Winterizing is an important step for every association, says Amanda Yamour, business development manager for Giertsen, a disaster restoration company. A good first step is to identify any units that may be vacant during the winter months, she suggests. Making arrangements to keep the unit heated and have maintenance staff regularly check the unit for frozen pipes that will cause water damage once they thaw can reduce the risk of problems as the temperatures rise. “You can also winterize the unit to proactively prevent issues, but maintenance should still regularly visit the unit to ensure there are no issues” she adds.
As plans for ice and snow removal are made, be sure to pay attention to the roof to prevent ice damming, says Yamour. “Make sure gutters are cleaned in the fall to reduce snow and ice buildup,” she recommends. Throughout the winter, monitor the roof to identify ice dams that can lead to a buildup of ice and snow that can result in water under the shingles and roof leaks. “Ice dams and frozen pipes that burst after thawing are the two leading causes of damage we handle in the winter,” she adds.
Take time to review agreements with vendors who are responsible for snow and ice removal, or for repair and emergency services, suggests Yamour. This gives you an opportunity to talk with the vendor to make sure contact names and numbers have not changed for either organization, and to set expectations, she says. “You can make sure they know your building and are aware of any renovations or changes you may have made,” she points out. Property managers want vendors to give them priority and making sure they have the right information strengthens the relationship, she adds.
In addition to communicating with service providers, be sure to communicate with residents. A letter that outlines steps they can take to protect their units enlists their support to protect the property. “Ask residents to report maintenance problems immediately so property management and maintenance staff can make sure a small problem is not an indication of a potentially larger problem,” says Yamour. “For example, a small leak under a sink located on an exterior wall might actually be a crack in a pipe that will become larger as the pipe freezes and thaws during the cold weather.” When management staff and maintenance know to look for issues that become more critical during winter, repairs can be made before the little leak becomes major water damage, she points out.
“Also ask your residents to notify you if they are going to be out of town during cold weather, and obtain permission to enter their unit if there are potential problems,” suggests Yamour. “Tell them to leave their heat on to protect pipes in their units as well as surrounding units.”
Don’t forget to prepare property management staff to support residents if there is a problem, recommends Yamour. Staff should know exactly what services they can and cannot provide to residents, and be ready to refer residents to other sources of help. “If there is damage to a unit, staff should have a list of local resources, such as the local Red Cross, that can help outplaced residents and even their pets,” she says. “This is part of providing good service to residents.”
Winter Prep Checklist
It is tough to think about icy winter weather while enjoying the fall temperatures, but planning ahead for potential winter snows and freezes will minimize emergency repairs and will better protect property and residents when the cold weather arrives.
Start working on this checklist in the fall to make sure the property, residents and staff are ready for the winter:
1. Make sure all furnaces and boilers are in good working order, clean units and replace parts and filters to reduce need for emergency repair services
2. Clear gutters of any leaves or debris so they drain properly throughout the winter
3. Fully inspect the building exteriors, including the roof, walls, and door and window frames and repair or caulk damaged, leaking or drafty spots
4. Wrap pipes in common areas, especially those in exterior walls or in colder parts of the building
5. Winterize the outdoor irrigation system by draining the pipes to ensure they don’t freeze
6. Check for and remove any damaged trees or weak branches that may not survive the high winds, icy freezes or snow accumulation
7. Add insulation in common areas, especially around windows and doors, and install weather stripping and a door sweep on exterior doors
8. Winterize pools and hot tubs
9. If you have any wood-burning fireplaces on the property, it’s best to have them cleaned by a professional chimney sweep and to have them inspected – flue dampers operating correctly, chimney clear of obstructions and no damage where the chimney adjoins with the roof
10. Stock up on ice melt to avoid shortages during a storm
11. Secure or review contracts for heavy snow clearing equipment and personnel before a winter storm
12. Test onsite equipment that staff will use to remove snow – no one wants to find out their snowblower doesn’t work when the sidewalks are covered
13. Encourage residents to report any maintenance issues promptly, and keep an emergency kit on hand should any power outages occur