Winter preparedness: Top risks and prevention tips for greenhouses

Added December 15, 2023

In December 2022, Winter Storm Elliot brought below-freezing temperatures, high winds, and snow across 42 states—resulting in approximately $5.4 billion in insured damages, according to Insurance Journal. The freezing temperatures attributed to widespread infrastructure disruptions and burst pipes—underscoring the importance of winter preparedness.

Greenhouses, with their delicate balance of temperature, humidity, and light, are particularly vulnerable to the harsh realities of winter. As the temperatures drop and the snow piles up, it's crucial for greenhouse owners to be vigilant in monitoring for potential problems that could threaten precious crops and infrastructure.

With some smart planning, you can tackle any problem that pops up to help keep your business running smooth as ice all winter long.

Top 10 winter risks for greenhouses

Explore these top 10 winter risks for greenhouses to help you navigate the season's challenges like a pro.

1. Extreme temperature fluctuations:

  • Warning sign: Uneven temperatures, a noticeable drop in indoor temperatures, unexpectedly cold.

  • Risk: As the outside temperature fluctuates, maintaining consistent warmth inside the greenhouse becomes more challenging. The ideal temperature depends on the crops you're growing. However, it should never be too cold in your greenhouse relative to the target temperature as plants can suffer cold damage and pipes may freeze.

  • Prevention: Check for cold spots and areas of poor circulation. Consider using supplemental heating sources in those cooler areas. Install thermostats and temperature sensors throughout the greenhouse to monitor temperature distribution.

  • Insurance protection: Commercial property insurance can help cover the equipment contained within your buildings and greenhouses—including boilers, generators, heat retention curtain systems, and environmental control computers. It can also help cover damage to your inventory.

2. Roof snow load:

  • Warning sign: Accumulation of excessive snow on the roof.

  • Risk: A compromised roof can allow snow, ice, and rainwater to penetrate the greenhouse, causing water damage to plants, equipment, and the structure itself—possibly leading to a roof collapse. Even a series of small snowfalls adds up if none of it melts.

  • Prevention: The National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association (NGMA) recommends heating greenhouses to a minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit at least 48 hours in advance of snowfall. This allows the structure to heat up sufficiently to effectively melt the snow as it's falling. In the event of a large snowfall, remove snow before it becomes too heavy and triggers a collapse.

  • Insurance protection: You can customize your commercial property insurance policy to include roof collapse coverage to help protect against damage resulting from the weight of snow. General liability insurance can also help protect your business if someone is injured at your location.

3. Energy curtain retraction:

  • Warning sign: Drafts, cold spots, or a noticeable increase in heating costs.

  • Risk: Heat stays beneath the curtain and doesn't sufficiently heat the roof during a snow event.

  • Prevention: As you turn on the heat, make sure you're also retracting your energy curtain to allow the heat to rise into the roof and help melt falling snow. In general, during the winter season, your curtains should begin closing just before sunset and open again right after sunrise.

  • Insurance protection: Commercial property coverage helps protect the physical structures of your greenhouse, including energy or thermal curtains.

4. Snow and ice on walkways:

  • Warning sign: Slick walkways near entries. Snow tracked inside from people's shoes and boots. Customer complaints about icy sidewalks.

  • Risk: The presence of snow, puddles, slick surfaces, and icy patches create slip and fall hazards for employees and customers.

  • Prevention: Promptly clear ice and snow before and during winter storms, utilizing salt, deicer, or sand to enhance traction. Be vigilant about outdoor walkways, steps, and ramps, as they can become exceptionally slippery when accumulating snow, ice, sleet, and freezing rain. Install heavy-duty mats inside every doorway.

  • Insurance protection: General liability insurance can help you safeguard your business against slips and falls.

5. Poor air circulation and ventilation:

  • Warning sign: Inconsistent internal temperatures, elevated condensation levels.

  • Risk: When outside temps are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, problems can arise if humidity remains uncontrolled. Droplets of water form when warm moist air contacts surfaces cooled by the outside air. Metal framing or single walled glazing can increase condensation concerns.

  • Prevention: Ensure proper air circulation to prevent condensation and moisture buildup. Ideally, circulation fans should run constantly during the winter season to help maintain a consistent internal temperature.

  • Insurance protection: Commercial property insurance typically covers damage to the physical structure of your greenhouse, including equipment such as ventilation units and circulation fans. If poor air circulation leads to damage, property insurance can help you cover repair or replacement costs.

6. Malfunctioning heating systems:

  • Warning sign: Inconsistent heating or unusual heating equipment sounds.

  • Risk: Inadequate heating can lead to temperature-sensitive plants suffering damage or demise.

  • Prevention: Regular boiler maintenance is crucial to avoid costly breakdowns and ensure your buildings stay warm throughout the winter. Install alarms or monitoring systems to detect potential equipment malfunctions. Have an emergency backup system in case of a primary system failure.

  • Insurance protection: Your commercial property insurance can include tailored coverage for boilers, generators, and other specialized greenhouse equipment. This coverage helps protect against damage from sudden and accidental mechanical breakdowns, electrical failures, and operational issues.

7. Frozen pipes:

  • Warning sign: Lack of water flow or unusual pipe noises.

  • Risk: Frozen pipes can burst, causing water damage and disrupting facility operations.

  • Prevention: Add insulation around pipes, especially in vulnerable areas. Install heating cables to prevent freezing. Consider using a pressure-regulating valve to help prevent damage from frozen pipes.

  • Insurance protection: Your commercial property insurance encompasses greenhouse equipment and provides coverage for repairing or replacing damaged pipes and associated water damage caused by freezing.

8. Power outages:

  • Warning sign: Frequent power fluctuations or outages.

  • Risk: Loss of heating, lighting, and other essential systems, potentially causing damage to plants and critical systems.

  • Prevention: Install backup power sources such as generators to minimize disruptions during power outages.

  • Insurance protection: Commercial property insurance encompasses coverage for damage to your business property, including electrical systems. It may also include business interruption coverage, compensating for lost income due to a power outage and assisting in offsetting ongoing expenses during the recovery period.

9. Unexpected mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) issues:

  • Warning sign: MEP represents an integrated network of systems within your greenhouse, and issues can manifest through various warning signs. An initial indicator may be equipment not performing well or failing to start after sitting idle.

  • Risk: Breakdown of essential equipment. MEP systems are crucial for establishing and sustaining optimal environmental conditions for plant growth, encompassing temperature, humidity, and ventilation control, along with efficient water supply and drainage systems.

  • Prevention: Regular monitoring, maintenance, and prompt attention to warning signs can help you identify and address MEP issues before they impact plant health or operational efficiency. Proactive inspections and maintenance are key to preventing and mitigating potential problems.

  • Insurance protection: Commercial property insurance extends to greenhouse equipment, covering damage from perils included for buildings and structures. It also safeguards against potential losses from sudden and accidental mechanical breakdowns or electrical failures.

10. Lack of emergency preparedness:

  • Warning sign: Absence of a clear emergency plan or necessary supplies.

  • Risk: In the event of a weather-related incident, inadequate winter preparedness can exacerbate damage and increase recovery time.

  • Prevention: Develop a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan that includes procedures for evacuations, power outages, and severe weather events. Conduct drills and equip the greenhouse with emergency supplies, such as first aid kits, flashlights, and a battery-powered radio.

  • Insurance protection: In the aftermath of a substantial winter storm forcing temporary closures, commercial property insurance becomes invaluable. Business interruption coverage can compensate greenhouse operations for income losses due to the storm, helping to alleviate financial strain and support the business during the recovery process.

Prioritize winter preparedness for your horticultural business

“During winter, prioritize maintenance efforts on heaters and greenhouse temperature control to prevent snow accumulation,” notes Zach Bruce, Hortica's Safety Services Manager. “Snow and ice during winter only add to the challenge for your employees and customers. So it's crucial to prioritize preparedness to help safeguard your operations, employees, and property.”

Hortica, a trusted insurer for the horticultural industry for more than 135 years, is committed to helping you navigate the challenges of the winter season. Our team can provide tailored guidance and support in assessing potential risks, creating effective safety measures, and reviewing your insurance coverage to align with your specific needs.

Don't wait for winter's challenges to disrupt your horticultural business. Take proactive steps today. Contact Hortica at 800-541-5082 for guidance tailored to your unique needs.

Related links:

Check out the pros and cons of popular greenhouse coverings detailed in this comprehensive guide.

Understand the steps and what to expect during a safety visit from your insurance provider.

Regularly communicate the priority of safety with your staff. Here are tips for productive employee safety meetings.

A functioning greenhouse in the winter

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