It’s a well-known fact that New Yorkers are tough. But even the bravest Big Apple resident shivers just a little bit when the first signs of winter settle over the city. Winter and the inevitable snow and ice that accompany it take their toll not only on the people of New York but on the places in which they live. From high rises to townhouses to the community association bungalows, every home must be protected against the onslaught of winter weather that can damage pipes, roofs, windows and sidewalks. For the men and women whose job it is to make sure that damage is minimal or—ideally—non-existent, preparations start early and require and ongoing vigilance.
Getting Ahead of the Curve
With the right preparation, however, winter need not wreak too much havoc. It’s all about just being ready. “You want to start sealing the building up like a private house,” says Peter M. Roach, a resident manager in Manhattan and president of the Superintendents Technical Association. “You start at the top and close up any gaps, doors and windows. You want to slide things under doors and go around and do your weather stripping.”
For William Pyznar, principal engineer of Falcon Engineering in Bridgewater, New Jersey, the process of winterizing a building should start early, in September or October. And he agrees that one of the first steps should be inspecting doors and windows and closing up any areas where cold air can enter or warm air can exit. “If the windows are in good condition, just make sure they’re locked and shut,” he says. “If they’re older, make sure the weather stripping is good. Look at the seals on the outside of the windows. Make sure they’re still in good shape.”
It is also possible to check where drafts are in order to eliminate or reduce the loss of heat before winter hits. “You could do an infrared scan to see where there are drafts and that will show where you are missing insulation,” says Pyznar.
John Colella, president of YES Property Management Group, LLC, in Nutley, New Jersey, urges a walk around community association properties to inspect the common areas and recreational areas. “By October, you better be on top of everything,” he says. “Develop a checklist to outline the various common area conditions and be proactive to the circumstances that need attention prior to the winter season.”
Roach agrees that the proactive approach is the best approach. “You want to get everything ready because in the blink of an eye, the weather can change and everyone will be asking why something wasn’t done,” he says.
Keeping Ice at Bay
Surely one of the most visible and one of the most avoidable problems that face managers and unit owners during the winter months is ice damming, which is a build-up of ice over an unheated portion of roof or gutter. It is a serious issue that can lead to roof damage and leaking. There are two key ways to avoid the problem: good insulation and good ventilation, according to Pyznar. “You want to cover penetrations into the roof space, such as lights and fan areas, that let warm air into the (attic or ceiling) space,” he says. “You want to keep the attic temperature as close to the outside temperature as possible.” If the air inside the attic is too warm and damp, it will help melt the snow on the roof. When that snow melts and then the temperature drops, that water will freeze again, causing the large dams of ice over the eaves and near the gutters.
In addition to ensuring proper insulation and ventilation, there is also a material called ice shield “that is usually installed along with the roofing,” says Pyznar. A protective membrane, it goes under the shingles and helps prevent ice build-up and, in the long term, leaks and damage.
Ice can cause trouble in other ways, too. “You can get ice damage if the gutters are not cleaned out,” says Colella. Sometimes an association or building may start their fall cleaning too early and not do another pass after the final leaves have fallen, leaving drain blocking material in the gutter systems. Without proper drainage, water will turn to ice and cause damage to the gutters.
It is also important not to delay repairs. “If you have leaks in the summer months, you’ll have leaks in the winter,” says Colella. It is never a good idea to put off roof or gutter maintenance thinking it can be taken care of in the spring or summer. When ice and water are involved, things can only get worse, he says.
Mostly, just check and double check. “Most roofing manufacturers recommend walk-throughs twice a year—once in the spring and once in the fall,” says Pyznar. “You want to make sure flashings are all in place and fasteners are all in place. Changes in temperature can loosen things.”
Snow and ice also can do significant damage to pavement and sidewalks. Roads in and out of condo associations as well as parking lots and other paved areas “unquestionably will get damage,” says Colella. Most often, this is from salt and from the scraping of snow truck plows. Colella suggests patching potholes and filling in any major pavement cracks before the winter season starts in order to prevent water seepage which freezes up and creates larger cracks and potholes.
Protect the Plumbing
No one wants to have to deal with plumbing issues, especially in the dead of winter. By double checking that everything that should be off actually is off, a lot of headaches can be avoided. “You’ll want to drain all of the hoses and blow out the sprinkler system,” says Colella. “Draining the exterior hose is a vital precaution for freeze-ups.” It is also important to check and make sure all plumbing and heating systems are running smoothly and the vent pipe is unobstructed to the exterior.”
“The name of the game,” adds Roach, “is preventative maintenance and insulation. As much insulation on piping, the better.” In extreme circumstances, some maintenance professionals also will use a type of antifreeze to keep water flowing in ultra-cold temperatures.
In addition to adequate insulation on pipes, Pyznar also suggests ensuring that the insulation is up to date and undamaged. Material that has lost its ability to warm is worthless and can just be creating a false sense of security.
When it comes to water, remember that for associations with pools, shutting those down properly is part of the winterizing process. Colella suggests taking an inventory of all the equipment and ensuring that everything is dismantled, drained and stored properly.
Preparation Saves Money
For residents and for management, one of the biggest reasons to prepare well for the winter is the fact that it not only saves the property, it also saves money. With insulation and sealed windows and all of the other things that go into protecting a home or building from harsh winter weather, heating bills can also be lowered and energy consumption reduced. “Every degree on a thermostat saves six percent on the bill,” says Roach.
“There are definite energy savings,” Pyznar says. “You may have a draft that is allowing cold air in. Your heating system will keep up and you might not notice it until you get the bill. But there are things that can be done to improve those savings.” And all of them—insulation, checking the flashing, installing new weather stripping—go a long way towards ensuring that everyone’s home and building will survive the cold, dark days ahead undamaged.
For unit owners, there is one other simple tactic to save on those winter energy bills: letting in natural light. “Let the sun in during the daytime and take advantage of the sunny daytime period to allow sunlight to naturally warm your home,” says Colella.
Stay on Top of the Problem
In an especially rough winter, snow and ice removal can seem overwhelming yet it is important to tackle it early and stay on top of the issue throughout the season. That’s why the winterizing process should ensure that enough hired hands will be on site to take care of any extra work that arises. “Try to stay on top of things as it happens,” says Roach. “If you can afford to, have one or two guys on hand. Or have part-timers and fill-in guys who may be able to come in and help.”
Being prepared and knowing what to expect are key in making those short days and long nights of winter less damaging and less expensive for boards, managers, residents and staff. “Know your property inside and out,” says Colella. “Really look at it, take your time, look at your checklist and be proactive.”
And just know that it may not be easy. “It’s a constant battle,” says Roach. But it can be won by paying attention to the details, doing what needs to be done and knowing that if you can just hang in there for a few more months, the ice will melt, the snows will disappear and spring will return. We promise.
Liz Lent is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.