It’s that time of year again – there’s a noticeable nip in the air, trees are losing their leaves and stores are starting to display their holiday swag. That can only mean one thing – winter is right around the corner. If your HOA is located in an area affected by wintry weather, we probably don’t need to remind you of how cold it can get and the effects that can have on your property. Is your community prepared to handle the upcoming chill? Here are some tips to help your homeowners association winterize your community, no matter what surprises the season may bring.
One thing nearly all associations know – when temps start to freeze, pipes often follow. This winter, your community association can help reduce the likelihood of freezing pipes and the resulting damage by following these tips:
If you, as a homeowner, do have a pipe that freezes, thaw it slowly with a hair dryer – never a torch or other open flame. Immediately contact your property management company, which will arrange for a plumbing professional to quickly determine the reason the pipe froze, address the damage and take steps to prevent it from reoccurring – often, by adding insulation or sealing drafts.
Before winter hits full force, schedule a full HVAC system inspection in your community’s common areas to make sure all equipment and systems are in good working order – and if not, make any necessary repairs. Now is the time to prepare the furnace to efficiently heat those common areas throughout the winter, as well as to address any air conditioning system problems that may have occurred over the summer. And very important – make sure your HVAC professional inspects for leaks and emissions that could create a safety risk for your homeowners and staff. Take the time to send a communication recommending that homeowners do the same with their individual HVAC systems as well.
Snow removal is practically inevitable and always a huge responsibility for your HOA, so finalize your game plan before the first snowflakes fall. Start by reviewing last year's budget to determine how effectively you were able to cover snow removal services. If you fell short and didn’t budget enough money to cover the costs of removing last year’s pileups, revise your current budget to have set aside adequate funds to handle the job this year. And don’t forget to stock up on ice melting products and sand to keep your community walkways clear, and homeowners, staff and visitors safe.
Next, secure a snow removal provider that will provide reliable service at a price that fits your budget. If your current vendor is unreliable or their cost per service visit is too high, start researching new ones that can deliver equal or better service at a lower cost. If you need referrals, ask neighbors, colleagues or board members at nearby communities, or consult with a good property management company with longstanding relationships with quality vendors.
Don’t forget another wintertime responsibility – removing snow buildups from building rooftops. If you know that snow accumulates on the roof each year, check for signs of previous damage and ensure all spouts and drains are clear to prevent clogs. It’s also a good idea to hire a contractor to sweep the roof to prevent any damage that may occur during heavy snows.
One more thing: make sure your community members know what to expect in snowy weather – both inside and outside the community. Frequent communication via various channels – for example, phone, emails, community management software, flyers and your community website – will keep residents updated and connected. That goes a long way to keeping residents safe both in the community and as they venture out on the road.
If your community is located in an area where ice storms or high winds are common, you can probably expect one or more power outages this year – and they can be especially dangerous for residents when temperatures plunge. Make sure you have enough working generators to provide heat and light in essential areas – for example, where drafts are common, where pipes may freeze and where there is no natural light, such as emergency staircases.
Now is also the time to inspect the exteriors of all community buildings for leaks or indications of wear and tear. Start with the foundation, raking away any leaves or other debris and looking for entry points for pests, which will seek a warm refuge -- your building -- when winter weather hits. Also inspect for cracks that could indicate structural problems. Water freezing and expanding in them can make them worse.
Next, take a look at each building's envelope, checking doors and windows for cracks, leaks and drafts. If there are any cracked windows, they need to be replaced, and if any areas around these doors and windows allow air to enter, they need to be properly sealed. Sealing the building will prevent cold and drafty areas and help you heat the entire structure more efficiently all winter long.
When temperatures plunge, there’s nothing more delightful than sitting in front of a cozy fireplace – unless that fireplace is a safety hazard. So if your community’s common areas include any fireplaces, have them professionally cleaned and inspected before winter hits to ensure the safety of your community members. If the fireplaces are wood-burning, it’s a good idea to stock up on firewood, but reduce fire hazards by storing it in a dry place, away from the walls, preferably in an exterior location such as a storage shed or garage.
Any equipment you use to care for your community during the warmer months, like lawn mowers or leaf blowers, should be properly prepared and stored during the winter. That means draining fuel and water from equipment you will not be using, and storing it in a place that is protected from the elements. If you cannot drain a piece of equipment that contains fluids that can freeze, store it in a heated area.
Winterizing your community can go a long way towards keeping your operations running smoothly – and keeping residents safe – when temperatures begin to nosedive. And remember – a little advance planning and effort now will go a long way to ensuring your residents will experience the same quality of life this winter as they enjoy year-round.
For more information on how to winterize your community, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading property management company.