Autumn is the seasonal sign of change with its glorious color shifts. However, burst pipes or a fallen tree could cause a serious interruption to family time and create a sudden financial burden as you head into the holidays. Some weather-related losses can be easily prevented by carefully considering autumn property risks in every climate. Your property manager will need to be on their game too. Let’s look at some of the typical risks cooler temperatures bring and how preparing for autumn can help you battle the elements year-round, no matter where your properties are located.
It’s no surprise that the main fall weather concern for most of the United States involves colder temperatures. Depending on how far north or south your property is and the elevation, frosts, freezes, and hard freezes will occur on varied timelines. For example, while Kansas City, Missouri experiences one of its first freezes of the year, Daytona, Florida typically has lows in the 50s. For this reason, it’s important to know what constitutes a frost, freeze, and hard freeze so you can get ahead of the weather for your specific area. The National Weather Service defines them as follows:
- Frost: Frost occurs when there is a solid deposition of water vapor from the air. Frost will form when solid surfaces are cooled below the dew point. During a frost, minor damage to plants can occur.
- Freeze: Freeze occurs when the air temperature drops to 32° Fahrenheit or lower. Freezes can cause significant damage to many unprotected plants, especially if the freeze lasts several hours.
- Hard Freeze: Hard freeze occurs when the temperature reaches 28° Fahrenheit or lower for at least a few hours. Most plants and seasonal vegetation won’t survive a hard freeze.
Frozen Pipes & Ice Dams
Preventing Frozen Pipes
Frozen pipes aren’t a problem…until they fail and allow thousands of gallons of water to go rushing into your property. Thankfully, they are also easy to prevent.
- Winterize your vacant properties – Shut off the water at the street and drain your plumbing system. Pouring environmentally safe, biodegradable antifreeze in each drain can keep your p-traps, toilets, sinks, and tubs from incurring costly damage. Maintain the heat at a minimum of 55° or higher in cold snaps. If you don’t feel comfortable doing a full winterization, it is very simple for a professional.
- Protect occupied properties – Insulate any pipes that are on exterior walls. Instruct tenants to open cabinets during cold snaps to let warmer air circulate into those areas. Leaving faucets on a slow drip may also keep the water moving enough to prevent a freeze.
Preventing Ice Dams
Ice Dams are the result of a poorly insulated attic. When snow melts then quickly freezes, it puts a heavier load on your roof. As the ice melts, it can seep into soffits and down interior walls, causing paint damage, and if the ice is heavy enough, it may even cause a collapse. So, what’s the remedy?
- Seal up any air leaks in your attic. Check near eves and where ceiling heights change. Any place where two surfaces create a joint can present an opportunity for water leaks from ice dams.
- Evaluate your insulation. The recommended amount of insulation varies depending on your property’s geographic location, so know the code standards in your area and insulate accordingly.
- Properly vent your roof. To prevent heat build-up and encourage air movement, vent the underside of your roof deck. The vents also help eliminate excess moisture that causes mold or other health hazards.
Related Reading: Is It Covered? Burst Pipes
According to the National Fire Protection Association, more house fires occur in December, January, and February than any other time of year.
- Heating Appliances – Dust buildup creates a fire hazard, so clean HVAC systems at least twice a year. Ensuring your tenants have proper heat can also keep them from using the stove or other dangerous methods to stay warm. Using the oven to heat the home has led to many house fires, as have space heaters. If your lease permits space heaters, they should be plugged into an outlet, not an extension cord, and have an auto shut-off in case it tips over. Lastly, tenants should keep three feet of clear space around them.
- Fireplaces – Have the chimney inspected before your tenants use it each year. Creosote buildup is highly combustible and could start a chimney fire. Search for a Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) certified professional and learn more about chimney care on their website: www.csia.org.
- Cooking Fires – The most common days for cooking fires are Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. These fires are preventable. Ensure all your properties have working smoke alarms and test them monthly. A fire extinguisher should be kept in the kitchen; follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance and instruct tenants how to use it before they move in. StoveTop FireStop is another inexpensive tool that can stop cooking fires in their tracks and prevent more costly damage or injuries to the cook or your property.
Related Reading: Fight Off the Next Property Fire Before It Sparks
Fall is the perfect time to manage dead limbs and tree disease. Once the leaves have fallen, it can make it easier for arborists to assess the health of the tree and prune or use treatments accordingly. Even if your trees appear healthy, it’s always a good idea to have them checked annually. A certified arborist can see warning signs that you may not pick up on. Tree damage can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and a falling tree may cause a severe injury, so be sure they are always on your maintenance checklist. Trees also add value to your property, so maintaining healthy trees can make your investment more appealing to renters and buyers alike.
Related Reading: Five Signs Your Tree is in Trouble
Slip and falls
One of the most common lawsuits we see involves slip-and-fall accidents. Some may be false claims, but a slip-and-fall is often a completely preventable risk. A tumble down the stairs caused by a faulty railing or a slip on a deck could cause long-term injuries to your tenant or one of their guests. So, staying current on maintenance to keep this liability out of your life is a no-brainer. Complete frequent inspections of all your properties for both exterior and interior hazards, such as uneven pavement and faulty electrical circuits. Specify in the lease who is responsible for clearing walks and driveways in inclement weather, and stress the importance of contacting you immediately if any hazard is discovered. Be ready to receive your tenant’s call and respond timely to maintenance requests.
Fall Weather Tools
Where can you find the best climate information for your specific area? The National Weather Service’s site can tell you almost anything you’d like to know about the weather anytime, anywhere. However, as they and other sites contain so much information, here are a few tools we’ve found helpful in staying on top of seasonal weather changes:
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac: search their Frost Dates Calculator for average first and last frost dates by state or zip code.
- Home Depot Garden Club: see which one of their 15 regions your property falls into on their Regional Gardening Tips Map.
- The Weather Channel: breaks down by date when your first frost will typically arrive based on region and elevation HERE.
- National Weather Service: their Fall Preparedness Presentation can help you get ready for fall and winter-related weather risks.
NREIG Seasonal Checklists
To help you stay on top of the most important maintenance tasks, we have created a “top 10” list for each season. Taking care of these items can help you avoid costly damage to your property, making injuries less likely to occur. The continental U.S. has some very unique climates. Many northern areas see harsher winters, while southern areas may not see a winter at all. Some locations may experience all seasons, while others may experience one or two dominant seasons year-round. With that understanding, use the appropriate checklist below as you go through the corresponding season at your property. The four checklists together can also be used to help you build your own customized checklist. The bottom line, have a written plan to help you be proactive, and chances are, you will spare yourself from the pain of many preventable losses.