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‘Tis the Season: Protecting Your Vacant Commercial Property in Winter

‘Tis the Season: Protecting Your Vacant Commercial Property in Winter
‘Tis the Season: Protecting Your Vacant Commercial Property in Winter

Actionable advice from Clearway to ensure that your unoccupied property stays safe, secure and in good condition in the colder, darker months. 

As we look out the window, we can’t accurately say that the “nights are drawing in”. They’ve drawn in already.

The clocks have gone back, and darker nights are well and truly here.

And, shorter, greyer days, too – the street lamps come on well before 4 pm. At this time of year, it feels that the sun just makes a token effort. Plus, it’s cold and wet.

Great news, then, that the festive season is just around the corner, hopefully making depressing weather talk null and void.


Colder, Darker, Vulnerable

Most businesses operate with a skeleton staff during the holiday period.

Some close down altogether, including building sites, often left unoccupied for at least ten days or so. However, don’t get complacent. If you’re a construction site owner, landlord or property manager, Clearway strongly suggests a few maintenance and security tasks on your To-do list before you shut up shop for Christmas.

In fact, if your retail premises, factory building or warehouse is already empty – right here and now – the perfect storm of weather conditions and their isolated status could bring the unexpected, entirely unwelcome early “present” you neither wanted nor needed.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Firstly, let’s state the obvious:

  • TheftWe lose natural daylight much earlier from late October onwards, and empty properties may become a target.

While some thefts may be spontaneous and unplanned, stealing machinery, equipment, and materials under the cover of darkness is much easier when thieves are harder to spot. And, in the current climate, vehicles are hard to replace.

  • It’s cold – sometimes bitterly cold – so squatters could be making a beeline for your ground-floor commercial offices, for example, as they’re a fraction warmer than the outdoor alternative. There could be anti-social behaviour here at the very least, illegal activity, or even arson at worst, and prevention will be better and easier than cure. We’ve covered the issue of squatters in a previous blog, which you can read here. (JUST A HIGHLIGHT FOR YOU, MIKE)
  • The weather wreaks havoc with our daily lives; the same applies to unoccupied properties. Or, there’s a strong likelihood that it will do. Not only can the cold interfere with security systems and stop them from working correctly, there is also the ever-present danger of flooding or wind damage. Equally, there could be significant issues with frozen pipes, which we’ll cover in a separate point later on.
  • Insurance should offer you peace of mind. But beware: vacant commercial properties and sites often have exacting insurance requirements. If you’ve taken inadequate care (or what may be seen as such), materials are stolen, or there’s damage to the property etc, your insurance company may disallow your claim.

Last year, insurance companies were expecting a rise in insurance claims after the clocks went back. There’s no reason to think they don’t feel the same way this year*.

  • Rats and mould. Lovely. Not.

Even in our chilly UK, rats will seek sanctuary to build their nests indoors. As well as carriers of disease, rats will eat anything, including electric cables. Your electric cables. Mould growth can occur even when a property has been vacant for a short time. Generally caused by humidity and a lack of ventilation, it looks utterly horrible – and is a Category 1 health risk classification, similar to asbestos.

  • Lastly, but by no means least: Should security staff conduct inspections, dangerous conditions due to poor weather could put them in danger.
  • All About Plumbing – Time to Drain Down

As with domestic properties, frozen pipes are a common problem in winter.

The heating is off. Commercial buildings, when left unoccupied, have large, internal open spaces. Pipes could be exposed to freezing temperatures. If a pipe bursts, a lot of water – hundreds of litres and more, in fact, could spring forth with energetic abandon – and you won’t know about it until it’s detected. You’ll have a steep bill for repairs, including removing the damage to the walls, ceilings and floors in your own property and possibly neighbouring properties, too.

Don’t go there.

It may be time to engage Clearway to drain down. Imagine bleeding a radiator. Well, it’s a similar process, except on a broader scale. Drain down means stopping the property’s water at the stopcock and draining out all the excess water in the systems so the pipes are empty.

The result? An almost non-existent risk of pipes bursting.

  • Secure Access Points

Double-checking exit and entry points is a worthwhile exercise all year, but especially in winter. As mentioned, the perceived Harry Potter-style Cloak of Invisibility that comes with seasonal darkness may strengthen their determination.

There’s more than one way to do this. We offer a range of solutions that work harmoniously to provide solid protection. For example, we fit and install impenetrable steel security doors and window screens to fit over your property’s vulnerable entry points. They can also be hand-cut to fit over more complex shapes. In addition, we supply powerful, high-quality Commercial CCTV cameras and wireless alarm systems.

Clearway Steel Screens

The concept here is to shield and defend your operation: Deter trespassers and deny them access to your site or building. Plus, to offer monitoring and alerts through our Gold Standard Alarm Receiving Centre.

  • Inspect Your Roof:

Your roof will take the full impact of wind, rain, snow, hail and anything else that the British weather decides to throw at it.

We believe evaluating the roof for missing or broken tiles or any other kind of damage is a really good idea. This measure doesn’t just protect the building; it also reduces the possibility of tiles flying off the roof and injuring someone.

Similarly, give your gutters a thought if you have them. This time of year is all about soggy, fallen leaves, and they get everywhere. Clogged gutters could cause water to overflow onto the property, causing leaks and water damage. Clearing them is a mucky job, but it saves a lot of hassle, stress and repair costs later on.

  • Happy Health and Safety Protocols? 

Looking after authorised contractors or other visitors to your vacant property is a winter must-have. Darker mornings, gloomier days and early sundowns mean everything is less visible. Plus, there could be slippery or icy conditions.


  • How much cold affects people. The answer is: Quite considerably, if internal body temperatures drop. Frostbite and hypothermia on a building site are real possibilities without robust protection from the elements. And,
  • Falls. Surfaces develop dangerous ice for the unsuspecting. For example, stairways, walkways, ladders, work platforms, etc. They could become highly dangerous if left unmanaged during cold winter periods.

Other Things You Can Do In the Winter:

Remove dark corners. Automatically controlled floodlights could deter potential intruders with powerful brilliance that shines into your property’s most vulnerable areas. You could even combine these lights with motion sensors for an energy-saving solution.

Regular property inspections by a highly trained security guard could reassure you that all is well. The guard will be able to monitor the site and the building, respond to emergencies, and offer a visual deterrent. NASDU-trained dogs are a practical choice, too – man/woman and beast in perfect partnership.

Check your security systems, or talk to Clearway about how we can include this in our service. Knowing that your alarms, CCTV cameras, and access control systems are in perfect working order will be a good feeling. Even if you are miles away on holiday.

Keep paths clear from snow and ice, ensuring you distribute grit evenly to prevent access routes from becoming icy.

What We Think

Christmas is great.

But, the collective extended downing of tools and much colder temperatures pose greater risks to empty commercial properties than at any other time of the year. And, if the worst happens and the roof caves in, not all organisations have a Business Continuity Plan (BCP). Although this sounds drastic, it could be a resolution for the New Year, perhaps?

We’re aware that statistically, more robberies – across the board – happen during the hours of darkness*.

You work hard all year; therefore, you deserve some time to switch off and enjoy your holiday with family and friends.

So, just a few pre-emptive actions and some plans for disaster recovery could make all the difference to a merry, safe and secure festive season.


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Reference 2:

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