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Winter Maintenance


Winter Warm-Up:

Minimize Winter Maintenance and Risk Management Issues

The dead of winter is upon us, along with the potential for severe winter storms, heavy snowfall, and extreme cold. Snow, ice, and freezing rain bring a host of safety hazards and other concerns. Plunging temperatures may cause frozen or burst pipes, often with extensive and costly repairs. The management company response to winter events can make or break your reputation and resident and tenant satisfaction. Here are some steps that you, as a real estate manager, can take to keep things running smoothly throughout the harsh winter months:

General Planning

  • Ensure that the emergency and disaster plan covers preventive measures and procedures to follow during winter events and storms (e.g., equipment and supplies required, facility shut down or early release procedures, winterization instructions, etc.)
  • Hire reputable contractors with experience, equipment, and personnel to respond to the varied winter conditions in your area
  • Check and service water heaters and HVAC systems regularly as they are working overtime in the cold winter months

Snow and Ice

    snowy-office-building.jpg
  • Identify and address pavement deficiencies that may become covered by snow and difficult for pedestrians to see
  • Identify and address roof and site drainage issues that may cause water to drain onto walkways and freeze, causing icy conditions. Direct runoff away from the building structure.
  • Inspect the amount of snow on rooftops, and remove if necessary. Flat roofs are especially vulnerable to freezing, thawing, and refreezing, which can plug roof drains and add weight.
  • Ensure areas around vents and exhaust pipes are clear
  • Choose snow storage locations so they do not block views or cause drainage concerns.
  • When snow melts, ensure it does not drain onto walkway areas where it can freeze later.
  • Inspect canopies and awnings for snow and ice drainage and the potential for falling debris
  • Instruct maintenance staff to clear sidewalks of snow and ice, and use salt, chemical pellets, and sand as appropriate. Display caution signs for slippery conditions.

Pipes

  • frozen-burst-pipe.jpgConsider wrapping vulnerable pipes with insulation sleeves, or products approved from an independent testing organization (e.g., Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.) such as heat tape or heat cables to prevent frozen and burst pipes
  • Provide tips for residents on how to prevent freezing pipes during extremely cold weather (refer to Tip Box below)
  • If there are reports of low or no water pressure, check with other building occupants to determine whether the problem is building-wide or an isolated incident.
    • If the problem is building-wide, check with neighboring buildings. If they have water and you don’t, it may be a frozen pipe or meter.
    • Examine the water meter to see if it is cracked or frozen. If so, contact the local water department or appropriate authority to report the frozen meter and seek instructions.
    • Do not attempt to thaw the water meter.
  • If water disruption is caused by frozen pipes, take action to prevent pipes from bursting:
    • Shut off the water supply and open faucets to the frozen pipes
    • Warm frozen pipes with a heat lamp, blow dryer, or portable heater. Boiling water, propane torches, or anything with an open flame should not be used
  • If a pipe bursts before preventive action can be taken, turn off the main water supply to the pipe immediately and leave the faucet open until repairs are completed
  • Contact your plumber, insurance carrier, and other recovery/clean-up contractors as needed


Tips For Residents

  • Set thermostats to no lower than 55 degrees
  • Don't turn off heat when away on vacation
  • Run faucets at a very slow drip to prevent pressure that can cause pipes to burst
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing
  • If faucet is turned on and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Call the office immediately and leave the faucet open


Resources

  • Before and After Disaster Strikes, Developing an Emergency Procedures Manual, Fourth Edition. © 2012 Institute of Real Estate Management. Chicago, IL. Available through the IREM bookstore at www.irem.org.
  • Periera III, Julius. “Winter Maintenance Slip-Ups: Six Ways to Avoid a Liability.” Journal of Property Management, November-December 2012. Available through the JPM archives at www.irem.org.
  • Periera III, Julius. “Look Up. Don’t Forget About Canopies and Awnings This Winter.” Journal of Property Management, January-February 2013. Available through the JPM archives at www.irem.org.
  • American Red Cross
  • FEMA

Download a copy of this Winter Maintenance and Risk Management Checklist.