Q: What are some tips to prepare my property for winter?

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Q: What are some tips to prepare my property for winter?

Q: What are some tips to prepare my property for winter?

Preparing for Winteranswer-icon-masterOld Man Winter came in with a vengeance this month in many areas of the country. Those in Rochester and Buffalo, New York got a major snow-job, with drifts of six to eight feet piling up in some areas. But the major winter ice storm season still lies ahead, with the worst of it likely to come in January and February in most areas.

As veteran property owners and managers know, ice and snow doesn’t just make for fun winter sports.

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According to the Insurance Information Institute, ice and snowstorm damage is responsible for about $26.6 billion in damages since 1992 – and that’s only counting insurance claims. Losses were $1.9 billion in 2013 alone. Since property owners are chronically underinsured, actual losses are undoubtedly much, much higher.

Landlords: want to save yourself and your tenants a lot of grief and expense? Managers: do you want to be proactive in protecting the interests of your clients and potentially save the client a bunch of money? Now’s the time to take proactive steps to prevent or minimize winter storm damage. Do it now while you may still have some nice days to work in before the deluge comes later this winter.

Action Items

  • Talk with your tenants. They spend far more time in your unit than either landlords or property management staff. They are excellent early warning systems, and can be very helpful in helping you identify any problem spots while you can still repair them. Especially if you educate them about what to look for.
  • Tell your tenant to ensure vents are open and not blocked by furniture, carpeting or other debris.
  • Inspect walls for any cracks and caulk them shut. Even small wall cracks can expose pipes to frigid temperatures and cause them to freeze.
  • Install or check carbon monoxide detectors. Replace batteries on all alarms.
  • Check and double-check smoke alarms and sprinkler systems.
  • Clear fallen leaves out of gutters and drains. Install guards. You want rainwater and snow melt to be able to run freely off the roof and not pile up in the leaves. If you don’t, your gutters could get blocked up with ice, forcing rain water into the house.
  • Wrap any exposed pipes with heating tape.
  • Fix any missing shingles on the roof. Take care of any patching you need to do now. Don’t get involved in any major reroofing if you don’t have to, unless you’re relatively confident about the weather holding through the end of the project. You don’t want a major snowstorm to hit with your roof half off.
  • Drain or blow out sprinklers.
  • Cut back any trees overhanging buildings. Snow and ice adds weight to branches that can cause a lot of damage – and occasionally injury or death – when they fall.
  • Do a full plumbing inspection. Now’s a good time to bring in that plumber you’ve been putting off hiring. That plumber can do a full inspection and repair any cracks or leaks or bad joints before the cold weather turns them into plumbing disasters.
  • Have those old furnaces checked and serviced. At a minimum, change out your furnace filter, and follow manufacturer recommendations for future changes.
  • Clean birds’ nests and other obstructions out of chimneys. Scrape out ashes and clean out any soot buildup.
  • Summer rental managers: Turn off the water completely if the home will be unoccupied for the winter. This goes for any unoccupied unit.
  • Look over your heating ductwork. Fix any cracks or breaks.
  • Disconnect and drain your garden hoses.
  • Fix any cracks or damages to stairways and walkways, and consider installing some
  • Don’t turn off the heat. Even with unoccupied units, set thermostats to about 65 degrees or higher. The higher internal temperatures can help keep pipes from freezing up and bursting.
  • Remove any air conditioner units from windows.
  • Look up the recommended insulation level for your area here. Full disclosure: The author is in the pink area in the extreme lower right-hand corner. Don’t hate.
  • Check up on your insurance policies. Identify any gaps in water damage coverage. Flood insurance generally doesn’t cover snowfall damage, and it may not cover damage that occurs as a result of a gradual and cumulative condition.
  • Check your heating oil levels. Many times pipes freeze over and burst because the heater runs out of heating oil. If it runs low, sludge could block hoses and cause a problem.

Important: Make sure you give your tenant the proper legally-required notice if you intend to enter the property for winterization or maintenance projects of any kind. You can find the rules by state here, though landlords and managers should know them by heart. 

Also, remember that winterization isn’t just for northern climes. Frigid, freezing temperatures can occur almost anywhere in the country during the winter. Northern builders often build homes with extra insulation to withstand the ice storms. But they frequently take southerners by surprise. There’s no shortage of burst pipes in Georgia, the Carolina mountains, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri every year.

Note also that winter doesn’t just mean a risk of snow and burst pipes and heating problems. The holidays bring an elevated fire risk, due to Christmas trees, lights, holiday candle displays, and the like. Now’s a good time to check the interiors of dwellings for fire hazards and items or conditions that could increase the risk. 

Author Bio Writing about personal finance and investments since 1999, started as a reporter with Mutual Funds Magazine and served as editor of Investors’ Digest. He now publishes feature articles in many publications including Annuity Selling Guide, Bankrate.com, and more. Author Bio for Jason Van Steenwyk

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