Today’s post is co-written with our LMS In Good Company partner, Giertsen Company of Illinois, which specializes in environmental remediation, restoration and disaster cleanup.
Chicago residents should enjoy a slightly warmer than normal winter with above-normal precipitation, according to The Old Farmers’ Almanac. However, multifamily property owners and managers should still take steps to prepare for winter weather – after all, the average snowfall for Chicago is 26 inches per season and the average winter temperature is 29 degrees.
“Fall is a good time to plan for winter,” says Amanda Yamour, business development manager for Giertsen, a disaster restoration company. “A good first step is to identify any units that may be vacant during the winter months.” Making arrangements to keep the unit heated and have maintenance staff regularly check the unit for frozen pipes that will cause water damage once they thaw can reduce the risk of problems as the temperatures rise. “You can also winterize the unit to proactively prevent issues, but maintenance should still regularly visit the unit to ensure there are no issues” she adds.
As plans for ice and snow removal are made, be sure to pay attention to the roof to prevent ice damming, says Yamour. “Make sure gutters are cleaned in the fall to reduce snow and ice buildup,” she recommends. Throughout the winter, monitor the roof to identify ice dams that can lead to a buildup of ice and snow, resulting in water under the shingles and roof leaks. “Ice dams and frozen pipes that burst after thawing are the two leading causes of damage we handle in the winter,” she adds.
Take time to review agreements with vendors who are responsible for snow and ice removal, or for repair and emergency services. This gives you an opportunity to talk with the vendor to make sure contact names and numbers have not changed for either organization, and to set expectations. You can make sure they know your building and are aware of any renovations or changes you may have made. Property managers want vendors to give them priority, and making sure they have the right information strengthens the relationship.
In addition to communicating with service providers, be sure to communicate with residents. A letter that outlines steps they can take to protect their units enlists their support to protect the property. “Ask residents to report maintenance problems immediately so property management and maintenance staff can make sure a small problem is not an indication of a potentially larger problem,” says Yamour. “For example, a small leak under a sink located on an exterior wall might actually be a crack in a pipe that will become larger as the pipe freezes and thaws during the cold weather.” When management staff and maintenance know to look for issues that become more critical during winter, repairs can be made before the little leak becomes major water damage.
Also request that residents take precautions if they will be out of town during the winter. They should give permission for maintenance or a property manager to enter the property in an emergency, and should provide an emergency contact to the board. Ask residents to leave their heat on to protect pipes in their units as well as surrounding units, and remind them to close all windows and doors before leaving.
Don’t forget to prepare property management staff to support residents if there is a problem, Staff should know exactly what services they can and cannot provide to residents, and be ready to refer residents to other sources of help. If there is damage to a unit, staff should have a list of local resources, such as the local Red Cross, that can help outplaced residents and even their pets. This is part of providing good service to residents.