Three winter warning signs

Added December 17, 2020
Greenhouses glowing in the dark

In the horticultural industry, we know winter brings a transition in how greenhouse businesses operate, from the types of equipment you use to the measures you take dealing with the elements raging outside. These seasonal changes bring varying degrees of risk to your business.

While you’d like to know if these risks are about to morph into a full-blown issue, signaled by flashing lights and bells going off, not all warning signs are so obvious.

Being aware of warning signs—and correcting the issues early on—can save you a lot of time and money.

Let’s take a look at three warning signs you should be on the lookout for this winter:

  • Water
  • Snow/ice buildup
  • Extreme temperature fluctuations.

Warning sign No. 1: The presence of water

Water itself isn’t the issue here. After all, it’s vital to your operations. It’s where that water shows up and how it got there. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Find where the water is coming from. Is your floor wet around entrances? Is water seeping in under doors or through cracks in the foundation?
  • Pay attention to puddles, especially if they’re forming when you don’t have any water running. Is a hose, pipe, boiler system, or a piece of irrigation equipment leaking?
  • Look up. Do you see any issues with the roof or cracked/damaged cladding that’s letting in moisture? Is water coming in from the gutters, running down the walls, or gathering in corners?

Don’t dismiss areas of water and chalk it up to the nature of the business. Know what’s normal and what’s not. The presence of water not only can be a safety hazard for slips, trips, and falls, but it can be an indicator of bigger issues.

Warning sign No. 2: Snow and ice buildup

Whether your business uses greenhouses, tunnels, or hoop houses, all of them are at risk for snow and ice buildup that can lead to a collapse and extensive damage to your crops inside.

Snow and ice buildup is usually top of mind before and after a big storm, but you should monitor for it throughout the season. Even a series of small snowfalls adds up if none of it melts.

Also be aware of the type of snow that’s falling. Heavy, wet snow poses a far greater risk for collapse. According to a fact sheet produced by the University of Vermont, 3–4 inches of wet snow is equal to 1 inch of rain. For each inch of rain that snow is equivalent to, it produces 5.2 pounds of pressure per square foot on a structure. Now think about what type of pressure a 12-inch snowfall could produce on a large greenhouse.

Make sure your structure is properly heated before you expect snow to fall. 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.

If you wait until the snow is falling or is about to fall, you risk not being able to keep up with the snowfall and having it accumulate on the structure, causing damage or possibly even a collapse.

If you use energy curtains, make sure they’re retracted to allow heat to make it up into the roof of the structure.

Warning sign No. 3: Extreme temperature fluctuations

The ideal temperature for your greenhouse depends on the crops you’re growing. However, it should never be too cold or too hot in your greenhouse relative to the target temperature.

By using energy curtains, heaters, a boiler system, or other measures, you keep a steady temperature in your greenhouse in winter—probably somewhere between 40 and 80 degrees. If you walk in one day and it’s unexpectedly either really cold or really hot, something is amiss.

Did the power go out? Is the boiler malfunctioning? Is there a breach in the structure? Inspect the facility immediately, identify the problem, and work to remedy the situation.

MEP problems

Many of the issues stemming from these warning signs are due to mechanical, electrical, or pressurized/plumbing issues (MEP). We recommend you:

  • Regularly inspect your equipment and structures.
  • Conduct these inspections as part of your business and safety plan. 
  • Create a maintenance schedule for all your equipment, especially before start-up for pieces of machinery that sit idle for months at a time.

Inspecting your property and conducting regular maintenance goes a long way in helping prevent future problems, making those warning signs show up less frequently.

Contact us if you’d like more help in identifying possible problem areas or in creating a safety plan for your business.

Related links:

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Have the proper insurance coverages in place in case you miss the warning signs and need to file a claim. We’ll walk you through the critical coverages you need.

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