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By Jeanine Smith

It’s that time of year again. The leaves have changed and fallen, the turkeys have been stuffed, and the cold weather has settled in. We’ve unpacked our winter coats, doubled up our orders of lotion and chapstick, and renewed our search for the perfect pair of gloves that keep our hands warm and work with touchscreens. Like us, our buildings are experiencing this seasonal shift and are in need of some TLC and preparation to make sure they make it through the winter problem-free.

For buildings in our climate, winter can be particularly tough. Exposure to harsh winds and penetrating water is already tough for building envelopes; add cold temperatures to that, and presto change-o TADA: the phenomenon of the freeze-thaw cycle. This can spell trouble for buildings that have open penetrations into the envelope or are already experiencing leaks through the façade, roof, or ground. When water infiltrates the building envelope and temperatures drop to 32° F, the water can freeze—the expansion of which damages its surroundings. These damages can cause cracks or spalls on the outboard side of the building envelope and create voids in the underlying envelope, which can then fill with infiltrating water, which may then freeze, which may then cause damages and voids as it expands, which may then—you’re beginning to see why it called a cycle, yes?

Ideally, our buildings have been prepared well before winter tidings, but if the caroling caught you off guard this year, here are a few basic things you can do to mitigate the winter’s worst effects:

  • Facades: Many of your buildings may have recently undergone the 9th cycle FISP inspections (or are preparing to do so soon) and have a list of recommendations for your façade. That list of recommendations can act as a checklist for your façade winter prep. If you don’t have such a list or your recommendations are listed for future years, a visual inspection (using binoculars) of your facades can identify problem areas. As explained above, any open penetrations into the façade can lead to water infiltration, resulting in leaks or damages by freeze-thaw. Identifying problem areas such as cracked, loose, or spalled masonry (including bricks, mortar, stone, or terracotta); cracked concrete at sills, balconies, or eyebrows; and loose, cracked, or missing sealant at window perimeters or shelf angles. Another key area to include checking that window ACs are properly mounted and weather-stripped or removed for until warmer seasons.


  • Roofs: Before the reindeer touch down, it’s important for our roofs to be in good shape to handle the rain, snow, ice, and temperatures of the season. Many of our roofs are home to mechanical equipment, satellite dishes, and other appurtenances which require penetrations through the roof, parapets, or bulkheads. An inspection of the roof membrane, penetrations, and perimeters should be conducted, and its findings cataloged and addressed. Things to look out for included open or lifting roof membrane seams; loose or defective counterflashing; loose, cracked, or missing sealant at flashing, pitch pockets, and/or coping cross joints; and clogged, blocked, or otherwise inactive drains and scuppers. 


  • Building Site: Avoiding issues at the building exterior can often be an exercise in minimizing potential hazards and liability. Before the snow falls and the ice forms, inspect the adjacent area to ensure no trip hazards have developed such as uneven sidewalks or stairs. Building-to-ground joints, such as between the sidewalk and the building walls or the courtyard and the building walls, should be inspected to ensure the joints are properly detailed. Any sealant or flashings should not be cracked, loose, open, or missing altogether. Lastly, inspect any exterior drains to ensure they are clear of debris and are working correctly.

Proactive building owners, boards, and property managers can mitigate or prevent issues resulting from the harsh cold environment by coordinating the inspection of their properties and correcting deficiencies before the winter sets in. These inspections can be done by a knowledgeable building superintendent or your friendly, local building envelope experts, Sullivan Engineering, A Rimkus Company.

Hopefully, these tips assist you in preparing your building for the long winter ahead. Oh, and if you do happen to find those perfect gloves, please do drop us a line.

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About Sullivan Engineering, A Rimkus Company

Sullivan Engineering provides high-quality building envelope restoration and compliance solutions.

We partner with facilities managers and account executives to provide technical expertise and project management for building envelope restoration, compliance, and maintenance.

Our solutions reduce the overall building life cycle maintenance costs by creating long-lasting, high-quality work for years to come.