Winterizing your camp

Winterize your camp properly to avoid spring problems
Many camps shut down entirely for the winter months. Some close down the summer activities but still offer winter retreats. Others stay open year-round and just offer different winter activities.

In each scenario, a proper winterization schedule will help you avoid damage during the winter months and make it much easier to open come springtime.

First: Develop the plan

It’s important to write a list of every to-do item, develop a timeline and assign tasks to staff or volunteers to make sure nothing is missed. You can download a free copy of Church Mutual Insurance Company’s Self-Inspection Safety Checklist for Camps and Conference Centers.

  1. Checklist for each area. Survey each camp area for damage and repairs and list the primary tasks to be performed: cabins/lodging areas, dining halls, kitchens, activity areas including pools, storage areas, vehicles, etc.
  2. Delegate responsibilities based on skill levels. Winterization is definitely not a one-person job. Whether you’re using staff or volunteers to help close down your camp, make sure that the tasks you assign are appropriate for each person’s ability and skill level. Plan in advance to hire contractors to perform specific tasks: HVAC, fire protection, gas, electric, plumbing, pool maintenance, etc.
  3. Provide all needed materials. Before each person sets out, equip them properly with personal protective gear, rakes, shovels, brooms, trash cans, cleaning supplies, ladders, etc. It’s difficult to perform a task without the proper equipment, and you don’t want people running back and forth to find supplies.

Second: Consider the interior

Prevention is certainly necessary in the winterization process. It’s important to get ahead of a potential problem area before it has a chance to become an issue.

  1. Heat sources. Inspect and maintain all gas or oil-fired furnaces and hot water heaters to make sure they operate and vent properly. Verify that exhaust vent pipes are not obstructed by nests, animals or other debris. Improper venting can lead to carbon monoxide health issues, or even death.
  2. Water pipes and lines. Protect water pipes from freezing and causing water damage. Drain water pipes and fixtures that will not be used during the off-season (or use an appropriate type of antifreeze as recommended by a plumbing professional) or provide appropriate heat and insulation to keep all water systems from freezing. 
  3. Electrical. If a building doesn’t need power in the off-season, consider temporarily shutting off its main power source until it will be reoccupied. 

Third: Protect the exterior

It’s now time to walk the perimeter of buildings to assess the preparedness needed for each. Keep your checklist with you to make any notes of necessary repairs.

  1. Obstruct little critters. Prevent rodents, snakes, insects and other animals from inhabiting buildings by sealing all access points around foundations, windows/doors, eaves and chimneys/vents. In addition to the mess certain pests leave behind, they can also cause structural damage or create a fire exposure by gnawing on energized electrical wires. Remove food from all buildings. 
  2. Clear roofs and gutter drains. Remove the buildup of combustible debris (leaves, pine needles, etc.) from roofs, gutters and around structures to help prevent the spread of fire if embers float from other sources. Make sure gutters and downspouts drain properly to help reduce ice-damming or prevent water from seeping in next to a foundation wall or slab.
  3. Check for overhanging branches. Trim tree limbs and shrubs to prevent them from rubbing against and damaging roofing or siding material during windy conditions or snowstorms. Proper trimming also prevents rodents or people from easily climbing onto a roof and/or overhang and finding access points into a building.

Fourth: Monitor throughout the winter

Monitoring access and security of your facilities is imperative when you’re not there. Be prepared to take action if an emergency or severe weather threatens your camp while it’s closed. 

  1. Assign a monitor. Appoint someone to monitor area conditions for freezing temperatures or excessive snowfalls. You could also consider remotely monitored security cameras. During a weekly or monthly onsite inspection, check for ice dams and excessive snow buildup on roofs and leaks in structures.
  2. Bring a buddy. Use the buddy system: no one should wander a deserted camp alone. Require your monitor to have a companion in tow after storms or during regular inspections.
  3. Keep informed of weather activity. Listen for alerts from the National Weather Service and local officials. Understand what the warnings mean and when to take action. Learn more winter storm emergency response tips from the Red Cross.

For additional questions, call the Church Mutual Insurance Company Risk Control Consulting and Research Center at (800) 554-2642, ext. 5213, or email

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Church Mutual Insurance Company
P.O. Box 357 | 3000 Schuster Lane | Merrill, WI 54452-0357
Telephone (800) 554-2642 or (715) 536-5577

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