For most of the country, winter is at our doorstep—and as with winters past, it could bring billions of dollars in property damage nationwide. Between 2020 and 2021, insurance losses from winter storms jumped from about $1 billion to over $15 billion, due in large part by just two February storms that affected a large swath of the country, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In fact, those two storms are now ranked as the costliest in U.S. history by the institute.
While winter storms are the most visible cause of winter damage to properties, smaller issues such as colder-than-normal temperatures, ice buildup, or thawing and freezing can also cause major problems. And that’s not to mention the indoor hazards of the season: holiday lights, candles, and space heaters.
If you haven’t started winterizing your apartment buildings, it’s time to get going. And we’re here to help you get ahead of the inevitable impact of the changing seasons. To protect your property from preventable winter storm damage—and to safeguard the interests of your residents—here is a property management maintenance checklist with the top 18 steps landlords, property managers, and community managers should be taking each and every year to winterize apartment buildings.
Property Management Maintenance Checklist: Winterization for Multi-Family Units
#1. Have Boilers and Furnaces Inspected and Serviced Now
Preventive maintenance is always cheaper than an emergency service call. Skipping maintenance to save money in the short term could cost you a lot more money in the long term if all it takes is simple cleaning to keep things running.
Have boilers, furnaces, and HVAC systems cleaned and their filters replaced. Look for parts that need replacing or consider replacing the entire unit if it’s getting older. If you haven’t already, set up a regular maintenance schedule with your provider so you don’t have to remember to make seasonal appointments.
#2. Insulate Your Pipes
Start with the pipes that run through exterior walls or are exposed to the outside elements. If the temperature dips low enough, these are the pipes that will freeze first, and they could burst.
Make sure to check for small cracks or signs of corrosion, especially in older pipes. Those are the weak points where a breach is more likely to happen.
#3. Line Up Service Contracts for Snow Clearing in Advance
If you wait until a storm is imminent—or worse, until the snow has already fallen—your contractors’ other clients will take priority, leaving you and your residents literally stuck. If you haven’t already, now is the time to call your snow-clearing service and get on their radar.
#4. Create a Strategic Snow-Distribution Plan
For roofs and overhangs, work with a structural engineer or your snow-removal vendor to determine how and where to remove snow that builds up on roofs. This is particularly important for flat roofs, where snow can’t slide off as it melts.
Snow that collects on roofs can add a lot of weight quickly, especially if snow turns to rain, and the fallen snow absorbs that water. Snow that melts and refreezes can cause ice dams that can block gutters and cause pooling and leaks inside walls.
#5. Clear Autumn Debris out of Your Gutters
Speaking of gutters, get fallen leaves and debris that collected over the fall and summer out now. Clogged gutters will not clear snow melt and rain properly. Water can become trapped and turn to ice, causing an ice dam. Rainwater that overflows from gutters and falls near the foundations can find its way into basements, as well.
#6. Check for Pooling and Loose Shingles
Look for places where water collects on flat roofs or roofs with a shallow grade. These are places you’ll want to fill in or find a way to move the water out. Water that collects may eventually find its way inside through tiny cracks. If it freezes, it will expand and could cause cracking or warping.
Loose shingles present another place for water to get in. Find and replace them before the snow and rain starts.
#7. Keep a Supply of De-Icing Chemicals on Hand
There are different types of de-icing agents for different types of weather. Rock salt (sodium chloride) is inexpensive, but it’s highly corrosive to concrete and is only effective above 12°F. Calcium chloride is more expensive, but more effective—it works until it hits -20°F. It may be wise to use calcium chloride in key areas and rock salt in others. Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) must be applied prior to bad weather; it doesn’t melt ice, but it does make removal faster and easier. However, it loses its potency below 20°F.
#8. Have Your Trees Trimmed
Snow, ice, and high winds from winter storms can snap limbs and cause entire trees to fall. A quick trim now could prevent dire consequences later.
In particular, look for trees with branches hanging over buildings, driveways, sidewalks, and power lines. Take out dead or dying trees, as well.
#9. Install Insulated Windows
Consider replacing old windows with insulated ones. Ultra high-efficiency and tripled-paned will insulate well both in the winter and the summer. Vinyl frames, meanwhile, are low maintenance, so your windows will last longer.
For more information on window types, check out Energy.gov.
#10. Consider Installing Energy Star-Rated Appliances and Smart Home Devices
While replacing appliances and adding smart devices isn’t necessarily tied to winterizing apartment buildings, it’s still something to consider as the weather gets colder. Energy-efficient appliances, particularly furnaces and boilers, can save you and your residents money year-round. As the days get shorter, LED lightbulbs can cut down electricity bills.
With smart home devices, residents can set heating and lighting to accommodate their schedule and cut down on unnecessary energy usage. Smart outlets and appliances connected to mobile apps can be turned on and off even when residents aren’t home.
Outside, smart flood lights can be programmed to come on at certain times, reducing accidents as afternoons get darker, earlier.
#11. Inspect for Cracks
Water that seeps in through small cracks can cause mold and moisture damage. If it freezes, the cracks will expand, allowing more water in and causing more damage over time.
Cold air that seeps in through cracks causes drafts, which jack up energy bills.
Inspect walls, foundations, masonry, and mortar for cracks and repair them right away.
#12. Install or Inspect Weather Stripping
Replace old weather stripping around doors and windows to reduce drafts even more. Weather stripping at the bottoms of doors will keep out water, snow, and ice, which can ruin flooring.
#13. Blow Out Your Sprinklers/Irrigation Systems
Use an air compressor to blow out your irrigation system prior to the first freeze—otherwise, expanding water can crack your pipes or sever connections. For more information, see this guide from Hunter Industries. If you aren’t sure how to do this, have a professional do the job for you.
#14. Have Chimneys and Flues Professionally Cleaned
As the weather gets colder, your residents may light up their fireplaces more often, which can cause a buildup of creosote in the flue and chimney. Too much creosote can cause a chimney fire. Make sure every single fireplace gets an inspection and a cleaning, as well as all chimneys.
And while you’re at it, talk to residents about fire safety and give them clear guidelines on fireplace use, as well as the proper way to put out a fire.
#15. Inspect Fire Alarms and Talk to Residents about Kitchen Safety
Thanksgiving and Christmas are peak days for residential fires, mostly resulting from cooking. Make your residents aware of common cooking hazards. (For instance, make sure no one is trying to deep-fry a frozen turkey.)
Check smoke alarms to make sure they’re working and up to date. In some states, rental properties are required to have fire extinguishers in the kitchen. Even if you’re state doesn’t require it, it’s a good idea to provide them, anyway.
#16. Check Carbon Monoxide Detectors
According to the CDC, carbon monoxide poisonings happen most often in the fall and winter, when windows are closed, and people are more likely to use fuel-burning heat sources.
Educate residents on the hazards of carbon monoxide and how to avoid dangerous buildups in their homes. For example, avoid using space heaters that burn fuel.
Check carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re in proper working order.
#17. Provide Residents with Space Heater Usage Guidelines
Between 2014 and 2018, nearly half of home heating fires occurred between December and February. And 81% of home heating fires were caused by space heaters, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Educate your residents on the dangers of space heaters and give them strict guidelines to follow, such as a minimum 3-foot radius around space heaters that is clear of bedding, Christmas trees, and curtains.
#18. Give Residents a Clear Set of Guidelines on Holiday Lights and Candles
FEMA provides a very useful checklist for fire safety during the holidays. Consider passing it on to residents or make one of your own. Bottom line, make sure residents are not leaving candles unattended and encourage the use of battery-operated candles. Ensure they’re not overloading electrical outlets, and that they’re inspecting power cords and strings of lights for frayed or stripped wires.
Rely on Residents to Be Your Eyes and Ears
Recruit residents to catch potential problem areas early in the season. Through their resident portal, encourage them to report pooling water, cracks in walls or masonry, moisture seeping through drywall or ceilings, and condensation on windows (evidence of poor insulation).
Keep this property management winterization checklist in mind as the days grow colder and you’ll be right on track to protecting your properties and residents from winter woes!
You can download the full checklist here here.
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