With Old Man Winter’s fury around the corner, it’s time to turn your attention, once again, to winterizing your properties. For much of the country, there is still time to do so, and being proactive means you won’t have to be out in the cold trying to get in last-minute fixes.
Below are a few items to consider as you review your properties for winterizing this season. Remember that the winterization needs will differ, sometimes significantly, depending on the location of your properties.
Snow building up on a rooftop is an iconic image but can also be hazardous. You may need to inform your renters that some things need to be done to keep the roof maintained adequately during the winter, or you may want to hire outside help.
Excess water collecting on the roof, even in the form of snow, can cause leaks. Even if your property is in a location that doesn’t get severe snows, gutters can quickly become clogged during wet weather, causing water to back up. This is not to mention the sheer weight of snow accumulating on a roof. Be prepared to act accordingly to ensure that snow and water don’t present issues.
Between the elements and nature, the home can become riddled with holes that need to be sealed up. For much of the same reason as the roof, you don’t want the additional damage to compound a problem that you could have fixed with a cheap bottle of spray foam. This foam expands to seal holes and cracks, providing a layer of protection while you develop a strategy for a permanent solution. Compromises in the wrong areas of the house can allow pipes to freeze and water to damage the wall’s integrity.
BASE AND FOOTINGS
Examine the home’s footings and ensure cracks haven’t begun forming in the cement. You want your renters to feel secure from the elements while providing safety to your investment from a leaky basement. Cracks or other compromises within the cement should be repaired as soon as possible in order to avoid working with the problem when the temperatures drop for the winter.
While this is probably the most prominent item in need of winterization, it certainly should be mentioned. Pipes tend to burst or crack as the weather turns cold and the water within them freezes. In addition, as water freezes, it expands, thus making the pipes break if they can’t handle the expansion, as many pipes cannot, especially PVC pipes.
Some pipes to consider winterizing include:
- Sprinkler systems: Sprinklers aren’t needed during the winter as most of your lawn and garden are likely dormant. In addition to ensuring that your sprinkler system is below the frost line and any entry and exit piping are adequately insulated, you’ll probably want to go ahead and shut off water to these pipes and bleed the lines.
- Outdoor faucets connected to a building: Depending on how your water lines are run, these either run through a property first or run directly to the main. If these faucets can’t be shut off and bled and instead run through the property, they should be properly insulated. Most hardware stores sell special caps that will fit over the entire faucet.
- Interior pipes in a non-heated area: Common examples include pipes in garages, basements, crawl spaces, under sinks, etc. Since these pipes are typically critical for normal activities at a property and are well-suited for insulating in areas where it’s known to reach freezing temperatures, it may be necessary to ensure that these zones stay above freezing as well. Keeping cabinets to a sink open on freezing nights can help.
If you’re winterizing a vacant property, all the pipelines should be shut off at the main, properly drained, blown out with an air hose, and have RV anti-freeze poured down a sink or toilet. The pipes in these properties, particularly in areas of extreme temperatures, are at very high risk.
Keep in mind that water damage to a property can be one of the most common and expensive damages. Therefore, properly wintering your piping is critical.
Any property that has a pool requires additional work. As soon as the weather begins to change, your pool needs to be winterized. Depending on where your property is located, you may need to have the pipes winterized and other things done, or you may only have to drain it. It’s best to ask your pool company what they recommend in terms of winterizing because different types of pools will also require different types of winterization.
CHIMNEYS, FLUES, AND FLUTES
If you have fireplaces at any of your properties, your chimneys and flutes should be cleaned appropriately. As the winter comes and people begin burning wood in a fireplace, chimneys and flutes that aren’t adequately cleaned present a fire hazard.
You can read more on the fire hazards presented by dirty chimneys at the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
Autumn and winter storms can lead to branches falling off of trees, so be sure that yours are trimmed properly especially if they may become a hazard during high winds, snow, and ice. In addition, make sure that all communal areas on your properties are salted and maintained so that they do not present a slip-and-fall hazard. Also, break out your “wet floor” signs for the indoor offices if not carpeted, as moisture from people’s shoes can also present a slip hazard.
If someone slips or falls on any property, whether that’s someone’s home, a store, a public sidewalk, or an apartment complex, the owner of that property could be held liable for not only that person’s injuries, but potentially missed pay, pain and suffering, and a host of other financial damages. This is what’s known as premises liability.
Often, early autumn is an excellent time to replace any old HVAC system components. Anything that is running poorly or just not working needs to go before the peak winter cold hits. This is also an excellent time to be sure that your filters are all changed and go through a test run of your systems to ensure their performance. If the property is left vacant, remember to drain your HVAC hoses.
Vacant properties can present even more winterization challenges as the heating systems are likely not running per usual, should there be current tenants living on the premises but are taking breaks over the holidays. That said, you should take extraordinary action to ensure that these properties are properly winterized. HUD has some great guidelines for ensuring vacant properties are winterized properly.
This is particularly applicable when you’re renting out to college students, many of who are living on their own for the first time and might need a reminder about how to get their unit ready to leave empty over holiday breaks. The tips below are a good start for putting together a Winter Vacation Checklist to give to your residents.
- Leave the heat on. More budget conscious residents might be tempted to turn the heat down over the break, but doing so can lead to frozen pipes or broken pipes. Inform your renters how low they can safely set their thermostats.
- Unplug appliances. Unplugging non-essential appliances like televisions, phone chargers, coffee pots, toaster ovens, personal fans reduces the risk of fire and saves energy. Unplugging also means no one will leave coffee burning in the pot for the better part of a month.
- Take out the trash and empty the fridge. For the love of everything, tell renters not to leave food and garbage in an apartment for two to three weeks! Stress the importance of a clean kitchen to your residents, unless you really want a bug infestation on your holiday list.
- Lock doors and windows. It’s common sense to lock a front door, but students might forget to make sure all their windows are secured. For added protection, set all the window treatments up so that the interior of the unit isn’t visible from outside.
- Take along your valuables. Advise your residents to take laptops, electronics, jewelry, and other valuables when they go on a long break. Items that are too large to transport should be kept out of sight from windows, balconies, and doors. Remind residents that property theft rates are higher during holiday breaks.
SAVING ON WINTERIZATION SERVICES
Some winterization tasks can be done yourself, saving you money on labor costs. Simple tasks like weather stripping doors and windows, insulating pipes, and cleaning gutters can often be done with basic tools and materials.
When it comes to working on more than one property, you can likely get discounts from the contractors you hire. Before you choose someone to work with, shop around and look for the best price and the most qualified home winterization experts.
Consider bundling multiple winterization services together, such as insulation, HVAC maintenance, gutter cleaning, and sealing drafts. Service providers may offer discounts for bundling services.