Diverse property portfolios range across multiple cities, states, and climates. Depending on the geographic location of each property, service needs and frequencies vary. There is more required maintenance and risk associated with properties that go through cold, snowy winters. Depending on the severity, snowstorms can be compared to other natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc). When you consider the frequency of snowfall every year, it’s obvious that the risk to your properties compounds with every inch of snow and every degree the temperature drop.
Like any other harsh weather or disaster, there are ways to prepare your properties, prevent property damage, and reduce risk. Make a plan to prepare, regularly assess, and maintain your property portfolio. Like a property itself, investing in its maintenance is guaranteed to pay off.
Some of the most common winter problems include the following:
- Burst Pipes
- House Fires
- Roof leaks and damages
- Broken windows and exterior damage from falling branches
- Water damage or mold
- Broken gutters from ice and debris buildup
As your property portfolio grows, make sure you create a contingency plan for weather-related emergencies. This shouldn’t just be limited to properties in snowy areas. Create specific plans for each possible disaster that could affect your tenants and properties. Here are some ways to plan for severe snowstorms.
- Find contractors now - Have a list of vendors that you trust for when something needs to be fixed. Find and vet them now, and give them smaller projects during the offseason to make sure they meet your quality standards. If you have properties in multiple areas, you will want to secure a list of trusted contractors in each area. If something does go wrong, you’ll know who to call immediately.
- Create a tenant plan - Make a lodging plan/arrangements for tenants if there is an emergency in an occupied home. Build these emergency protocols into the lease as a precaution. This will protect you contractually and let your tenants know what to do if there is an emergency.
- Don’t skimp on insurance - Insurance policies often lay out exactly what they cover, and often the basic coverage leaves out key protections. For example, damage from ice dams is often left out of basic policies even though it’s common. Upgrade to the plan that includes coverage of ice dams, bursting pipes, damaged roofs, etc., or add specific endorsements that cover what you need.
Now that you’ve created a realistic plan for winter damage, check every precaution you already have in place. Start with your insurance coverage and end with routine maintenance of high-risk fixtures/appliances. Take your time and prepare before the winter season comes.
Knowing your options and coverage will allow you to act quickly if something goes wrong. Here are a few things to consider.
- Check insurance policy - Go through your insurance policy with a fine-toothed comb. If you can’t afford higher tier coverage for every property, find out exactly what isn’t covered and put other safety measures in place. If ice dams aren’t covered, consider adding heated wiring to the roof. If burst pipes aren’t covered, make sure to double and triple insulate any exposed pipes. Take every precaution you can where your insurance doesn’t protect you. If you have properties that are prone to leaks and water damage, encourage your renters to opt-in for renter’s insurance to protect their personal belongings.
- Save your paperwork - If property damage is related to faulty appliances, wiring, or plumbing, insurance companies often require paperwork documenting your most recent maintenance. If your properties have been properly maintained, your insurance policy is more likely to cover you. Save all of the paperwork associated with the upkeep of each property. This will help you follow proper service schedules and assist you in insurance claims.
- Pay for tunes ups - Faulty electricity, old appliances, and additional heating units/appliances are a main cause of winter damage. Oddly enough, house fires are one of the most common insurance claims during the winter. Tune up the furnace, and get your dryer duct, and chimney professionally cleaned.
Physical prevention is the next step in protecting your properties through the winter. You’ll need someone on site to take these measures, but it’s not likely that this needs to be done more than once a year.
Hire someone to take inventory of every risk zone in every property. This can include sprinklers, furnaces, appliances, etc. Here is a small list of things that can prevent winter damage.
- Protect your pipes - Bursting pipes are a common problem during the winter, and they are one of the more expensive problems to fix. If your property has a sprinkler system, make sure that all water is blown out of those pipes professionally. If there are any exposed pipes in colder areas of the house or on the outside, insulate them well — those are your high-risk pipes.
- If the property is vacant - Keep water running to avoid bursting pipes. This can be as small as leaving a faucet slightly dripping. Keep the heat on or at least above ~40 degrees to avoid frozen pipes.
- Keep the outside out - Seal any vents or holes on the inside and outside of your property. Don’t leave any room for cold air or moisture to get inside. This will keep your property better insulated and prevent mold or other water damage.
- Check the roof - Test the structural integrity of your roof. This doesn’t have to be done every year, but it’s important to keep tabs on the lifecycle of your roof. Heavy snow and ice put stress on your roof and make it more likely to collapse or leak if it isn’t in good condition.
After you’ve taken measures to prepare for and prevent winter damage, make sure to maintain the work that you’ve done. Keeping your properties safe through the winter is an active task and requires frequent checking in. For the most part, this can be done by your tenants. Here are some things that you’ll want to keep an eye on.
- Roof snow - Heavy snow and ice buildup can compromise the structural integrity of your roof, so take the time to clear it of snow. A snow rake is an easy and inexpensive solution, however, it’s quite manual. Heated wiring can be placed along your roof to melt the snow as it comes. This will keep excessive weight off your roof and prevent leaks.
- Keep gutters clear - Gutters are a breeding ground for debris buildup and ice dams. Before winter comes, get your gutters cleared, and keep them clear throughout the winter. Ice dams in your gutters can create consistent water flow onto the foundation of your home, causing damage. They can also get heavy enough to break your gutter system. Watch the gutters along with your roof.
- Keep it trim - Large trees and bushes need to be trimmed prior to or during the winter. Depending on the size, they can be a huge risk during snow storms or just heavy snow. If there are trees close to the exterior of your home, keep them neatly trimmed to prevent branches from falling and breaking windows or exterior damage. If they are far from your exterior, be mindful of how large they are and if they pose a threat to your property.
People often think that it’s too expensive to keep your properties fully serviced and maintained. The truth is that the cost of maintaining your properties is much less expensive than waiting until something goes wrong. Neglecting your properties doesn’t usually end up with a small repair here and there. There are huge costs associated with leaky roofs, frozen pipes, water damage, etc.
Proactive property maintenance requires frequent, professional care. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be as time-consuming as you think. Most of your necessary property maintenance is once or twice a year. Find contractors that you trust and set up a schedule for all of your properties. If you service your properties on a regular cadence, you’ll save yourself time, money, and avoid costly damage over the years.