Protecting your school buildings from the winter weather


The recent cold snap might well have damaged some of your school buildings. Dominic Collis looks at how school leadership teams can prepare for the worst.

The British have a poor track record of dealing with any weather condition that isn’t described as “grey”. While protecting against cold weather damage is necessary for any building owner or occupier, it is of even greater importance for a school building, in order to prevent down time and the disruption of timetabled activities.

The first step to reducing the risk of unnecessary damage to school properties lies within a comprehensive pre-planned maintenance programme, which will highlight any areas that need attention long before emergency and responsive repair is needed.

Winter water checklist

Frost damage and cracked pipes can cause more problems than just the obvious issue of flooding. Undetected leaks can add thousands of pounds to water bills, so for schools already under budgetary constraints it is well worth checking the condition of water pipes before and after the coldest weather. Also remember:

  1. Regular maintenance of pipes and water systems throughout the year should ensure that any problems are caught early.

  2. Insulate all water tanks and pipes in unheated areas like lofts, roof spaces, basements and sports halls. Empty buildings are most vulnerable to damage from burst pipes when the freezing weather starts to thaw, so be particularly aware around holidays and half-terms.

  3. Tackle dripping taps – this may seem like a small issue, but the trickle of water from a leaking tap can freeze and completely block the pipe.

  4. Label stop taps and valves in order to shut off the water in the event of a burst pipe.

Winter roof checklist

Damaged roofs often cause further water damage, however roof care is generally neglected. In the case of snow, extra pressure is put on roofs and any loose tiles can be forced off as snow melts. Missing tiles, slates or shingles can contribute to damaged roof timbers, causing rising damp and expensive structural damage.

Along with maintaining the health of the roof, it is important to check guttering as gutters blocked with moss (or tennis balls) can cause the roof to retain water – which is particularly damaging in frosty weather. Remember:

  1. Check for broken slates, tiles or shingles on the ground as this can indicate that there may be a problem.

  2. Inspect the roof space through loft access traps. Any daylight penetration could be caused by missing roof covering or damaged flashings.

Dry rot

Poor ventilation mixed with wet weather creates the perfect breeding ground for another enemy of structures – dry rot. 

Dry rot is particularly lethal as it has the ability to travel through building materials other than timber, giving outbreaks the potential to spread quickly through a school. 

For this reason additional measures (e.g. masonry sterilisation) often have to be taken when treating dry rot outbreaks over and above those necessary when dealing with outbreaks of other wood-rotting fungi. Spotting it early is key. 

  1. Search for wood that is sunken or shrunken.

  2. Look for affected wood that has a flat “skin-like” covering. The skin may have a mushroom-like growth with shades of silver and grey. The skin also peels easily.

  3. Check wood with damp and musty odours. Look for white “cotton wool” growth on the wood. This is very important if you suspect water damage.

  4. Examine any dust around the rotted area. Dry rot dust is a rust red colour.

  5. Inspect any area with wide, soft and fleshy wide spores. The spores may have an orange and green surface. Look for thick grey strands, up to three millimetres in diameter, growing within the cracked section of wood. These strands may be found alone without any other symptoms of dry rot. The strands make the wood brittle and crack easily and can grow over other damp wood, possibly leading to dry rot.

  6. Verify dry rot by striking the middle of the infected area with a claw hammer. If it goes through the wood easily, you may have dry rot. 


Should you find yourself in an emergency situation, the first thing to do is to define the emergency. There are two types that require urgent attention: “Stops Critical Operations” and “Threat to Life or Property”. In order to deal with these situations effectively, action plans should be in place to reinstate operations and make safe and secure life and property. 

There are many emergencies in schools every year that could be prevented if proper care is taken of buildings. Insulating pipes, checking roof tiles and keeping buildings well ventilated may seem arduous but it can prevent the most common causes for emergency maintenance – saving time, inconvenience and money.

  • Dominic Collis is national operations manager at Rapid Support Services.


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