Medical office building in winter

5 Ways to Safeguard Your Medical Facility This Winter

By Brandon Stokes | December 20, 2022

Catastrophic weather isn’t limited to the warmer months of the year. Numerous polar vortexes, blizzards and ice storms have reminded the industry of that in recent years. In 2021, the total economic losses from winter weather in the United States hit a record $38 billion, driven primarily by the February polar vortex that, in effect, froze the Texas power grid and led to $15 billion in insurance claim payouts across the country.1 For perspective, the previous record insurance claim payouts for a single winter storm hit $4 billion after the March 1993 “Storm of the Century” on the U.S. East Coast.

The risk of significant loss caused by disastrous winter weather on facilities such as medical and dental centers can be minimized through proper preparation. Be on the lookout for these threats to your facilities when temperatures plunge and snowflakes fly:

1. Electrical and mechanical fires

There is typically an uptick in fire losses at the start of winter, when mechanical and electrical systems ramp up to combat cold weather, and malfunctions in poorly maintained equipment tend to occur under the heavier strain.

How to prepare: As summer comes to a close, schedule and maintain service for furnace and heating systems, filters, testing of electrical loads, and other major equipment upkeep. If you haven’t yet scheduled service this season, do it now. Additionally, a master shutoff of the electrical service for the entire facility can help protect the equipment and facility in case of surges or malfunctions when the offices are closed.

2. Power outages

Blizzards, ice storms, windstorms, and even an aging infrastructure’s inability to handle colder temperatures,2 can lead to widespread loss of power for extended periods of time.

Loss of power at a medical or dental facility can damage electrical equipment and increase fire risk. Additionally, some systems, such as those for security or alerts, don’t automatically turn back on or reconnect with the communication system when power is restored.

How to prepare: Ensure water supply lines are properly insulated, or a temporary power supply is able to maintain moderate temperatures. Assess your building’s exterior and insulation to determine the biggest risk areas for freezing lines.

If you experience a power outage, have a plan to slowly work systems and equipment back into full service when power returns. Determine which systems need to be manually turned on and connected, and monitor those that automatically restart.

Heating units, for example, will work much harder to catch up, which can strain circuits and electrical service, creating an unstable environment that could produce surges, electrical malfunction, and breakdown of the equipment. Finally, double-check the backup servers for computer systems and any backup generators to make sure they are functioning properly.

3. Water infiltration

Water infiltration typically comes from poor roof maintenance over time, though it can emanate from a fallen tree or structural failure as well. When roof drainage systems are blocked by dust or debris that builds up during the year, melting water cannot escape, and it then seeps into a building through cracks in the roof. The water can then refreeze and widen any gaps, letting more water in when snow melts.

How to prepare: Keep gutters and drainage pathways clear, especially before freezing temperatures hit to stop ice dams from forming. In addition, inspect any curbing on the roof where exhaust vents and equipment sit to make sure the seals are in good shape.

4. Roof collapse

Age and poor upkeep of a structure contributes to the threat of roof collapse, a greater concern for larger facilities. A roof with three or four center drains, for example, may have significant blockages that can lead to ice, snow, or water buildup, and a substantial increase in the load weight.

How to prepare: Ensure good drainage for any water that hits the roof. In addition, look for deteriorating roofing materials that may allow seepage and damage beneath the surface, which can weaken the structure.

5. Frozen water supply pipes

Water supply lines that aren’t monitored to ensure proper flow when the temperature drops can create a significant water loss should the pipes freeze. Business owners shouldn’t assume their commercial facility or the supply lines are properly insulated, and learn from the plight of homeowners, for whom water damage claims have increased significantly in recent years.3

How to prepare: Inspect the water supply lines from the outside in, focusing on the areas most at risk for freezing first. Opening the doors to any utility or riser rooms where the water supply enters the building will help it stay as warm as the rest of the temperature-controlled areas in your building, which can help as well. A master shutoff of the water supply for the facility can also be a lifesaver should a storm hit or temperatures plunge when the offices are closed.

Preparation remains the best safeguard

Maintaining the facility, understanding the equipment and systems, and monitoring those systems as the temperature drops can help medical and dental facilities avoid significant losses caused by winter weather.

For more best practices for estimating repairs for dental and medical offices, contact Brandon Stokes and RMC Group.

This information is intended for informational purposes only. Each restoration project has unique properties and must be evaluated individually by knowledgeable consultants. Additionally, cutting samples of roof assemblies should be performed by qualified professionals and in some instances approved by the roofing manufacturer. RMC Group is not liable for any loss or damage arising out of or in connection with the use of this information.

1 Aon “2021 Weather, Climate and Catastrophe Insight.” 
2 The Texas Tribune “How Texas’ power grid failed in 2021 — and who’s responsible for preventing a repeat,” February 15, 2022. 
3 PropertyCasualty360 “Chubb: Homeowners in 2022 face increased risks,” April 6, 2022.