Winter brings a break from the Texas heat and the anticipation of holiday cheer. Before you send staff and students off to spend time with family and friends, however, remember that cold weather also increases the risk of vehicle and property damage.
The TASB Risk Management Fund (Fund) encourages members to follow these tips to avoid filing unnecessary claims, repairing damage, and investing resources in returning to normal operations.
Practice routine vehicle maintenance
Vehicles need special care in the winter. Cold weather can turn warm air in fuel tanks into water, which can impact fuel economy and engine performance. School buses and other vehicles will not be used as much during the winter, so it is important to maintain them properly.
Put a penny into several tire treads. If you always see the top of President Lincoln’s head, it is probably time for new tires.
Follow these additional tips during the winter and all year long:
- Replace worn wiper blades.
- Never leave a fuel tank less than half-full for longer than a day.
- Follow manufacturer instructions for the type of oil your vehicles need in the winter.
- Top off fluids every time the oil is changed.
- Add passenger vehicle batteries to your routine maintenance and replacement schedules.
- Remember that most brakes start to wear out within three years. Learn the signs that brakes need to be replaced, such as increased stopping distance, a shaky steering wheel, or a strange noise when you apply the brakes.
- Regularly test vehicle lights, including turn signals, hazards, and brake lights.
- Check tires and engine belts for wear.
Transportation directors and fleet managers should also discuss hazards that drivers might encounter. Make sure staff knows alternate routes and what to do in an emergency.
Protect pipes, buildings, and equipment
Frozen pipes are the leading property-related risk when the temperature drops. It might seem like a good idea to save money over long weekends and holidays by turning the heat down or off. Unfortunately, most school buildings are decades old and less energy-efficient than their modern counterparts. Age, along with wear and tear, can cause heating loss.
Follow these tips before closing for the holidays:
- Open doors to sink cabinets and other areas that have water pipes to allow warm air to circulate.
- Insulate exterior pipes and faucets.
- Do not let interior temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Need to let temperatures drop below 50 degrees?
If you must let temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, take additional preventive measures. Moving water is harder to freeze, so run a trickle of warm water from the taps along exterior walls. Underwriters Laboratories-approved heat trace tape or thermostatically-controlled heat cable installed along pipes according to manufacturer instructions can protect critical pipe systems and those exposed to the coldest air. Shutting off water to the building and draining the pipes is another option, but remember that this could prevent your fire sprinkler system from working. Check with the system manufacturer or installer to be sure.
Don’t forget about fire sprinkler systems
Fire sprinkler systems are critical and must be inspected regularly. If your system uses anti-freeze, the manufacturer has standards for how much solution should be in the pipes. If fire sprinkler systems must be exposed to freezing temperatures, wrap them with insulation, and consider heat tape or cable to keep them warm. You should also consider modern security and fire alarm systems that allow you to monitor building conditions remotely.
Other tips to maintain your buildings in the winter include:
- Lock unheated buildings to prevent people from entering and suffering hypothermia and other cold-related illnesses.
- Keep boilers running, and test their pressure-relief valves monthly. Remember that state law requires that water boilers be inspected regularly. For questions, contact the Fund’s partner for water boiler inspections, Hartford Steam Boiler .
- Promptly repair leaky doors, windows, and cracks.
- Keep at least three feet clear around heat-producing equipment.
- Test backup electricity supplies.
- Remove leaves, snow, and ice from roofs and gutters.
- Check roofs and ceilings for loose shingles that can catch wind and trap snow or ice.
- Clear ice and snow from tree limbs. The added weight could cause them to break and fall on roofs, power lines, and vehicles.
Prepare for emergencies
Emergency planning can help you avoid headline-grabbing crises, but you should also prepare for seasonal hazards:
- Conduct regularly scheduled security checks of closed buildings. Extend the checks inside buildings to monitor heat, water, and power issues that could cause emergencies.
- Provide staff with emergency contacts at the campus, district, and community levels. Publish the list so parents and the community can report emergencies, as well.
- Make sure key staff are familiar with resources to monitor and communicate weather alerts.
- Prepare cold-weather kits for staff who respond to emergencies. These kits could include slippery/icy floor signs; gloves, hats, and warming packets; flashlights with fresh batteries; a printed list of emergency contacts; pen and paper for taking notes; and water and snacks to help them through long hours away from home.
We all want the holidays to go as smooth as ice, but let’s try to keep the ice outside, where it belongs. Contact your TASB Risk Solutions consultant to learn more about preventing property and auto claims.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.