Preparing Facilities and Grounds for Winter

Ice dams, frozen pipes and slippery roadways are just a few of the hazards of winter. Cold freezes and snowstorms can result in significant property damage and personal injury if facilities are not properly maintained. Now is the time to prepare!

Heating Systems

If properly maintained, your heating system will provide decades of reliable service. If not, failure of the system can result in fire, steam explosion, frozen pipes, water damage, or worse. In addition to the yearly inspections performed by Hartford Steam Boiler and Inspection Company, your maintenance personnel should make the following weekly and monthly checks.


  • Inspect the boiler or furnace room for cleanliness.
  • Remove unnecessary combustibles and maintain a 36-inch clearance between heating appliances and combustibles.
  • Ensure equipment is unobstructed and easily accessed.
  • Check boiler or furnace for water leaks and excessive fuel odors.
  • Observe proper firing, if you can do so safely.
  • Verify that pressures and temperatures are within allowable limits.
  • Check the fuel oil storage tank and schedule a delivery, if necessary.


  • Manually test the boiler low-water cutoff.
  • Manually test the safety relief valve.

Please note: Furnaces should be equipped with an emergency shutoff switch located in an accessible area. It is important to make sure that this switch is well marked for emergency use.

If you are not scheduling routine monthly spot-check inspections,  it is critical that you have your boiler serviced by a licensed contractor in the autumn prior to the arrival of cold weather.


  • Test all safety and pressure relief valves.
  • Test all combustion safety controls (e.g., safety shutoff valves, fuel-air interlocks,
    and flame failure devices).
  • Clean the firesides and flue to prevent soot accumulation.
  • Disassemble and clean the low-water cutoff.
  • Analyze combustion burner efficiency.
  • Check the steam traps for proper functioning.

If you are not scheduling routine weekly/monthly spot-check inspections,
it is critical that you have your boiler serviced by a licensed contractor in the autumn prior to the arrival of cold weather.

Snow Removal Plan

All facilities are encouraged to have a snow removal plan in place. The plan should include the following elements:

  • Determine and document priority areas for snow and ice removal in advance, such as parking lots, driveways, sidewalks, and handicap-accessible parking areas.
  • Put snow/ice removal equipment, such as lightweight shovels, snow blowers and ice choppers, in place and make sure all equipment is operational.
  • Order the necessary supplies and designate an employee to ensure your stock does not run low. Supplies should include salt, sand, and/or pre-mix.
  • Determine which staff member will be responsible for removing the snow/ice and under what conditions (i.e., when snowfall is less than two inches). In the event snowfall begins overnight, document the time in which the staff member will begin snow removal work the following morning.
  • Ensure a communication plan is in place to let employees and volunteers know about delayed openings or closures.
  • Document the procedure for working with a snow removal service.

Contracting with a Snow Removal Service Company

The amount of snowfall and the size of your grounds will determine whether snow removal can be done by an employee or if you will need the services of a snow removal contractor. Generally, when the snowfall is greater than two inches, the use of a contractor is recommended. Specify in writing when the contractor is required to perform duties, and outline the duties. For example, is the parish required to contact the contractor, or does the contractor automatically begin service after a specified amount of snowfall?

Include other requirements, such as whether salt or ice melt is to be applied and to which areas. The parish should provide the contractor with a drawing of the property that designates parking lots, walkways, and other priority areas. If priority areas change depending on the day of the week (i.e., parish traffic patterns may differ for weekend Masses versus daily Mass or school days), be sure to provide these details.

When entering into a contract with a snow removal service provider, the contract should include the provision that the parish and diocese are both held harmless with regard to liability arising out of the contractor’s snow removal activities.

Preparing Your Facility for Cold Weather Spells

Prior to the cold weather setting in, have your pipes insulated, especially pipes close to the outside walls, attics or crawl spaces where the chance of freezing is greatest. Inspect the area around the pipes for any air leaks and seal leaks as soon as possible. Disconnect, remove and store outdoor hoses. Close all inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain.

During cold spells, be sure to do the following:

  • When the weather outside drops below freezing, pipes can freeze and even burst if proper maintenance precautions are not taken. The simplest step you can take is to keep the temperature of your buildings set at 55°F or higher at all times. You may think it is wasteful to heat a building that is unoccupied, but it will be much more costly to repair the damage that would result from burst pipes.
  • During long periods of extreme cold, such as prolonged temperatures of 5-10°F or below, set the thermostat at or above 68°F and have a custodian check the vacant buildings twice a day for frozen pipes by opening the water taps and checking the radiators.
  • During cold spells, open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to know the location of all shut off valves: in the event a pipe bursts, you will need to stop the flow of water as soon as possible.  
  • Know the location of all shut-off valves: in the event a pipe bursts, you will need to stop the flow of water as soon as possible.
  • Check to make sure that all windows, doors, and skylights close securely in order to maintain building heat.
  • Inspect facilities for signs of cracked or broken windows and doors, especially near water pipes, and immediately make repairs.

Treating Frozen Pipes

If you open a faucet and little to no water comes out, leave the faucet open, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve, and call a plumber. Never attempt to thaw a frozen pipe
with an open flame. You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with warm air from a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe closet to the faucet, working toward the coldest section of pipe. If a water pipe bursts, completely open all faucets and turn off the water at the main shut-off valve. Call a plumber immediately.

Unoccupied Buildings

All properties should be adequately heated during winter months to prevent pipes from freezing. If a building is unoccupied for a few weeks or even a few days, a designated person should either maintain a building temperature of at least 55°F. You may think it is wasteful to heat a building that is unoccupied, but it will be much more costly to repair the damage that would result from burst pipes. Alternatively, you may choose to turn off the water and drain the pipes if the building will be unoccupied for an extended period of time.

Maintenance personnel should perform daily inspections of unoccupied buildings, especially after a heavy rain or snowstorm. Start with the basement and boiler rooms. If leaks or flooding occur, you will want to make repairs and address water issues as soon as possible. If upon entering the building you smell gas or suspect a leak, leave the building immediately and contact the gas company or fire department.

Theft and Vandalism

Before a building is due to be unoccupied, have your maintenance personnel take a security assessment of your premises. Break-ins often occur because a building appears to be easy to access or looks “inviting” to a criminal. To find areas that need improvement, walk around the perimeter of your facility and assess the following:

  • Look for easy access points, specifically focusing on doors, windows and locks. If any of these are faulty, they should be replaced immediately.
  • Keep bushes and shrubs near your building trimmed; this will eliminate hiding places in the shadows. This will also allow your building to be more visible from the street, which will make it easier to notice suspicious activity.
  • Check lighting – adequate exterior lighting will prevent criminals from lingering too close to your building.
  • Make sure there are no accessible ladders, tools or other objects that could assist a burglar with a break-in.
  • Make sure all valuables are stored away from access points. Criminals are frequently enticed to break in if there are expensive items, such as electronic equipment, visible from a window.
  • Prior to closing down, take an inventory of property if you have not already done so, including serial numbers of computers and other electronic devices. This can help identify theft quickly and will aid in reporting missing items.

Tree Maintenance

Regular tree maintenance is essential to help prevent property damage, especially during severe weather events. Perform a thorough inspection of trees before winter sets in, checking for decay or fungus. Cracks along a limb indicate a weak branch that should be removed. If your budget allows, consider hiring a reputable arborist to perform the inspections.

After a heavy snowstorm, always inspect trees for loose or fallen limbs. Never remove limbs that have electrical wires running through them; call your electricity provider instead.