Insurance: Are You and Your Commercial Property Properly Covered?

Well, it’s that time of year here at Darmax Inc. … Insurance Renewals! We all go through it and while it seems as thrilling as a trip to the dentist, it is just as necessary. One thing that makes the renewal (or first purchase) process easier is to partner with an Insurance Broker who is trustworthy and easy to work with. As we were going through our process with the amazing team at Ostic Insurance here in Guelph, ON, I thought it might be fun to ask our Broker, Jim Hitchcock some questions for our Commercial Building Owner clients.

The Ostic Group

Let’s get to it!

Aside from the obvious trip & fall risks, what are some of the bigger claim items you see regularly for commercial properties?

Yes, trips, or slips and falls are the largest looming events that trigger liability claims. Lately the industry has seen an unprecedented number of claims from catastrophes such as fires and floods.

These claims affect all of us because the re-insurers (the ones who respond to the carriers) we work with are the same ones responding to the catastrophe claims around the world. The high volume of claims we’ve seen, even if the disaster doesn’t take place in our country, will have an affect in the Canadian marketplace. You’ll want to prepare for stiff increases in premiums for property owners in many sectors.

Are there any types of coverage that are often overlooked?

Unfortunately there are overlooked coverages all the time. Many commercial property owners make changes to their building or property that may seem small but they could lead to missing or improper coverage. For commercial property owners, equipment breakdown is one type of coverage that is often overlooked. Simply, any integral mechanical component that fails and has resulting damage to the building would fall in this category. For example, an electrical panel arcs and causes a fire, or a roof top air conditioner on a high rise fails in the middle of summer. These could all fall under equipment breakdown coverage.

We advise that you stay in touch with your Licensed Insurance Broker as things change in and around your building. It may not be a big deal but isn’t it best to know BEFORE you need the coverage? From a broker stand point it is important to touch base at least once a year to make sure you’re still properly covered.

How much does the size of the building matter when looking at types of coverage?

When you are looking at the size of the building, typically larger means more money. The types of coverage required may not be all that different from a little shop to a high rise, but the appropriate limits are crucial. It is easier to recoup if your building and limits are smaller, but if your values are off by millions and have overlooked coverage then the loss could be catastrophic to your business.

It all comes back to ensuring prudent, thorough, and regular evaluations are communicated between the property owner/manager and your Insurance Broker.

Do coverage requirements differ between using the property for my own business and leasing it out or blending the two uses?

There are many factors at play in these scenarios: property uses, capital & leasehold improvements etc. Basically, here are some key differences:

When you are using the property for your own use, your policy will be more inclusive – property & liability for example.

If you are the one leasing space in the property (lessee) then you have no real interest in the property (unless you have leasehold improvements). In this case your coverage will lean more to contents and liability.

If you have commercial property that you lease (lessor), you want to make sure that your tenant has the proper coverage and that you are listed as an “additional insured.” In this case you will still require your own – and different – coverage in place as well. In this case, I would recommend blending coverage to make sure that your risks are cared for. Even if a tenant is legally liable for an occurrence, you can still be brought into a civil action. This is so important now that society is becoming more litigious than ever.

If there was one thing you could urge every commercial property owner to consider, what would it be?

Commercial Umbrella Liability Insurance. I did set that up a bit from the very last sentence in the last question haha. As a business/property owner you work hard to make a living and provide for many. The umbrella is designed to help eliminate gaps, while providing an additional $2 Million in indemnity. This amount can go as high as you may require to help provide proper protection. For the cost, and depending on the industry, it is nominal at best. However, like personal umbrella insurance it is often seen as unnecessary.

And now the big question … How much coverage is enough?!

I wish I had only one answer for this. Each property and business is as individual as … well … the individuals in it! I can’t stress enough how important it is to find an Licensed Insurance Broker who takes the time to know you and your business and is genuinely interested in getting to know your risks.

Thanks to Jim Hitchcock of Ostic Insurance for taking your time to answer my questions!

The Ostic Group

P.S. If you’ve read an insurance term here that you’re not familiar with you can find the definitions (and more resources) here.

P.P.S. This article is to be seen as an overview only. Not all information provided here may apply to your location and/or circumstances. Please contact your local insurance broker for more specific information and requirements.

 

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Fall Maintenance: Preparing Your Property for Winter

Cold weather is inevitable in Canada. Is your building ready?

Sadly, the time of year has come when days get shorter, nights get colder and our minds turn from patios and landscaping to staying ahead of the ice that we know will come. Have you given much thought to preparing your building for the cold weather? What do you need to think about? Where do you start?

First, let’s look at why Fall Maintenance matters.

In the past we’ve received calls for broken heating cables, ice dammed roofs, and flooded basements. Unfortunately, once the damage is done it takes much longer to make repairs. The added time is usually for melting the ice that caused (or contributed to) the damage in the first place. If you knew these things could be prevented, wouldn’t you at least try? After all, who needs any more stress?

Here is a brief list of some of the most common things we are asked to take care of for our clients this time of year:

  • Exterior taps – close and drain the tap. There are many different types of exterior tap, be sure your maintenance provider knows how to care for yours.
  • Roof – check and clear roof drains. We’ve also been asked to protect HVAC units and check caulking around roof penetration points to make sure the seals are still good.
  • Gutters (eavestroughs) – clear leaf litter and other debris and make sure the downspouts are clear.
  • Heating cables – make sure all are operational and clear of debris.
  • Site drainage – check that storm drains are not full/backed up.
  • Exterior Lighting – with the days getting shorter, it’s always better to start the winter with everything safe and operational.
  • Heat in mechanical rooms – the mechanical room is usually the first and last line of defense for water that comes into your building. Make sure heaters are in place and have backup should the first heat source fail. The second heater is usually set fairly low so it only comes on when absolutely necessary.
  • Sump Pumps – make sure they are operational and primed.
  • Exterior foundation – you’ll be looking for holes where water and pests can get in.
  • Sidewalks & Railings – identify and repair slip hazards and unstable railings.
  • Floor drains – it never hurts to add inspection and priming to the list! It’s like checking the smoke detectors in your home when the time changes.

Not all commercial buildings have all of these requirements; some buildings will have more! If you need help determining what your building needs, or to get it done, contact us or your local trusted maintenance company.

 

How to Make Your Building More Accessible

Renovating for Accessibility

With the advent of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act(AODA) in 2005, the design and functional requirements of commercial and public spaces started to change. Many municipalities have devised Accessibility Plans to phase in the many requirements for making commercial and public spaces more accessible for all patrons. While being mandated to renovate aspects of your building may appear to be a burden, the benefits can far outweigh the hassle.

What are the benefits of a more accessible building?

  • More people will be able to access the business(es).
  • If your building is easy to access and navigate within, patrons are more likely to spend more time.
  • Both of the above mentioned benefits can directly affect your bottom line; that’s a BIG benefit!

One great way to ensure your building or business is as accessible as possible for your patrons is to engage them in the process. Find out the aspects of your building are “tricky” or hazardous for them to navigate. You may find that there is an aspect that is tricky for your patrons that is not included in your region’s building code. Work with your customers to find reasonable solutions for everyone.

Let’s explore a few of the key areas to consider when making your building accessible and some ideas for consideration in each area.

Parking

  • Ensure you have at least 1 accessible parking spot for every 25 spaces or less.
  • Spots should be clearly marked, have wider clearance around the vehicle.
  • Accessible parking spots should lead to stair free access to your building.

Entrances

  • Not all entrances have to be accessible. Entrances that aren’t accessible should clearly direct people to the accessible one(s).
  • When removing stairs to create a ramp, ensure it has as gentle a slope as possible. This might mean a longer ramp is required.
  • If a ramp is not possible due to elevation or space availability, consider the option of a lift.
  • Accessible doorways must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
  • The accessible entrance must be easily opened. Some options to create this ease are automatic door openers (either motion or button activated), and Assist Call buttons.

Interior Facilities

  • If your building has a reception or service counter, consider providing patrons with a lower portion. The lower portion allows staff and patrons to be seen and interact with greater ease.
  • If washroom facilities are required for your establishment, ensure at least one is accessible by wheelchair and other mobility devices. Be sure to make this door easy to operate as well!
  • Widen doorways where required.
  • Provide clearly visible/high contrast signage & guides (such as textured stair treads) throughout the building. (This is a good idea even if your building didn’t have to be accessible!)
  • Keep floor spaces free from obstruction and provide clear lines of sight wherever possible.

The last and perhaps most important aspects to accessibility for your building are Your Staff or Tenants.

  • Train your staff to assist patrons when needed in a way that is respectful and maintains the dignity of all involved.
  • While you likely can’t enforce training for your tenants, you certainly can encourage them to maintain “access friendly” spaces and procedures.

Creating accessible environments isn’t just about meeting the requirements laid out by some law or building code; it’s about creating an inviting, productive environment for all.

In order to avoid costly “corrections,” be sure to consult your local Building Code or Planning Department to ensure any changes you make will satisfy the AODA or equivalent Accessibility Regulations.

Community Spotlight – Building 4 Kids

“Building 4 Kids exists to put a smile on a child’s face, to show a child that we care and are here for them!” George Harrietha

Building 4 Kids is the heart-project of Darmax Inc. that started in 2016. The aim of Building 4 Kids is to empower and enliven vulnerable children in our community through our network of local tradespeople. Together we will enable children to enjoy safe spaces and child-like moments regardless of their circumstances. Our target is to complete minor repairs in their living spaces, build fun areas like a sand box or a swing set, will address & repair home safety issues and will assist to resolve mobility issues a child may have using our construction skills.

It’s been an interesting exercise to get this project off the ground; for example, we’ve had to explore both legal and safety implications of working with (for) children. In fact, the due diligence briefly held us back from actually getting to work!

Rather than letting red tape hold up our desire to contribute, we’ve decided to “do what we can from where we are.” We’ve teamed up with a couple agencies that assist and support children and families and we are thrilled with this possibility! We knew there was a need for our services in this capacity; we did not know how extensive this need is. There is much work to be done for the children of our community and those who care for them.

Building 4 Kids ThanksOur first project was to build a large art table and easels for “Better Beginnings, Better Futures” at the Shelldale Community Centre. It’s funny how, when you think you’re doing something good for someone else, you end up receiving from the experience too. It was rewarding to see the joy (and relief) from staff and children alike when we delivered the items.

Often, in our grown-up efforts to provide for our children (as individuals or as a community) we forget what children really require: a safe space and place to just be children.  The art table and easels are the beginning of our journey with Building for Kids!

We are thrilled with the response and willingness to contribute we have received from our community of Trades and we look forward to many more projects for Building for Kids.

If you would like to stay updated about our endeavors with Building for Kids click here.

If you would like to be a part of Building for Kids projects click here.

Energy Efficiency for Existing Commercial Buildings

There is abundant information on the construction of new efficient buildings. Of course that’s a great thing to do, but what about the energy efficiency of older buildings? Sure, everyone is trying to change your light bulbs but beyond that, information grows scant. We think there’s value in looking deeper into older buildings too. In this post we’ll focus on why you’d want to have an efficient building and your first steps to get started with the process.

Why would you want to improve the performance of your building?

The efficient operation of a building not only contributes to reducing your regular operating costs, it contributes to property value and the productivity and health of its occupants.  Have you ever tried being productive when you are too hot or too cold or always sick? Let’s face it, business is all about productivity; a productive business is more likely to be a successful business. Successful businesses stay in your building longer! An efficient, comfortable building will therefore reflect directly on your bottom line.

Today’s commercial buildings are extremely complex and dynamic ecosystems. The use of space will change, tenants move in/out or within the building, and equipment is added or changed too. Over time the mechanics of a building can lose effectiveness if not assessed and adjusted as the needs of the building and its occupants change.  This is why you’ll want to assess the efficiency of your building regularly and adjust accordingly. This ongoing assessment goes for new builds too as they’ll start changing on the day the keys are handed over.

Where do You Begin?

When you are first considering looking at the energy efficiency of your commercial building, consider leveraging the knowledge of the people who are currently caring for it. Often your maintenance staff will have great ideas for making systems run better but they are rarely asked for their input. Like all good change, it starts within! Here are a few tips:

  1. Create a plan for how you’ll gather information from your staff. This plan should include a clear indication of who has the responsibility of compiling the information, and who has the authority for implementing any changes found throughout the process.
  2. Prepare your questions for the staff. The least helpful information you’ll gain will come in the form of rants and opinions. If you are prepared with specific questions, your conversation will stay on track and fact-focussed.
  3. Set a time limit for your meetings. If the meeting is to be held in an office or conference room, plan for no more than 30 minutes. If the meeting is to be in the form of a walk-though with your maintenance management personnel, base the timing to be efficient yet thorough. Keeping the time limited will also ensure you stay on track and fact-focussed.
  4. Once your internal meetings are complete, you’ll have a better idea if an outside professional is required for further assessments or if you can begin making changes and self-managing the process.

Beyond the Energy Audit

Typically when looking at the efficiency of your building, you first instinct is to get an energy audit. While this is a great start, most audits assess aspects of your building as unique items rather than assessing the complete building ecosystem. A typical Energy Audit usually identifies projects for reducing costs such as HVAC rejuvenation. Unfortunately these projects are often large in scale, often require outside contractors to complete, and they could take years to realize the return on your investment. It’s no wonder why so many Energy Audit findings remain on the shelf.

The Ministry of Natural Resources here in Canada recommends an “O&M Assessment.” While an O&M Assessment sounds daunting, in fact it can identify some of the more cost and time effective adjustments you can make to the current systems and operation of your building. It can identify the less complex changes that can often be completed by your in house staff or close contractors. An example of a less complex change that can be captured in an O&M Assessment is identifying equipment that is running when it is not needed. A simple change in the control system is all that it takes to capture these savings. Of course large projects can also be identified in this process.

The Efficiency Lifestyle

As you embark on the road to the efficiency of your building, bear in mind that this is a lifestyle change. Like personal diet and exercise, maintaining a building that uses its energy efficiently takes ongoing diligence. The good news is that you’ll become addicted to finding ways to save money while making the life of your building last longer. The efficiency lifestyle isn’t about being cheap; it is about creating a cost efficient and healthy ecosystem for all.

Exterior Lighting: 3 Important Roles it Plays For Your Building

In this article we’ll cover the 4 main types of lighting, their purpose, and potential impact on your operating budget.

There are 4 main types of lighting around commercial buildings & properties:

  1. Light standards – similar to street lights, standards are generally found in parking lots and open sidewalk areas
  2. Canopy lights – usually in the form of pot lights in soffits, typically only on the front of a building
  3. Signage Lights – these lights are found in pylon signs and above store fronts
  4. Wall Packs – lights that are mounted on walls, mainly for security purposes

All types of lighting play a key role in the healthy functioning of your commercial property and require diligence to maintain. You can think of these roles as: Security, Information, and Invitation.

Security:

Lighting plays a key role in the safety and security of your property, your tenants, and their patrons. Of course proper lighting such as canopy lights and wall sconces ensure walkways are clearly navigable, they also play a bigger role of deterring vandals and other criminal acts.

Imagine what your tenant may face if they are required to take the garbage out the back of the building late at night in a poorly lit area. They wouldn’t have a very good sense of security would they? In fact they may have to do this one person task in pairs which isn’t a practical way to use staff. While health and safety protocols for staff are your tenant’s responsibility, it is your obligation to provide as safe an environment as possible for everyone.

Wall packs on timers or light sensors are great solutions for security lighting; canopy lights and light standards work well for navigation.

Information:

Informational lighting includes the obvious pylon and storefront lighting as well as the not-so-obvious emergency exit and directional signage.

You may be wondering why the pylon and storefront signs are so important; aren’t they just for looks? Let’s put it this way, if customers don’t know your tenant is there, your tenant won’t be there for long! Therefore it’s in your best interest to keep these signs fully lit and/or inform your tenants when you see their lights out.

We’ve seen it all when it comes to emergency exit lighting! We’ve even seen an emergency exit sign hung, with no power source and it was stuffed with paper. We’re still not sure what that was supposed to accomplish. Naturally battery back-up units can fail; the key is to have these units tested regularly to decrease the likelihood of failures.

Invitation:

A well-lit, well cared for property is an invitation to tenants and patrons. It gives them the sense that they can safely and comfortably conduct business there. On the other hand, a poorly lit property is an open invitation to liability claims and increased maintenance costs as you pay for cleaning up dumped items, graffiti, and other possible property damage. The choice seems fairly easy if you look at these two options!

So, it seems that the incremental cost of regular lighting inspections and maintenance could actually save your operating budget, not to mention insurance and legal fees. Another major factor that will affect your budget is the age and quality of the fixtures. We’ve had clients who had the most economical lighting installed on their building but discovered that replacement bulbs and parts for repair were costly and difficult to find. Considering the cost of specialty bulbs or an electrician’s time for repairs or replacement did our client really save money? Not likely.

The exterior lighting on your building may seem like a small consideration in the grand scheme of your operating budget but when it doesn’t work properly, it can be a big headache. We suggest that you have your lighting checked and maintained at least quarterly. Like most aspects of property maintenance, being proactive is simply the smart thing to do.

Spring Inspections: 5 Areas to Examine Closely This Spring

Ahhh, Spring seems to have finally arrived here in Southern Ontario! Did you know that spring is a perfect time to take a good look at your commercial property? It is and here’s why: any issues that came up over winter haven’t escaped your mind yet so they can be addressed now. Now is also the perfect time to plan your expenditures for the months ahead.

5 areas to examine closely in the spring are:

  1. Potholes, Curbs, Stairs, Railings

    Yes, I know that’s 5 items already but they all fall into the Liability aspect of caring for your property. Winter weather and snow clearing equipment can play havoc on your parking lot and sidewalks. Now is a great time to take a close look for trip hazards such as broken curbs and loose railings. The sooner you can identify and repair the hazard, the less you have to worry about potential insurance or legal claims.

  2. Windows & Doors

Remember the tenant who called you on a windy -30° day complaining about a cold office? You were disappointed then that you weren’t able to help much; now you can take a closer look and find the real cause. Likely it will be a case of repairing or replacing the caulking to keep the heat and cold where they belong. Caulking around windows and doors also contributes to managing your utility costs.

Door frames, weather-stripping and thresholds can quickly deteriorate from salt and other ice melters. Faulty fitting doors and accessories are easy entry points for ants, mice and other pests so get them fixed as soon as possible. Be sure to examine all windows and doors and have them sealed up promptly.

  1. Roof

If you have a flat roof building, get up there for an inspection as soon as is safe. Once up there, you’ll be looking for standing water which will indicate areas where your drainage may not be working so well. Standing water can also indicate soft spots which can be costly to repair if not addressed quickly.

For all types of roofs, check that the penetration seals are still secure and the flashings are still in good condition. You’ll find roof penetrations at vent stacks and HVAC units for example.

  1. Gutters & Downspouts

Even with the most conscientious clean-up in the fall, you can end up with a back-up of fall leaf and other wind-blown litter in your gutters. Ice buildup in the downspouts can slow down the spring run-off and cause overflow in undesired places. Snow clearing equipment can easily knock downspouts and troughs off their intended place or crush them. Best to get these items cleared and properly placed so that your building is ready for all the “April Showers.”

  1. Foundation

Hot and cold weather fluctuations can cause your foundation to settle and seals to deteriorate over time. Take a look around the foundation of your building for cracks, gaps, water stains, and indentations. These are the tell-tale signs that your foundation needs some care.

Naturally, while you’re doing an inspection anyway, you’ll be checking all the other items such as signage, lighting, graffiti, fences etc. The items above are highlighted because they’re where you’ll want to spend extra time this spring. You can see a sample of our full Property Inspection Sample for even more ways to keep your property in tip-top shape for the warm weather ahead.