Multi-family winterization checklist: 18 steps to take ASAP

Jason Van Steenwyk
| 5 min. read
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Published on November 22, 2016

Brace yourselves: Winter is coming—and with it, billions of dollars in property damage. Winter storms caused an estimated $3.5 billion in insured losses in 2015, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Add in uninsured losses and deductibles, and the losses total well over $4 billion. In 2015, the winter storm of February 16-25 alone cost $2.8 billion in losses and caused 39 deaths.

We’re here to help you to 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 are the top 18 steps that landlords, property managers, and community managers should be taking each and every year.

Winterization Checklist for Multi-Family Units

  1. Have boilers and furnaces inspected and serviced now. See our blog entry on fall HVAC maintenance for more information and specific tips. Preventive maintenance is always cheaper than an emergency service call—and skipping maintenance to save money ultimately proves very expensive indeed.
  2. Insulate your pipes, starting with those that run through exterior walls or are exposed to the air.
  3. Line up advance service contracts for snow clearing. If you wait until a storm is imminent—or worse, until the snowfall has already occurred—your contractors’ other clients will take priority, leaving you and your residents out in the cold.
  4. Strategically distribute or remove snow build-up on roofs, working with a structural engineer or vendor to ensure that no one part of the building is overloaded.
  5. Clear autumn debris out of your gutters. The accumulation of leaves and other debris traps water, which turns to ice, which blocks more water, which leads to more ice and snow accumulation. That means leaks—and expensive repairs.
  6. Check for pooling on low-slope roofs after it rains.
  7. 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.
  8. Install insulated windows. Ultra high-efficiency windows are now beating out even triple-pane windows, thanks to recent advances in technology.
    • Quick explanation: The lower a window’s “U-factor,” the more effective the insulation. A single glass pane with an aluminum frame and no thermal break has a U-factor of 1.30. Ultra high-efficiency windows deliver U-factors as low as 0.15—a significant improvement in insulation performance. See this helpful chart from Energy Guide for a detailed breakdown.
  1. Inspect outer walls for cracks and repair them with caulking or more significant fixes. Doing so will help to protect pipes from expensive freeze/burst incidents.
  2. Install or inspect weather stripping in doorways and windows.
  3. Inspect masonry and mortar for cracks.
  4. Blow out your sprinklers/irrigation systems with an air compressor 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.
  5. Have chimneys and flues professionally cleaned if your units have fireplaces.
  6. Inspect fire alarms and talk to residents about kitchen safety. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving and Christmas are peak days for residential fires, mostly resulting from cooking.
  7. Provide tenants with space heater usage guidelines. There should be at least a 3-foot radius around them, and they shouldn’t be anywhere near bedding, curtains, or Christmas trees. Among heating-related fires, space heaters are responsible for 84% of fatalities and 52% of property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
  8. Clear out storm drains so that melting snow doesn’t pool.
  9. Keep a supply of de-icing chemicals on hand, stored in accordance with your hazardous material safety data sheet.
    • Quick explanation: 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 also 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.
  1. Rely on residents to be your eyes and ears in catching potential problem areas early in the season. Get them to report pooling water, cracks in walls or masonry, moisture seeping through drywall or ceilings, and condensation on windows (evidence of poor insulation).
Learn 18 steps to protect your properties from winter woes on the #BuildiumBlog! Click To Tweet

Keep this 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!

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Jason Van Steenwyk

Jason is a freelance writer and editor, as well as an avid fiddler. His articles have been published in a number of real estate publications including Wealth and Retirement Planner and He lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL with his cat, Sasha, and an unknown number of musical instruments.

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