Setting Expectations for Snow Removal in Associations
In the winter months, one of the most common questions property managers hear is, “When will the snowplow clear around my home?” Rightfully so, because one of the nicest benefits of living in an HOA, townhome association or community association is freedom from tasks like snow removal and de-icing. Snow removal issues can cause great pressure on board members, as residents ask, “Has a snowplow come through?” “Why is there still a pile in front of my door?” “Is it safe to walk to my mailbox?”
Savvy association boards can work together to eliminate many of these questions in advance and set up plans to keep residents safe and informed in the chilliest of winters. Without a clear understanding of what triggers snow removal crews to begin work, and expectations set on when a resident might have a street completely cleared, homeowners’ frustration levels start to rise along with the snow accumulation. Snow removal contracts are very specific on what is covered and can vary from paying “per-push” (each time they are called out) to an extensive arrangement. Generally, snow removal is based on a certain amount of continuous snow accumulation.
• 2-4″ of continuous accumulation – Crews wiII be dispatched to begin work after 2” of snow has fallen and operations wiII be completed 6-8 hours after snow fall has ended.
Typical Arrangements for Snow Removal
• 4-10″ of accumulation – Crews will be dispatched at approximately 4″ of accumulation with operations to be completed within 6-10 hours.
• Snowfall in excess of 10″ – Crews will be dispatched at approximately 4-6″ of accumulation.
Blizzard and extreme icing conditions will be handled to the best capabilities of the personnel and equipment. In a storm with continuous snow, crews will begin work at their usual snowfall trigger and return to an area after they have completed the job and the trigger amount falls again. Note that the work will be completed approximately six to ten hours after the snowfall has ceased. For example, if it stops snowing by midnight, residents can expect the work to be completed between 6:00 a.m. — 10:00 a.m.
During heavy snow, the plow driver may remove the excess snow at the bottom of the drive first, and then return to do the rest of the drive later. Snow removal workers generally hand-shovel eighteen-inch strips in front of garage doors. After the snow plowing is completed, plows will make a final pass through the entire community to see if any parked cars have been moved. They often return to the property the next business day after 9:00 a.m. to see if any more cars have been removed.
De-icing products are usually applied to drives and entry walks after the snow is removed. Any other applications of salt or ice melt to de-ice areas are accomplished upon request and authorization of the Association’s board of directors, representative, or property manager.
“Arrangements for de-icing in communities can vary widely, so it’s important that residents know your plans,” says Jessica Towles, Vice President of Property Management at FirstService Residential Illinois. “While many snow removal contracts also include applying salt or de-icing agents, we’ve also seen communities supplying the materials for residents to spread, or ice removal that is split between the individual homeowner and the association.”
Setting Expectations with HomeownersGiven the above arrangements from typical contracts, it’s easy to see where misconceptions and frustrations can occur. In a continuous snow, it may appear that a snowplow hasn’t touched the area, when the crew may have diligently done their job earlier. Residents may see the crew removing only the excess snow at the bottom of a driveway and conclude that the team isn’t doing their job. However, if the board is proactive about snow removal communications, they and their property manager might have field fewer calls during the storm.
Prompt updates during a heavy snow can help people from worrying about whether they’ll make it up their driveways and whether they can get to work the next day. Residents should also be informed if they need to do something during the plowing, such as moving their cars in a common parking lot or pulling into their garages. Prompt attention to these expectations will make snow plowing faster for the whole community.
FirstService Residential’s secret weapon against snowstorms is our Snow Tracker system. Part of our association management systems, this communication tool provides real-time updates from the actual snow crews working in a specific area. As the contractor moves through the area, the shoveling crew, snowblowers and plow drivers note their progress and future plans. For example, they may note that they used the last of their ice melt and will return later to complete de-icing the community sidewalks. With this system, our Resident Services Support team can instantly answer residents’ questions, and FirstService Residential property managers can stay on top of the work.
A final aspect of setting proper expectations for winter storm management is understanding the crew’s capabilities. Ice and Snow Contractors staff appropriately for conditions, and property manager ascertain that the companies can handle their workload. In severe weather events, such as long-lasting blizzards, or when crew are working with heavy, wet snow, the crews will have to take more frequent breaks. In bitterly cold conditions, crews may rotate between working and warming themselves. We encourage patience and kindness while they do their jobs.
When weather is bad enough to cause travel concerns, the best approach is to communicate the risk to residents. Keep residents up to date with these ideas:
Snow Removal Communications
- Publishing an emergency guide for residents (this might contain notes for year-round weather and safety concerns).
- Providing frequent updates on road conditions via e-mail.
- Handing out flyers at a gatehouse or lobby to spread the message to residents and visitors.
- Offering a small tip sheet explaining when plowing starts and when residents can expect it completed.
- Organizing a volunteer shuttle service of residents with four-wheel-drive vehicles.
- Providing Facebook or Twitter updates during storms, including pictures of the plow team at work, answers to frequently asked questions about snow removal and more.
While we all want to have our roads and driveways plowed as soon as possible, please remember that not everyone can be first. Plow trucks usually alternate starting places so that over the course of the winter, different communities and homes will be the first cleared. Setting expectations and reinforcing them throughout winter will help with resident satisfaction and safety, as well as your own peace of mind as a board member in your association. To implement more effective snow removal communication plans, please feel free to contact your property manager.