Hardy Chicagoans stash their winter coats away as soon as spring temperatures allow; and, come fall, they resist pulling out those parkas again until their teeth are chattering. Buildings, however, need preparation that’s a little more thoughtful than that. Some matters require attention at least a couple of months before icicles start forming and falling, before snow accumulates on roofs and black ice forms on pathways, before ruptured downspouts and power outages, and especially before complaints from residents.
A good once-over of a property during early fall months can prevent costly repairs later on. “If anything is happening to the exterior—wood trim rotting or paint peeling, for example—that we know will get worse in the winter with freezing and thawing, we can fix it,” says Robert Berman, president of Desirable Dwellings Corp., based in Inverness. In fact, Berman suggests property managers or maintenance teams tour properties continually. “Walk-arounds of properties tend to keep the properties in better shape,” he says.
One task that often comes up during these inspections is cleaning the gunk that builds up in the gutters during the year. “A lot of associations don’t do appropriate downspout and gutter cleaning, and that leads tremendously to an ice-damming problem,” Berman points out. It’s also essential to keep sewers clear of any leaves and gravel to help prevent backups in gutters and flooding in basements.
Another pre-winter prep item is window cleaning. “We do a deep cleaning before temperatures drop and that includes cleaning the windows outside,” says Stefan Dicu, manager of Chicago Cleaning Land. “It’s impossible to clean them during the winter because of freezing temperatures, so that’s a major task for us.”
Although generally the responsibility of individual unit owners, changing out furnace filters is vital to the upkeep of any heating unit. It’s worth reminding tenants, either with signs posted in the building or notes to an association board. “I’m a fan of purchasing less expensive filters and changing them more frequently,” says Erin Kearns, executive project manager at The Building Group in Chicago. “They make a significant difference in the efficiency of your furnace,” says Kearns, who has heard many complaints about heaters not working properly, only to discover that the culprit is an old filter. “People forget and you can see immediately where people have been negligent and can require replacement of expensive heating units,” she warns. Also, be sure that even in foreclosed units, the heat is kept on to prevent pipes from freezing.