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Vacancy, harsh weather raise risks

Pay attention to vacant buildings, or someone (or something) else might.

That was the case for an insurer in a northeastern state. During an inspection, 10 children were discovered playing soccer on the roof of an abandoned school building.

Not only can vacant structures pose a safety hazard, but they can also be damaged during extreme winter weather. Many insurers limit coverage on unoccupied buildings. So if a building is damaged due to a weather event, coverage may be limited or denied. To limit safety risks, owners should inspect vacant buildings periodically and make sure routine maintenance occurs. Utilities should only be disconnected after careful consideration of all potential risks to the building.

While South Carolina is generally known for its mild winter weather, the state does have extreme winter events. According to the South Carolina State Climatology Office, the lowest recorded temperature ever reported in the state was -19 degrees in Greenville County on January 21, 1985. The Climatology Office also reported the greatest 24-hour snowfall in the state was 24 inches in Clarendon County on February 10 - 11, 1973. These examples demonstrate that extreme winter weather can occur — even in South Carolina.

Although such harsh conditions are rare, it is important to weatherproof the city's buildings and equipment before an event occurs. Lack of weatherproofing can be expensive.

A member of the Association's property and casualty program, the South Carolina Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund, suffered more than $41,000 in damage to a building when fire sprinklers ruptured during cold temperatures and flooded a three-story building with 200,000 gallons of water. Members of SCMIRF have had numerous claims from frozen pipes bursting in ceilings, causing issues with sinks and toilets and damaging appliances.

To weatherproof buildings from winter weather, take the following steps:

  • Identify critical plumbing and mechanical systems that may freeze. Seal any drafts, install insulation or provide a backup heat source to protect those systems from failure.
  • Make sure all windows and doors are closed.
  • Protect against animal damage from squirrels, mice and other rodents by closing openings in crawl spaces, soffits and attics.
  • Install freeze alarms that warn of any loss of heat or freezing conditions in critical buildings.
  • Review the city's insurance coverage to determine what may be covered in the event of a winter storm.

To protect against vandalism or any injuries occurring at vacant buildings, installing fencing will limit access, as will periodic police patrols.

For further information on building inspections, including a building inspection checklist, contact Heather Ricard, director of Risk Management Services, 803.933.1258 or hricard@masc.sc.