By BreAnn Stephenson
I went to college with a kid born and raised in Alaska. He still wore shorts and t-shirts when the fall weather ushered in highs in the 40’s. All of us Midwesterners thought he was nuts. That was sweater weather! While he may have adapted to the colder temperatures just fine since he was from a colder climate, buildings aren’t like humans. The freezing point is not subjective. Water freezes at 32 degrees, period. (Burst pipes, anyone?) You need to be aware of your property’s climate, but especially if you are investing out-of-state. Even Florida has experienced surprise cold snaps in recent years. By watching the weather and “dressing” your property appropriately, you can spare yourself from extra repairs, a strained relationship with your neighbor or even an injury to a tenant or their guest.
Invest in a good coat
A few degrees difference in temperature can have a big impact on your investment. Here are three common ways the cold can wreak havoc along with some helpful tips to keep your property comfortable and loss free even when the temperature drops.
- Shut off and drain the plumbing system in vacant properties.
- If you need to keep the water on, keep the heat to at least 55 degrees or warmer.
- Keep your thermostat well-maintained to ensure it continuously registers the correct temperature.
- Install a remote or “smart” thermostat so you can monitor the temperature while away from the property.
- Wrap pipes on exterior walls.
- Open cabinets under sinks to help warm air circulate.
- Leave the water on a slow drip – the flow of water may help prevent a freeze (occupied properties).
Damage from Snow, Ice & Sleet:
- Insulate the attic properly to help prevent ice dams.
- Clear the roof of excess snow (this may be at one foot or less depending upon the size of the roof).
- Flat roofs are more susceptible to collapse so they may need to be inspected or cleared more frequently.
- Clean gutters to ensure good drainage of the roof. This can prevent water from backing up and forming an ice dam.
- In the winter, the ground can pull away from the foundation, leaving an opening for water intrusion. Be sure the ground around the house slopes away from the house and not towards it.
Slips & Falls:
- Include provisions for who is accountable for clearing the driveway, stairs and walks in your lease and enforce it.
- Remedy any damaged concrete or loose railings as soon as possible to prevent slip and fall injuries.
- Regularly inspect all walkways, driveways and stairs at all properties (good times to do this are fall and spring).
Don’t let your property get a hole in its sweater
The damage trees can do can be surprising. We’ve seen property damage totaling upwards of $70,000 from a single loss. Limbs or a whole tree could fall on your property, your neighbor’s house, a passing car or even a pedestrian. A punctured roof can also lead to additional water damage if you don’t tarp it quickly. While there may be nothing you can do to prevent a wicked storm from knocking down a tree, many of the tree losses we see could have been prevented by making tree maintenance more than just an afterthought.
To prevent tree damage, you can:
- Inspect your trees on an annual basis and spot check them during your quarterly inspections.
- Utilize a professional arborist to diagnose and treat any issues, give advice if a tree needs to be cut down.
- Trim dead branches or cut down dead trees in a timely manner as they could fall at any time.
In addition to avoiding property damage or an injury, keeping up with landscaping can help prevent theft and vandalism by eliminating places where thieves can hide and signaling a consistent presence at the property.
Systems may fail during extreme weather, so dress your investment in layers
What dangers could a power outage pose to your property? One easy thing to prevent is a sump pump failure. Test your sump pumps before the rainy season to make sure they are operating properly. Sump pumps should also have a battery back-up in case the power goes out during a storm.
A couple other things to think about:
- Are you or your PM prepared to assist tenants if a power outage occurs? (i.e. Do you have a plan for responding to weather emergencies?)
- Are your tenants prepared to handle a power outage? During hot temperatures? During cold temperatures?
- Do you have a plan to secure your vacant property if the power goes out? Does your alarm have a battery back-up?
When your property should have skipped the flannel shirt
Some winter losses we see result from trying to stay warm. Everyday actions like using the dryer can start a fire and cause unnecessary destruction. Thankfully, the regular maintenance discussed below can keep your property from overheating.
- Respond to any maintenance requests from tenants in a timely manner – doing so may avoid them using an alternative heating method that isn’t safe, such as the oven or space heaters.
- Inspect HVAC at least twice a year. Prior to using the heat or AC for the first time each year are good times to do this.
- Check the hose going from the dryer to the exterior vent on a quarterly basis and clear out any blockages. Dust and lint buildup is the perfect kindling for a fire.
- Lint traps should be cleaned on a regular basis. This is usually done by the tenant, but inform them of the fire hazard created if this is not done, especially in cooler seasons where heavier clothing is being dried.
Fire Protection Tools:
- Daylight savings is a great time to inspect smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Newer detectors may have 10-year batteries, but they still need to be tested monthly. The detectors also need to be replaced after 10 years. Working smoke detectors cut the chance of house fire deaths in half.
- Provide fire extinguishers and make sure tenants know how to use them before they move in. An extinguisher may keep a small fire from turning into a total loss and keep your tenants safer.
Ever heard of “fire weather?” It’s a risk that knows no season
Wildfire season is now year-round in some western states like California. We’ve seen recent fires tear through hundreds of thousands of acres, burning thousands of properties and causing multiple losses of life. You can’t control mother nature, but you can prepare to fend off fire if it reaches your doorstep. It’s not guaranteed your property will survive, but it will have a much better chance with your concerted effort. What can you do?
- Create defensible space. Clear the first 30 feet from your property of anything that will burn: wood piles, dried leaves, newspapers, brush, and other landscaping that can burn.
- From 30 to 100 feet: reduce or replace as much of the most flammable vegetation as possible and prune vegetation, create “fuel breaks,” such as driveways, gravel walkways and lawns.
- Work with neighbors to create spaces up to 200 feet around your homes where vegetation is thinned to remove underbrush and tall trees do not touch each other for continuous canopies.
- Regularly clean the roof and gutters. Make sure there isn’t any “kindling” such as pine needles.
- Connect garden hoses long enough to reach any area of the home and fill garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water.
- Follow the most current building codes when remodeling or putting on a new roof.
- Making sure tenants have an evacuation plan to help them remain safe during a wildfire emergency.
- Find more wildfire tips at https://www.ready.gov/wildfires
Weather alerts help you dress your property for success
When a storm threatens, the National Weather Service (NWS) will issue Advisories, Watches and Warnings to help alert you of the type of danger a storm may pose and to keep the public safe.
What each alert signifies:
- Winter Weather Advisory – Wintry weather expected. Exercise caution. Slick conditions could affect travel.
- Winter Storm Watch – Snow, sleet or ice possible. Be prepared! A winter storm may produce heavy snow, sleet or freezing rain and cause significant impacts.
- Winter Storm Warning – Snow, sleet or ice are expected. Take action! A winter storm will likely produce heavy snow, sleet or freezing rain and cause significant impacts.
The NWS also issues Wind Chill, High Wind, Flood, Fog and Fire Weather alerts.
Stay connected to your property manager during weather emergencies
Whether you invest out-of-state or use a property manager to look after your properties around town, it is important to stay connected with them during weather emergencies. If your PM discovers damage at your property, do they alert you within 24-48 hours? Do they secure the property immediately and take steps to protect it from further loss? Do they assist you in communicating timely with your insurer? Your PM should be proactive at responding to emergency weather events and communicate how your property may have been affected. However, if you become aware of weather that could have damaged your property and you haven’t heard any news, reach out to your PM. After all, no one cares more about your investment than you.
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. We hope today’s reading will help you prepare your properties for winter and hopefully avoid the headaches and costs that seasonal losses bring.
Related Reading: “Recipe for a Fire Disaster: Tenant Chefs & Holiday Feasts,” “Is It Covered? – Weight of Snow, Ice & Sleet,” “Your Tenants are Ready for the Holidays. Are You?,” “Is It Covered? – Burst Pipes.”