How to Protect Vacant Commercial Buildings

An unoccupied building is especially vulnerable. If your commercial property will be unattended for a period of time, take steps to protect your investment and prevent damage. First and foremost, notify your insurer. Talk to your agent to ensure you have sufficient protection for your commercial building at all times. It’s also important that commercial property owners understand the risks their vacant buildings can face, regardless of how long the closure may be.

Five Risks Facing Unoccupied Commercial Properties

Risk Number One: Crime

An unoccupied building can attract squatters, vandals, thieves and other criminals.

  • Work with the local police department. Make sure the police know that the building is vacant and keep them updated on any suspicious activity at the site.
  • Invest in security. This may include security guards, alarm systems, fencing, exterior security patrols, security cameras and/or motion-activated lights.
  • Secure all entry points. It may be necessary to add window security devices.
  • Maintain the property. A building that is not maintained may look like an especially easy target. Clean up the landscaping regularly and remove any litter from the property.
  • Secure outdoor equipment. Thieves may go after the copper in your HVAC system, for example. Securing your HVAC unit in a cage can help prevent this.
  • Keep an eye on the property. Have someone inspect the property on a regular basis.

Risk Number Two: Water

Water can cause immediate damage to the building. If left unchecked, it can cause rot and deterioration, resulting in structural weakness or further damage.

  • Turn off the water supply to fixtures that won’t be in use, such as those in the bathrooms, and drain the pipes. Never turn off water supplies to automatic fire sprinkler systems.
  • Maintain heating, a minimum of 40-degrees F, to ensure protection against freezing where water is not shut-off or where water-filled fire sprinkler protection is present. Unless dry systems or antifreeze solution is utilized, in those cases, maintain heat for control valves and risers.
  • Keep the gutters clear of debris.
  • Have the roof inspected before and after storm season.
  • After a severe storm, check the roof for signs of damage.
  • During severe winter weather, check the roof for excessive snow load and ice dam formation.
  • Inspect the interior of the building for leaks and water stains.

Risk Number Three: Fire

Fire poses a significant threat to all buildings. A vacant building, however, may have increased fire risks. According to the NFPA, approximately 30,200 structure fires occurred in vacant properties between 2011 and 2015.

  • Squatters may accidentally start a fire that destroys the building, while arsonists may start a fire intentionally. This is another reason to keep the building secure.
  • Dry and unmanaged plants may also contribute to fire risks. Keep up with landscaping, including watering and trimming. Keep the roof and gutters free of plant debris.
  • Remove combustible items from the premises.
  • Make sure any fire alarms are working.
  • Ensure fire sprinkler system(s) are working and that the water supply to the sprinkler system has not been shut off.

Risk Number Four: Pests

Pests and vermin, such as insects and rats, can be a problem in vacant buildings.

  • Make sure there is no food or water that could attract pests.
  • Monitor the premises for signs of pests.
  • Call in pest control if needed.

Risk Number Five: Contamination

In addition to potential property damage, contamination can cause bacteria or air quality concerns.

  • Take steps to prevent water damage and leaks.
  • Keep moisture levels low and inspect the property regularly for any water damage.
  • The CDC warns that Legionella, the bacteria responsible for Legionnaires’ Disease, may grow in standing water in the plumbing systems of vacant buildings. Steps that can prevent Legionella risks include maintaining the correct water heater temperature, flushing the water system and cleaning all decorative water features and safety equipment.

Avoiding the Risks: Eight Steps to Secure Your Vacant Commercial Building

Whether you close your commercial property temporarily for scheduled events like holidays or for unforeseen emergencies, take the following eight steps to protect it.

  1. Secure the building. A vacant building can attract vandals, thieves and other criminals. Make sure your building is as secure as possible by checking that all doors and windows are locked and the alarm system is on. Notify your alarm company that the building will be vacant. Random patrols, security cameras and motion-activated lights are also a good idea.
  2. Tell the local authorities. Let the local police know that the property will be closed. This way, they’ll know to keep an eye out for suspicious activities.
  3. Inform vendors and suppliers. Double-check that no deliveries are scheduled during the closure.
  4. Let customers and business partners know. To avoid confusion or annoyance, do everything you can to get the word out to customers and business partners. Update your business hours on your website, social media pages, voicemail and online listings.
  5. Take care of the property. Even during a temporary closure, the property should look well-maintained. Have someone check on the property regularly and keep up with landscaping. You may also want to put lights on a timer.
  6. Maintain a reasonable temperature. A minimum of 40-degrees F, and check for cold spots that are difficult to heat. You may be tempted to turn off the HVAC system to save on money, but this can do more harm than good. During the winter, for example, turning off the heat may contribute to frozen pipes.
  7. Protect the building against leaks. Turn off the water supply to interior fixtures that won’t be in use, such as those in the bathrooms, and drain the pipes. Also, consider installing a smart leak detector. Do not turn off water to automatic fire protection systems.
  8. Notify your insurer. Call us to ensure you have sufficient protection.
     

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