Five Vacant Building Exposures

When your company decides it no longer needs to keep a particular property up and running, it doesn’t mean your risk management responsibilities for that idle building have ended. From fire, vandalism, and theft to wind, water, and collapse, there are many forces that can damage, or even destroy, your vacant properties.

According to Charlie Bauroth, senior property referral underwriter for Liberty Mutual Underwriting Technical Consulting, “Amid day-to-day operations, many companies forget the importance of maintaining their vacant or idle properties. But without the proper utilities and maintenance, these structures can deteriorate—making them vulnerable to damage from vandals and the elements.”

With this in mind, Bauroth advises on how you can help prevent major losses.

1. Theft and Vandalism

Inadequate security in vacant and idle buildings can often result in both theft and vandalism. And in case you think your “empty” building holds nothing of value for thieves, don’t forget the value of copper pipes and wiring. While the value of copper fluctuates, it continues to attract thieves.

Bauroth’s advice on protecting against theft and vandalism starts with maintaining security that limits access to staff and others authorized to work in the building. Then, he adds, “Installing glass breakage detectors or motion detectors and video cameras, all of which can easily be handled by monitored security systems, will help keep your building secure.”

2. Fire

Fire, whether as a result of vandalism, faulty wiring, or other cause, has the potential to destroy your idle property. Bauroth says you should regularly inspect sprinkler and alarm systems to ensure they’ll work properly if a fire starts. “Maintain all fire protection equipment according to National Fire Protection Association standards,” he adds.

3. Water

Water is one of the most underestimated sources of damage to a property, particularly a vacant one. Water-damage losses are typically caused by insufficient heat within the building, which allows pipes in drinkable or sanitary water lines, as well as in automatic sprinkler systems, to freeze and burst. In buildings left unpatrolled by security staff, water flow can go undetected for long periods, ruining equipment, property, and the structure itself.

Bauroth suggests regular site inspections and proper system monitoring that can catch water leaks or heating failures in the early stages and mitigate much larger losses.

4. Collapse

Because idle or vacant buildings can be older and in poorer condition, structure collapse is another frequent source of loss. Rainwater and snow buildup on the roof are often the culprits, although structural deficiencies such as rotting and corrosion are also factors.

Routine maintenance and inspection are the keys to preventing collapse. “Maintaining and monitoring buildings during and after snowstorms and severe rain, as well as actively maintaining the roof, can significantly reduce the chances of collapse,” Bauroth says. “Regular inspections can minimize weather-related losses by ensuring that leaks are repaired, roof drains are clear of obstructions, the ballast is evenly distributed, and rooftop equipment is adequately secured.”

5. Wind and Hail

If your property’s not in a tornado or hurricane zone, you might be tempted to think it’s safe from wind damage. However, straight-line winds, microbursts, and hail can and do cause significant damage to idle buildings. Performing inspections on a regular basis will also help save your building from much of the damage that wind and hail can inflict.

While vacant buildings may not require the same level of maintenance or security as when occupied, providing resources for their basic upkeep can help prevent a major loss. 

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The illustrations, instructions, and principles in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. No attempt has been made to interpret any referenced codes, standards, or regulations nor to identify all potential risks or requirements.