good condition, particularly if you’re using a generator.
- Develop a post-storm snow-removal plan. Reduce risk for employees and customers by properly treating and removing snow and ice.
- Download SBA’s winter weather preparedness checklist for additional steps to take.
During the storm
Your priority is to keep yourself, employees and customers safe. If possible, close early to allow employees plenty of time to safely travel home. Keep driveways, walkways and doorways reasonably clear of snow and ice. Anyone working outside (shoveling snow, etc.) should wear layers of warm clothing and watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite. If your place of business will be vacant for a long period of time during the storm, try to arrange to have someone to check indoor temperatures periodically if possible.
Keep an eye on power lines. If you see a downed line due to ice or wind near your business, call 911 immediately. Don’t go near the line, as it may still be live. Protect your customers or employees but putting sawhorses or posting signs near the live wire.
After the storm
- Assess any damage and notify your insurance company.
- Ensure that no damage to your premises could injure employees or customers.
- Shovel snow and ice; add salt to sidewalks; clear walkways.
- Check electrical equipment, heating and plumbing to ensure all is working properly.
- If a federal disaster has been declared in your area, you may consider applying for SBA disaster assistance.