Originally appeared on The Hartford: Small Biz Ahead
Owning the building where your small business operates means taking on even more responsibilities: a mortgage, fire safety, and security, among others. Keeping up with the wear and tear — whether “reasonable” or otherwise — can be especially challenging. A crack in a wall or a leaky pipe can be a warning sign of more significant damage that should be avoided at all costs (and it will cost).
Here’s what small business owners can do to limit the risks that come with the natural aging of a building.
Make Sure You Have Insurance
No small business owner who owns a building should go without insurance. While the suggestions below will help avoid surprises, a rotting wooden floor board could break and fall through causing a slip and fall for a customer visiting your store. Give an insurance agent a call and get the right business insurance to make sure you’re fully covered for the worst — just in case.
Take a Proactive Approach to Maintenance
Be proactive and keep an eye out for visible signs of wear and tear. Have you noticed fading grout around a toilet or a water spot on the ceiling? What about a crack in the building’s exterior wall or missing shingles from a roof? Don’t ignore them. Make note of issues like these, look into them, and make the necessary repairs in a timely manner — before they become a much bigger problem.
It can be easy to overlook this type of wear and tear during the daily hustle of running a small business, so be sure to also schedule annual inspections where you walk around your property, slowly and thoroughly, to identify anything you may have failed to notice earlier.
Closely examine walls, roofs, outlets, plumbing, and basement nooks and crannies for signs of age, which could eventually lead to trouble. As you do so, keep in mind that while minor imperfections may not necessitate a call to your insurance broker, they can still have a negative impact on your business. A leak in a window can cause a draft that will impact your energy bill. Plaster peeling off your walls may convey a negative impression to visiting clients.
Take Notes and Keep Track
Whenever you spy concerns during your daily or annual inspections, make note of them in a working document where you track and update the building issues you come across. That way you always know the state of your building, as well as what’s getting worse and how fast. This document will help you make informed decisions about when it’s time to take the next step, especially when a flagged concern is noticeably worsening. You need to weigh whether you should look into do-it-yourself fixes or call an expert.
Depending on your expertise, some fixes you can do on your own with some elbow grease and a trip to Home Depot. But given the risks of what can go wrong with a broken toilet or faulty outlet — floods or blown fuses, or worse — if you have any doubts about whether you can make the repair yourself, it’s best to bring in experts like plumbers and electricians to look at the issues you’ve identified in your document. Your notes can help guide them to areas of concern more efficiently, and will give them a handy to-do list to work through.
Watch Out for Structural Faults
Not all wear and tear is electrical or plumbing. If you have cracks in a wall or roof damage, you may need to bring in structural engineers who can inspect the foundation, infrastructure, roof, and wall cracks, and address insulation concerns after weather damage, among other issues. Even if you haven’t seen any structural damage, it may be good practice to have a professional inspection every few years to give your building a thorough once-over.
If there are major concerns that need attention and repairs, well, fair warning, structural fixes are likely to be the most expensive repairs you’ll face. To help ensure your hard-earned money is well spent, try to employ an engineer who has the reputation of being thorough and honest about their assessments. Word-of-mouth recommendations are often helpful here.
Questions You Should Ask
Before you spend a cent, you want to make an informed decision about proceeding with fixes. Say you have roof damage. The questions you might ask your engineer can apply to any damage situation:
- What short- or long-term risks are involved if I don’t make this repair?
- How should I prioritize the fixes needed?
- How long will the repairs take, and will they impact my ability to conduct business inside the building?
- How much will this cost?
- Does this need fixing now, or can it be fixed later?
- Does the whole thing need to be replaced, or can just a few sections be repaired as a less expensive, stopgap solution?
- Will a cost-effective temporary solution now lead to having to pay more later?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can move forward with repairs as you see fit. But you need experts to help supply the information you need in order to make an appropriate decision. That, more than anything, is one of the most important parts of mitigating the risks of wear and tear: not just fixing them, but knowing when and how to fix them so they don’t become an expensive, burdensome problem.
If you can identify potential problems early — and engage the help of reliable experts — you should be able to keep your place of business operational for many years to come.