By BreAnn Stephenson
Fall is the seasonal icon of change with its glorious color shifts. However, burst pipes or a fallen tree could cause a serious interruption to family time and create a sudden financial burden as you head into the holidays. Some weather-related losses can be easily prevented by carefully considering your property’s climate as you make your maintenance plan – especially if you invest in other states. Your property manager will need to be on their game too. Let’s look at some of the typical risks cooler temperatures bring and how preparing for fall can help you battle the elements year-round, no matter where your properties fall on the map.
No surprise: The chief weather concern for the majority of the U.S. during fall is colder temperatures.
Depending upon how far north or south you are, or your elevation, frosts, freezes and hard freezes will occur on varied timelines. By the weekend, Kansas City will experience one of its first freezes for the year, while Daytona, FL is only experiencing lows in the 50’s, for example. For this reason, it is helpful to know what constitutes a frost, freeze and hard freeze so you can get ahead of the weather for your specific area. The National Weather Service defines them as follows:
- Frost: “Frost occurs when there is a solid deposition of water vapor from the air. Frost will form when solid surfaces are cooled below the dew point.” During a frost, minor damage to plants can occur.
- Freeze: “Freeze occurs when the air temperature drops to 32° or lower.” Freezes can cause significant damage to many unprotected plants, especially if the freeze lasts several hours.
- Hard Freeze: “Hard freeze occurs when the temperature reaches 28° or lower for at least a few hours.” Many types of plants and most seasonal vegetation won’t survive a hard freeze.
We’ll talk more about where you can get specific timelines for first and last frosts in your area a little bit later. For now, let’s talk about some of the most common losses you’ll need to prepare for as temperatures start to drop.
2 Frozen “Delights”: Frozen Pipes & Ice Dams
Who doesn’t love a good frozen dessert? They may be tasty, but if you eat them too quickly you can get a brain freeze. Here are a couple of quick tips to help you avoid a cold headache at your property.
PREVENTING FROZEN PIPES
Frozen pipes aren’t a problem…until they fail and allow thousands of gallons of water to go rushing into your property. Thankfully, they are also easy to prevent.
- Winterize your vacant properties – Shut off the water at the street and drain your plumbing system. Pouring environmentally safe, biodegradable antifreeze in each of the drains can keep your p-traps, toilets, sinks and tubs from costly damage. Leave the heat to at least 55 degrees – or higher in cold snaps. If you don’t feel comfortable doing a full winterization, it is very simple for a professional.
- Protect occupied properties – Insulate any pipes that are on exterior walls. Instruct tenants to open cabinets during cold snaps to let warmer air circulate into those areas. Leaving faucets on a slow drip may also keep the water moving enough to prevent a freeze.
PREVENTING ICE DAMS
Ice Dams are the result of a poorly insulated attic. Snow on the surface of the roof melts and then quickly freezes, putting a heavier load on your roof. As the ice melts it can seep into soffits and down interior walls, causing paint damage, and if the ice is heavy enough, it may even cause a collapse. What’s the remedy?
- Seal up any air leaks in your attic. Check near eves and where ceiling heights change. Any place where two surfaces create a joint can present an opportunity for water leaks from ice dams.
- Evaluate your insulation. The recommended amount of insulation varies depending upon your property’s geographic location, so know the code standards in your area and insulate accordingly.
- Properly vent your roof. To prevent heat build-up and encourage air movement, vent the underside of your roof deck. The vents also help eliminate excess moisture that causes mold or other health hazards.
Related Reading: Minimizing Water Woes this Fall
What other risks do colder temperatures present?
According to the National Fire Protection Association, more house fires occur in the months of December, January and February than any other time of year.
Heating Appliances – Dust buildup creates a fire hazard, so clean HVAC systems at least twice a year. Ensuring your tenants have proper heat can also keep them from using the stove or other dangerous methods to stay warm. Using the oven to heat the home has led to many house fires as have space heaters. If your lease permits space heaters, they should be plugged directly into the outlet, not into an extension cord and have an auto shut-off in case they tip over. Also, tenants should keep three feet of clear space around them.
Fireplaces – Have the chimney inspected before your tenants use it each year. Creosote buildup is highly combustible and could start a chimney fire. Search for a Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) certified professional and learn more about chimney care on their website: www.csia.org.
Cooking Fires – The peak day for cooking fires each year is Thanksgiving Day, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve, the NFPA reports. These fires are also preventable. Make sure all your properties have working smoke alarms (test them on a monthly basis). A fire extinguisher should be kept in the kitchen; follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance and instruct tenants how to use it prior to their stay. StoveTop FireStop is another inexpensive tool that can stop cooking fires in their tracks and prevent more costly damage or injuries to the cook or your property.
Related Reading: 15 Surefire Ways to Help Your Tenants Avoid a Fire
TREE DAMAGE FROM WINTER STORMS
Fall is the perfect time to manage dead limbs and tree disease. Once the leaves have fallen, it can make it easier for arborists to assess the health of the tree and prune or use treatments accordingly. Even if your trees look “healthy” it’s still a good idea to have them checked annually. A certified arborist can see warning signs that the “average Joe” may not pick up on. Tree damage can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and a falling tree may cause a severe injury, so be sure they are always on your maintenance checklist. Trees also add value to your property, so maintaining healthy trees can make your investment more appealing to renters and buyers alike.
Related Reading: Good Advice about Bad Trees
SLIP AND FALL RISKS FROM ICY CONDITIONS ON STAIRS AND WALKWAYS
One of the most common lawsuits we see are slip and falls. Some of these may be false claims, but a slip and fall is often a completely preventable risk. When you consider that a tumble down the stairs caused by a faulty railing or a slip on a deck could cause long-term injuries to your tenant or one of their guests, staying current on maintenance to keep this liability out of your life is a no-brainer. Make sure you do frequent checks of all your properties for both exterior and interior hazards such as uneven pavement and faulty electrical circuits. Specify in the lease who is responsible for clearing walks and driveways in inclement weather, and stress the importance of contacting you immediately if any hazard is discovered. Be ready to receive your tenant’s call and respond timely to maintenance requests.
Related Reading: 10 Tips to Help Eliminate Holiday Liabilities
Fall Weather Tools
Where can you find the best climate information for your specific area? The National Weather Service’s site can pretty much tell you anything you’d like to know about the weather anytime, anywhere. However, as they, and other sites contain so much information, here are a few tools we’ve found helpful in staying on top of seasonal weather changes:
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac: search their Frost Dates Calculator for average first and last frost dates by state or zip code.
- Home Depot Garden Club: see which one of their 15 regions your property falls into on their Regional Gardening Tips Map.
- The Weather Channel: breaks down by date when your first frost will typically arrive based on region and elevation HERE.
- National Weather Service: their Fall Preparedness Presentation can help you get ready for common fall and winter-related weather risks.
ALPS Seasonal Checklists – Using Them to Your Advantage
To help you stay on top of the most important maintenance tasks, we have created a “top 10” list for each season. Taking care of these items can help you avoid costly damage to your property make injuries less likely to occur. The continental U.S. has some very unique climates. Many northern areas see harsher winters while southern areas may not see a winter at all. Some locations may experience all of the seasons while others may experience one or two dominant seasons year-round. With that understanding, use the appropriate checklist below as you go through the corresponding season at your property. The four checklists together can also be used to help you build your own customized checklist. Bottom line, have a written plan to help you be proactive and chances are, you will spare yourself from the pain of many preventable losses. Have a festive fall!