Care of Unoccupied Buildings

When buildings are unoccupied for a period of time, such as a weekend or during school break, special care needs to be taken to protect parish and school property from theft, vandalism, and the effects of cold weather.

Theft and Vandalism

Before you close your doors for an extended period of time, have your maintenance personnel take an assessment of the safety and security of your school and parish premises. Break-ins often occur because a building appears to be easy to access or looks “inviting” to a criminal. To find areas that need improvement, walk around the perimeter of your facility and assess the following:

  • Look for easy access points into any buildings, specifically focusing on doors, windows and locks. If any of these are faulty, they should be replaced immediately.
  • Keep bushes and shrubs near your building trimmed; this will eliminate hiding places in the shadows. This will also allow your building to be more visible from the street, which will make it easier to notice suspicious activity.
  • Adequate exterior lighting on your premises will prevent criminals from lingering too close to your building.
  • Make sure there are no accessible ladders, tools or other objects that could assist a burglar with a break-in.
  • Make sure all valuables are stored away from access points. Criminals are frequently enticed to break in if there are expensive items, such as electronic equipment, visible from a window.

Other Considerations

  • Keep a safe to hold money and important documents, especially financial documents containing account numbers. If cash from fundraisers or the offertory is not immediately deposited in a bank, be sure to keep it stored in a locked safe.
  • Take an inventory of property, including serial numbers of computers and other electronic devices. This can help identify theft quickly and will aid in reporting missing items.
  • Take preventative measures when your facility is not in use. An alarm system is a wise investment. Often just knowing that a building is outfitted with an alarm serves to deter break-ins.

Protecting Against the Effects of Cold Weather 

  • Prior to the cold weather setting in, have your pipes insulated, especially pipes close to the outside walls, attics or crawl spaces where the chance of freezing is greatest. Inspect the area around the pipes for any air leaks; be sure to seal the leaks as soon as possible. Disconnect, remove and store outdoor hoses. Close all inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain.
  • When the weather outside drops below freezing, pipes can freeze and even burst if proper maintenance precautions are not taken. The simplest step you can take is to keep the temperature of your buildings set at 55° F. or higher at all times. You may think it is wasteful to heat a building that is unoccupied, but it will be much more costly to repair the damage that would result from burst pipes.
  • During long periods of extreme cold, such as prolonged temperatures of 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit or below, set the thermostat at or above 68 degrees Fahrenheit and have a custodian check the unoccupied buildings twice a day for frozen pipes by opening the water taps and checking the radiators.
  • During cold spells, open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to know the location of all shut off valves: in the event a pipe bursts, you will need to stop the flow of water as soon as possible.
  • Visit the facility on very cold days and nights. Check that the heating system is working properly, water flows from the faucets, and no leaks are present. If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, this may be a sign of a frozen pipe.

Treating Frozen Pipes

  • If you open a faucet and little to no water comes out, leave the faucet open, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve, and call a plumber. Never attempt to thaw a frozen pipe with an open flame. You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with the warm air from a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe closet to the faucet, working toward the coldest section of pipe.
  • If a water pipe bursts, completely open all faucets and turn off the water at the main shut-off valve. Call a plumber immediately.