How to Prevent Water Damage in Commercial Buildings

Water damage is the leading cause of commercial property loss in offices, hotels, multifamily properties, and retail establishments. The primary sources include leaky pipes, damaged plumbing fixtures and appliances, rising groundwater, and moisture intrusion from outside. While insurance may offer financial protection against some of these damages, it is best to avoid problems in the first place. Follow these tips for preventing water damage in your business.

Prevent Frozen & Burst Pipes

The temperature alert threshold for frozen pipes is 20 degrees. Left unaddressed, a frozen pipe can burst, causing significant property damage. Protecting your pipes from cold temperatures is the key to preventing this scenario. Here’s what to do:

  • Seal air leaks: By keeping frigid air away from exposed plumbing, the chance of frozen pipes drops significantly. Look for and seal leaks around wall penetrations, including the pipes themselves.
  • Insulate exposed plumbing: Pipes running through unheated spaces and along exterior walls are especially prone to freezing. Add foam pipe insulation and heat tape to the most vulnerable plumbing in your building.
  • Insulate hose bibs: Store-bought hose bib covers are an effective way to protect outdoor faucets. You can also use a towel, large rubber band, and garbage bag to insulate and waterproof hose bibs.
  • Keep the thermostat to 55 degrees or higher: If individual tenants occupy your building, instruct them to do this, even if they leave town. Paying a bit more to heat the building is far less costly than contending with frozen pipes.
  • Winterize your landscaping sprinkler system: This involves blowing out the pipes to remove standing water and storing hoses for the season.
  • Drain the plumbing: If you are vacating the building for an extended time, consider shutting off the main water supply first. With no water in the pipes, nothing can freeze or leak.
  • Replace old pipes, fittings, and hoses: Leaks are more likely if your plumbing system is past its prime, regardless of the outdoor temperature. Schedule a plumbing inspection and upgrade any aging components before they cause problems.


how to prevent water damage in commercial buildings in Washington D.C.


Proper Way to Thaw Frozen Pipes

If you turn on the water and nothing comes out, chances are your pipes have already frozen. If this is the case, be careful when you attempt to thaw them out because if the pipe has already burst the water will come flowing and cause damage to the property. Here are some tips to help properly thaw frozen pipes:

  • Turn on the Faucet: as you start to thaw the frozen pipe and the plugged ice starts to melt, you want the water to be able to flow. Running the water as cold as it is will help melt the ice.
  • Apply Heat the Pipe: Use things like a hair dryer, portable space heater(keep away from flammable materials), or even an Electric heating pad. Do not use the direct flame, or any heater that burns fuel and admits toxic fumes from their exhaust, the heat can damage the pipe.
  • Apply the heat until the water pressure is restored: Check all other faucets to be sure there are no other frozen pipes.
  • Call a licensed plumber if you are unable to locate any frozen pipes or if you cannot thaw.

Maintain the Roof

Whether pitched or flat, asphalt or composite, every roof is at risk of leaks and water damage. Many commercial roofs do double duty by housing HVAC equipment, vent stacks, skylights, and other building system components. Of course, this means many building penetrations are positioned directly overhead. To prevent leaks, follow these commercial roof maintenance tips:

  • Conduct monthly roof inspections: Make sure the roof is free of excessive debris. Then, check all penetrations inside and out to see whether the seals are intact and the flashing is in good condition.
  • Address snow and ice: Heavy snowfall and ice buildup could strain your roof in the winter. If possible, remove excessive accumulations to avoid exceeding the roof’s weight limit.

Assess Walls, Windows & Doors for Leaks

It’s easy to forget how many openings are in your building’s walls, each of which creates an opportunity for water to enter. Keep your walls free of leaks and water damage with these maintenance tips:

  • Check penetrations: Inspect all major joints at windows and doors, plumbing and electrical penetrations, HVAC vents, and other openings.
  • Watch for cracks forming: Aging brick and concrete may deteriorate, leaving gaps and cracks for water to enter. Seal these openings with caulk or expanding spray foam. If the damage is extensive, you may need help from a restoration company.
  • Seal windows and doors: If they don’t shut tightly, reapply the weatherstripping. Then, address concerns such as broken glass or damaged mechanical components.

Install & Maintain Basement Flood Control Systems

Rising groundwater and flash floods are a concern for the lowest levels of your building. Here’s how to prevent water intrusion:

  • Check basement walls for signs of damage: Effervescence is a common symptom to look for. This white, powdery substance occurs when water passes through brick or concrete. Check for hidden mold and lingering musty odors as well, which are sure signs of water intrusion.
  • Install and maintain a sump pump: This simple addition protects your business from rising groundwater.
  • Check the floor drains: A clogged floor drain could cause a sewage backup during the next downpour. Check the flow by slowly emptying a bucket of water into the drain. If the water backs up onto the floor, call a plumber.
  • Install Early Flood Detection: The longer a leak goes undetected the more damage it can do. A water leak detector can reduce the risk by alerting you so you can react to prevent severe damage.

Improve Drainage

If your property drains poorly, stormwater runoff may flow toward the building instead of away from it. Over time, this could damage your foundation walls or flood the lowest levels of the building. Fortunately, achieving “positive drainage” is relatively simple. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Install and maintain gutters: The purpose of gutters and downspouts is to direct rainwater away from the foundation. The most common commercial gutters are K-style and box gutters. The type you should install depends on your aesthetic preferences, drainage requirements, and building codes. Whatever you choose, be sure to clean your gutters seasonally or as needed to remove debris and keep rainwater flowing smoothly.
  • Create a slope: The goal is for your building to sit on a slight hill so water naturally drains away. Start by filling in low areas around the foundation with clay-based soil. Don’t use topsoil or other materials with a high absorption rate because this could exacerbate the problem. As you work, make sure the grading material remains at least an inch below the siding.
  • Put in a French drain: If standing water is a problem on your property, hire a contractor to install a French drain around the building. This underground system includes gravel and a perforated drain pipe to help carry away excess rainwater.

Locate the Building’s Main Water Shutoff Valve

If water is gushing from an overflowing toilet, burst pipe, or rusted-out water heater, you must act quickly to prevent water damage in your commercial building. One option is to turn the main water shutoff valve, but you have to find it first. Here are the most common locations to check:

  • Inside the building: First, check the perimeter walls facing the street. If your building has a basement, the valve could be located there. If your building is built on a slab, check the utility room or near the water heater. No matter its exact location, the main water shutoff valve should be near ground level. It may also be protected behind a plastic access panel.
  • Check outside: If your indoor search proves fruitless, it’s time to check outside. Walk out to the street and look for a rectangular metal cover flush with the ground, which may be labeled “water” or “water meter.” Be aware that you need a special meter key to open this box.
  • Check your property inspection report: Still can’t locate the emergency shutoff valve? As a last resort, read over the plumbing section of the property inspection report you should have received when you bought or leased the building. There should be information about the shutoff valve’s location, putting an end to your search. If all else fails, call a commercial plumber for help.

Tell Building Occupants to Report Leaks

Employees and tenants can be your eyes and ears if you ask them to watch for signs of trouble. Instruct them to report anything that could indicate water intrusion, such as:

  • Persistent musty odors
  • Dripping sounds when the water is off
  • High water bills
  • Water stains on the ceilings and walls
  • Standing water, wood rot, or mold growth

Contact a Water Damage Restoration Company

Sometimes, even the best efforts to protect your business from water damage aren’t enough. If you experience a major roof leak, flooded basement, or soaked office carpets, partnering with a disaster restoration company is the fastest road to recovery. Follow these tips to help you pinpoint a reputable service provider:

  • Learn about the company’s water damage restoration process to make sure it’s thorough and complete.
  • Ask for examples of the service provider’s previous restorations. You can even ask for references from previous customers.
  • Make sure your insurance carrier works with the company you choose to streamline the claims process.
  • Take note of how team members treat you when you call for assistance.
  • Ask if they are IICRC certified

For a rapid response following a water damage event, look no further than BYLT. Our disaster restoration company has years of experience helping Maryland and Washington, DC business owners recover after a plumbing leak or flood. We offer professional water removal, structural drying, mold remediation, and building reconstruction. We can even help you address the source of the damage so an incident like this never happens again.

Call us at (410) 770-2900 or contact us online the moment you notice signs of water damage in your building. We are available 24 hours a day, so you can expect us to respond quickly to your call for help.