NAA Operations Insight Newsletter – October 21, 2015
Don’t let wintry weather surprise you. Put a preventive maintenance plan in place to deal with colder temperatures, slippery ice and mounds of snow.

Even areas that are used to dealing with winter weather, such as Boston, were surprised by the magnitude of what last winter had to offer. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting an equally frigid winter this year, complete with temperatures below average and snow, so apartment-community owners and managers definitely need to plan ahead. Jim Dormandy, maintenance director for Dolben, shared his winter maintenance best practices for preparing the properties he manages.

1. Secure vendors. September and October are ideal times to touch base with vendors about supplies and services. This includes products such as salt for sidewalks, as well as services such as water remediation, snow removal and plumbing.

“Make sure they’re up to speed and they have all of the property contact information, and they have everything up to date, as far as who they would need to call and who would be calling them,” Dormandy recommends.

Another tip apartment-community owners and managers may consider requesting a priority agreement, in which their business will take precedence (e.g., “We guarantee we’ll be there within two hours” noted in the contract) over other properties during an emergency.

2. Take inventory of equipment and utilities. There should be a record of what is available (e.g., shovels, snow blower), and any equipment that may be used during the season should be tested to make sure it works.

“The last thing you want to do on that first snowstorm is walk into the shop and then forget that you had broken two of the shovels in the last storm and that the spreader spring had broken off,” Dormandy stated.

Testing water heaters throughout the community is also important, to see whether heat tape or a replacement is needed.

“A lot of times, you could turn one of those on and say, ‘Oh, I hear it. That’s fantastic.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean that the coils have energized and that it’s actually blowing out heat,” he added.

3. Clean all catch basins, storm drains and roof drains. This should be done throughout fall, until leaves stop dropping. The important thing is to make sure there is nothing clogging these drainage areas when snow hits.

“The last thing you want is 2 feet of snow all over the property and 50 percent of your storm-water management system is clogged,” Dormandy explains, as it can create additional water issues and damage across the property.

Be sure to check drains again in the spring to prevent damage during spring showers.

4. Spread resources across properties. For owners and managers with multiple properties, communication is key to avoid product shortages, especially when deliveries may be delayed because of high demand (like the need for salt last winter).

“If one property is sitting on three or four pallets [of salt], and another property is down to their last bag, we have our guys communicating with each other and saying ‘OK, let’s supplement this property until their delivery comes,’” Dormandy explained. “And then, once that delivery would come, we would replenish that property that did have the surplus.”

5. Share learning experiences with others. Dormandy distinctly remembers an incident early in his career: He neglected to properly winterize his community’s irrigation system.

I learned the hard way in the spring, when I had to replace all sorts of heads and lines and everything else underground,” he recalled.

Now, he makes sure to use an air compressor to blow out all of the water in the lines and inspects everything thoroughly before winter weather hits. And he shares these cautionary tales regularly to help younger technicians and others in the industry avoid the same types of mistakes.

“You just hope that they retain it, and that they pass it on to their technicians or other techs or supers in the industry, because that’s the only way we’re all going to learn, is, unfortunately, by our mistakes and making sure they don’t happen a second time,” he noted.

Preventive maintenance programs may differ between properties as well, so customize schedules as needed. Dolben provides weekly, monthly, semiannual and annual checklists to help its maintenance teams catch any potential problems. Staff should also attach receipts for services performed by outside vendors, to show that a task has been completed.