By Ira Meister
President and CEO – Matthew Adam Properties, Inc.
Most of us tend to think of winter as chillingly cold with frigid winds, snow-clogged streets and in recent years snow-caused delays in mass transit.
Not many think of the impact winter has on buildings. Few, that is, except experienced property managers. Our responsibility is to see that the buildings operate smoothly and efficiently during blustery and frigid December, January and February days and the possibility of damage is minimized to the structure, both the interior and exterior.
While our asset managers and building staffs are vigilant throughout the year to ensure all systems are operating properly and necessary repairs are made when problems arise, we pay special attention during the fall to make certain that we are prepared for the winter days. There are numerous items on our checklist.
One essential matter is to bring in a professional boiler company while the heating systems are down during the summer.
The companies clean the boiler, inspect to see what repairs, if any, are required and then test the systems. Failure to do this can lead to a breakdown during a frigid day and increased expense, and dirt build-up in boilers can significantly reduce their efficiency adding to the gas or oil bill. In recent years many of the properties we manage have converted to gas, which is a cleaner fuel and reduces both maintenance costs and the possibility of dirt build-up. Fuel usage is monitored during the winter months to see if there is a non-weather related significant increase. This often is a sign of problems with the boiler or the delivery system and can be an early alert system to make repairs.
We also check insulation on pipes and the heating equipment to reduce the loss of heat and maintain maximum efficiency.
The basement is another vulnerable area in winter. Along with damage to frozen pipes and strain on the boiler, winter can cause havoc on brick and mortar. A small hole in the exterior can burst open from winter temperatures and wind, wasting energy and causing expensive damage. Building staffs inspect the basement for even minor damage to bricks and mortar.
Another important area we inspect is the roof. We make certain all debris is removed and the drains are clear. Often during cold spells, snow and ice freezes on the drains and when they thaw, the drains can’t handle the flow and it can seep into the roof or units and cause damage. It’s similar to roads when potholes form after water seeps into a crevice and ice forms, expanding the hole. The ice then thaws and more water seeps in weakening the surface. This pattern can be repeated eventually causing leaks and causing leaks and weakening the structure.
Another high up area to check is terraces. Residents should follow the same procedures to see whether drains are clogged and barriers need repair.
Many buildings have roof-top water tanks. These should be monitored. If any controls that operate the wood tanks and the piping aren’t properly insulated or protected, water can freeze within the tank. Slight leaks on the tank can freeze and expand the wood leading to damage when the ice thaws.
If the building has window air conditioning units that stay in year-round, we work with the residents to be certain they are properly sealed during the winter to prevent draughts and the loss of heat. If the units are removed, we ask residents to notify building staff so we can check to see if there is damage to the casement which would also lead to draughts and loss of heat.
Exterior water lines exposed to the cold are shut down and drained to prevent the pipes bursting during extreme cold.
Units with working fireplaces need to have them professionally inspected and cleaned prior to the winter when they receive the most use. The flew damper should be checked to be certain it is open and operating correctly to prevent a backdraft that can cause serious smoke damage to walls, furniture and paintings.
Winter preparation includes checking supplies so the building is prepared for a snow storm. We want to have adequate sand and sidewalk ice melt to last through a heavy snow season and not have to scurry around to find more when it is needed. We check to insure there is sufficient snow removal equipment.
From experience, we understand the importance of taking the steps discussed above, and others, to ensure that the residents of properties we manage have a warm and safe winter.