Property Management

Winterizing Your Multifamily Community

January 12, 2018 Elizabeth Francisco
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Sub-freezing temperatures and a fresh winter storm have heralded in the New Year for many Americans this year, with some areas like Florida receiving their  first measurable snow in the state since 1989. Needless to say, this unexpected cold weather frenzy has caught many properties and property managers off-guard.  While winter inevitably brings freezing temperatures and precipitation that can damage property and create serious liability and cost issues for investors in certain areas, not every state is prepared for the circumstances of these winter elements. According to the Insurance Information Institute, there were an estimated $3.5 billion in insured losses as a result of  winter storms in 2015, and $1 billion in 2016, making up 7% of catastrophe losses in the past 10 years. With Grayson hitting the Eastern coast, it’s important that properties in states unaccustomed to winter weather are equally prepared to prevent this kind of loss.  Creating sound winterization policies upon acquisition or construction of your apartment complex, and updating these policies every Fall, can be a proactive way to save unnecessary expenses associated with winter weather, and save your residents from a negative rental experience.

Generally, there are four major systems to consider for winterization. They include:

  • Plumbing
  • Sidewalks and Driveways
  • HVAC Systems
  • Roofing

How these four systems will be maintained throughout the year is the foundation for a good winterization policy, and is key to protecting your property.

Plumbing

All outdoor pipes or pipes in unheated indoor areas should be well insulated.  Ideally, maintenance teams should monitor the condition of the insulation and the pipes themselves throughout the year. Your company’s policies should account for regular inspection and maintenance procedures and schedules.  If maintenance checks uncovers failing pipes or worn insulation, the fall is the last opportunity to replace or repair items prior to freezing weather.  

In addition to the ongoing monitoring of outdoor pipes and insulation, the maintenance team should regularly inspect all shutoff valves and levers.  In inclement weather conditions, it is important to be able to shut off the water in an emergency.

Sprinkler systems can also be easily be overlooked and under maintained. While it’s important to check pipe insulation and blockage on sprinkler systems, it’s equally as important to service heating systems in order to prevent failures in wet and dry sprinkler systems as well. Ensuring heating system dependability keeps riser rooms in operation and prevents pipe breakage when temperatures drop. The National Fire Protection Association is a good resource for property management companies looking to better understand their systems and maintain proper prevention protocols.

Finally, residents must be encouraged to drip water from their faucets to relieve the pressure on pipes during freezing temperatures. Communication from the office helps residents know that management is working diligently to keep them safe, informed,  and happy, and that the residents can play an important part in it as well. Property management software allows regular, friendly communication via text or email and can be used to ask for resident cooperation during freezing weather.

Sidewalks and Driveways

Winterizing the sidewalks and driveways of your multifamily community consists primarily of reviewing and renewing snow removal contracts and ensuring that your maintenance team is well prepared in the event of a major storm.  Sidewalks and driveways should regularly be inspected for any major issues that could cause a resident to trip and fall, but safety concerns can easily be amplified by the arrival of a winter storm.

It’s essential to involve your maintenance supervisor when communicating with snow removal companies as they often work the closest with these service vendors.  While vendors are plowing snow from the driveways, the maintenance team will assist efforts by clearing snow and ice from sidewalks, and spreading gravel or ice melt.

Items to proactively consider in the fall are:

  • Whether the snow removal vendor you used previously is still a positive option.
  • Whether the terms of the contract you signed the previous year have changed,
  • And whether there are any new snow removal vendors or services to consider.

Since winter storms can last for days or weeks, plan well ahead with your maintenance team so that any potential overtime or emergency needs will be covered in order to keep the community cleared of ice and snow.  To further prepare for inclement weather and hazardous walkways, one option would be to prepare a unit where maintenance personnel can comfortably spend the night onsite so they are readily available to address icy conditions.

HVAC Systems

A properly functioning HVAC system is integral to residents’ comfort and safety during the winter months. In accordance with property policies, the maintenance team should be changing HVAC filters and testing the functioning of carbon monoxide/smoke detectors once a quarter, not just during the fall.  Changing filters regularly will prevent dust and dirt from negatively impacting the function of the unit. Utilizing smoke detectors that also detect carbon monoxide can prevent tragic accidents in the event that the HVAC unit fails to function correctly.  Again, resident cooperation is important in order to ensure success.In addition to regularly changing the filter of the HVAC unit, it should undergo an annual maintenance check up.  Fall is an excellent time to conduct this maintenance because residents will be using heat daily during cold months, potentially exposing them to deadly carbon monoxide.

Finally, all ductwork and insulation should be inspected prior to winter. It’s likely that your HVAC specialist can conduct this inspection while performing maintenance on the actual unit. Of course ductwork should be sealed and insulation already in place, but sometimes repairs are necessary as the result of wear and tear. Procedures for annual ductwork inspections can also save money according to EnergyStar.gov who notes that maintaining proper insulation can help cut energy costs by up to 20%.

Roofs

Apartment building roofs should be inspected as part of a good winterization plan. The possibility of a roof collapsing as a result of snow and ice accumulation can be very frightening, so managers should ensure that the roof is capable of handling significant weight.

Fall is the best time for maintenance staff to inspect flashing and seals around vents, pipes, and chimneys on building roofs as well.  In addition,  carefully inspecting roofs for holes or missing shingles can prevent  leaks and water damage during storms.

Swimming Pools

Depending on the type of pool your property has, your winterization plan might vary.
An in-ground pool will need to be covered, and  the pump and filter cleaned and drained. If you have a heater, it should be cleaned and drained as well. Any pool accessories should be disconnected and stored. Pipes should be drained and blown out to remove excess water, and duct tape should be used to wrap exposed pipes to prevent freeze. Add winterizing chemicals to the water. A rule of thumb is that pH should be between 7.2-7.6, alkalinity between 100-150 ppm and chlorine at over 3.0. Assuming you do your due diligence in draining and blowing out pipes, you should not need to drain your pool, and should avoid doing so if possible as it can add undue stress on the pool and shorten its lifespan. The pool can then be covered.

For above-ground pools, the process is a bit different. Filters and tanks should still be washed, drained and blown out. Pipes and skimmers should be plugged, and pumps and filters should be disconnected. The air pillow should be blown up and installed, and all pool accessories disconnected. Similar to in-ground pools, you will then add chemicals and install the cover.

Property winterization is an extremely important task to accomplish in the fall, but some aspects can be done year round for better results.  In developing proper policies and procedures for winterization, you can increase your residents’ comfort and safety while reducing expenses and liability, inevitably leading to greater customer satisfaction and profits.

Need help winterizing your property? Download our checklist!

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