The snow is gone, the thermometer is inching higher, flowers are blooming and you’re ready for springtime. Unfortunately, your building may not be. Thanks to winter’s sand, snow, grit and lack of attention, things may be in less-than-gorgeous shape. Warmer weather is a great time to get out and see what needs to be done to restore your building’s curb appeal. Here are a few tips to get you organized and on your way.
Walk the Line
To put together a short list of items needing attention in your building, conduct a walk-through of the property, starting from the top and working your way down, making a list of potential problems, hazards and areas that just need some sprucing up. Actually, Jeffrey Heidings, president of Siren Management Corp. in Manhattan suggests that managers conduct a weekly building walk-through instead of waiting until spring. Then, list in hand, you can create a spring action plan to make repairs and tidy the place up once the weather starts cooperating.
Mel Goldman, president of All Boro, an exterior cleaning firm in Hicksville suggests even going one step further—taking a site visit of an empty basement, organizing it and using time in the spring to turn it into a profit. “Clean it out and make it an empty space to rent storage bins to tenants,” he says. Modular storage units can be built into almost any space, and customized to fit any need.
Keep in mind that some parts of the building—especially the exterior—get more beat-up and grubby than other areas during the winter and may need some extra TLC.
Let the Fresh Air In
“Nobody wants a home that smells funky,” says Craig Berlin, president of ChuteMaster Inc. in Union, New Jersey. In a multifamily building with families cooking, cleaning, dusting and breathing, it’s no surprise that airways, chutes and garbage rooms of these buildings can get clogged and dirty over time—particularly during colder months, when windows are kept tightly shut and air doesn’t get much of a chance to circulate. Waste material, debris, and allergens can build up in a building’s airways and passages, and eventually cause everything from noxious smells to bona fide health problems for residents.
During winter, windows and doors are closed and heating systems are fired up to stay cozy warm, but unfortunately, that boxed-in solution to keeping the cold out and the warm in may be what’s insulting your olfactory system months later and needs to be taken care of. To maintain the environmental health of a condo building or townhome it’s vital that the HVAC system, garbage chutes and collection areas and other circulatory systems remain clean, sanitary and stench-free.
“Proper ventilation is key, now that spring has arrived, to prevent the formation of mold,” says Berlin. “During spring cleaning, many managers choose to clean out the air vents and the exhausts in the apartments, which adds shine to any vacant apartments that don’t sell during winter but show again in the spring.”
In a multi-family home, there are various outlets where dust, dirt and mold can accumulate, including a lint build-up inside the laundry exhaust, roof fans that remove stale air from common areas and moisture from bathrooms and dirty compactor chutes. To address these issues, make sure residents’ fans and exhaust outlets are in proper working condition. Berlin says that inoperable fans and exhausts contribute to the building’s odor. “We start cleaning the ductwork from the roof down and make sure everything works correctly; it was hard to get there in the winter because of snow, but we make sure there is sufficient draw to each apartment attack exhaust vents.
Ahhh—What’s That Smell?
The higher the temperature climbs, the more you’ll smell what your neighbors ate for dinner a week ago. If things are getting…aromatic, Berlin suggests checking your building’s trash chute as well. These trash chutes may contain waste matter, bacteria-ridden food remnants, and other unsavory smears and splashes, providing an ideal buffet and nesting place for insects and vermin.
“It’s usually okay in the winter, but as soon as the temps go up, odor is an issue. And heat grows bacteria; it’s off the hook when it hits 100 degrees,” he says. “Clean out your chutes in the spring before that first complaint comes in.”
According to the EPA, if these chute and duct systems are not properly installed, maintained, and operated, their components may become contaminated with particles of dust, pollen or other debris. On top of that, if moisture is present, the potential for mold to grow is increased—and spores from such growth may be released into the home’s living space, causing allergic reactions or other symptoms and leading to a host of physical ailments.
An Excellent Exterior
If your building’s exterior has suffered a beating at the hands of sand, salt, gum and other unwanted dirt over the winter, Goldman suggests power washing the sidewalks and exterior cladding. “The exterior takes the biggest beating by just virtue of exposure to the elements, especially the roofs, masonry such as coping stones, brickwork, chimneys, and so forth, and sidewalks, if there is a lot of snow and ice,” he says.
Spring cleaning the building’s exterior also helps to spot additional problems before they become more costly and helps to improve the building’s appearance.
Keep in mind that what’s outside will find its way inside too, so it’s time to clean rugs and hardwood floors in common areas. Tracked-in grit can really do a number on carpeting and even tougher material like marble. Along with outdoor cleaning up, “Spring is a good time to apply floor applications,” says Goldman.
Nothing says “spring” louder than a green, blooming landscape, so get the season off on the right foot by taking a critical look at your building’s outdoor horticulture and removing any plants or trees that didn’t survive the harsh winter.
Heidings suggests a list of landscaping to-dos as well. “You don’t have to wait until springtime to do that, but landscaping is something you should plan in advance of spring,” he says. “If you have a decent amount of plants and trees, you should have a process where a professional comes in and does interim fertilization and freshens up where needed. I would clean out water areas and do trimming, but if there were problems or diseases, I’d call in a professional.”
For those buildings with staff members to tend to their own landscaping needs, Iris Kaplow, a horticulturist and owner of Iris Kaplow Landscapes, Inc. in Manhattan, suggests working on the outdoors between the third week of March and the second week of April, depending on the weather.
“Unfortunately that’s also when many plants die because they are getting mixed message by the weather—hot one day, cold the next,” she says. She says to look for signs of dead or browning leaves, dried leaves, black branches or braches that snap off.
“Plants that are heaving—or rising above soil level—are also unstable,” says Kaplow. “If you see the roots, it’s pretty much dead.”
She recommends that building supers begin their spring cleaning routine by removing dead plants and pruning, but she cautions that “Plants need to be pruned, but unless you’re a specialist, you might not know that some flowers can’t be pruned too early,” she says. If you’re unsure about the right way to go about springtime plant care, it’s probably wiser to call in a landscaping specialist than risk killing off expensive plants and shrubs accidentally.
A Group Effort
Now that the building is looking good, board and management might want to consider getting the residents involved for a complete overhaul. Encourage them to participate in spring cleaning and empty their residences of unwanted “stuff.” Maybe even organize a building-wide yard sale or flea market to build community while cutting clutter. No matter how you do it, taking steps to a cleaner, better-organized building both inside and out will benefit the entire community.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and author living in Poughkeepsie, New York.