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Winterizing your Investment Property for Colder Temperatures

Linda Baumgarten

It’s the most wonderful time of year – if you’re property prepared. Cold temperatures are here, and winterizing and preparing your property now will ensure a comfortable and efficient home environment. Here are strategies to prepare your property for winter weather.

Don’t wait, insulate

While attics can be draft conductors, they also are among the easiest areas to reinforce. The simple addition of extra insulation can improve heat retention and localize incoming air blasts. If applied properly, proper insulation can reduce energy costs and serve as a selling point.

Mind the gaps

Drafts may not seem like a big deal, but the average home has enough air leakage that it adds up to a two-foot square hole, according to the Department of Energy. From the onset of acquiring a house, investors should inspect doors, windows and siding for gaps and holes that allow cold air into the space. If areas need repair, foam sealants, weather strips and caulk offer low-hassle, low-cost solutions that will prove their value almost immediately.

While preparing for cooler temperatures, remember to assess the plumbing. Pipe maintenance takes greater priority during the winter, as leaking and freezing both elevate the risk of bursts and potential water damage. Evaluate pipes for cracks or disconnects before winter arrives to reduce the likelihood of a costly repair.

Light the way

With the days getting shorter and the nights getting longer, lighting is an often overlooked area for energy savings. Many investors and tenants have been hesitant to switch to LED bulbs because they didn’t like the quality of the light.

There are good options, though. Such as the 75-Watt replacement LED R20, which is one of the brightest bulbs available and delivers a clean, high quality light that fills up large rooms. It uses 85% less energy than incandescent bulbs and lasts more than 20 years, which means you don’t need to worry about tenants climbing ladders to replace the lights.

Tools for success outside the house

Ice and snow accumulation can become a safety risk. Instead of waiting for a weather event, stock up on salt, ice melt and tools a good while before the storm when the demand is less urgent and the price is cheaper. Stowing these items away keeps an adequate supply on hand to address challenges and helps deter tenants from venturing out in potentially unsafe conditions.

The fall months also are a great time to check the performance of shovels, snow blowers and other removal equipment. If these tools are outdated, consider upgrading to a powerful alternative that clears space quickly without disturbing neighbors, such as EGO’s 56 Volt Snow Blower. This blower uses a lithium-ion battery to deliver the power of gas without the noise and mess.

House covered with snow in winter

Heat smarter

Smart thermostats not only reduce the toll on HVAC systems, they also give home a contemporary feel to entice potential buyers or renters. Options like the ecobee4 adjust the temperature based on occupancy trends. They also synchronize their smartphones to watch and adjust temperature settings from any location, and the ecobee includes Amazon Alexa voice service. This added control will help reduce heating bills and allow you to monitor the temperature remotely.

It’s important to do inspections on your investments regularly. Check for leaks, cracks or insulation problems now, because once winter weather arrives, property maintenance can be challenging and expensive to fix.

From “Winterizing Your Investment Property for Colder Temperatures” from Real Estate Journal written by Sulema Vela.

Simple tricks to avoid freezing

In these blisteringly cold winter months, you’ll want to be bundled up as warmly as possible. Make sure to keep all these tips in mind throughout these days of negative Fahrenheit temperatures.

  • Keep the heat on: If you or your tenant are leaving for a period of time, make sure the heat is kept on your property. It may be difficult to convince your tenants to leave their heat on when they are away, especially if they are responsible for paying their own utilities. You should inform them that the heat can help prevent pipes from freezing, and if pipes freeze and burst, it can cause a lot of water damage to the property and to their possessions.

We recommend that the thermostats be kept at a minimum of 65 degrees Fahrenheit – never LOWER! This should provide enough heat to keep the pipes warm and to prevent any water inside from freezing.

  • Keep interior doors open: Pipes are often located in cabinets. When the temperatures drop, it is a good idea to keep these cabinet doors open (and all other doors to rooms that have heating too!) so that the heat from the rest of the house can keep the pipes warm as well. By keeping all interior doors open, it will allow the heat to flow throughout the home.
  • Check frequently with tenants that pay for their own oil: The tenant(s) must maintain a minimum of a half tank of oil – just to be on the safe side. Oil companies are very busy these extremely freezing days; they may not even get to your property within the next day or so!
  • Allow faucet to drip: If you’re afraid a pipe may freeze, you can allow the faucet to drip slightly. Allowing the faucet to be open like this will relieve pressure in the system. If a pipe freezes, it is actually the pressure that is created between the blockage and the faucet that will cause the pipe to burst. Allowing the faucet to be open will prevent the pressure from building up and thus, keep the pipe from bursting.

Necessary tools to protect your pipes!

Ultimately, if you want to keep your property at an acceptable level of warmth for your tenants, you’ll probably have to invest in some useful winter paraphernalia. Here’s some for the pipes.

  • Caulk and sealants: You should caulk any holes or cracks that exist near pipes on both interior and exterior walls. If you don’t, the cold air will make those pipes fully vulnerable to freezing.
  • Heating tape: For the most easily accessible pipes, electrical heating tape can be applied directly on them to keep them warm. Keep in mind that there are two types: one that turns on and off by itself when it senses heat, and the other needs to be plugged in when heat is needed and unplugged when not.
  • Extra insulation for needed areas: Pipes located in areas without proper insulation like basements or attics may need extra protection during the winter. For pipes that are exposed, fit them with foam rubber or fiberglass sleeves to bundle them up. For ones that are behind walls, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to open them up; simply add the insulation to the walls and ceilings that will keep the pipes warm.
  • Space heaters: These portable electric heaters make for an easy solution to raise the temperature, but they can also be very dangerous if not used properly. To prevent the risk of starting any fires, follow the product’s directions and safety procedures precisely.

Tips for preventing ice dams

The roof area can also be a very dangerous area during the winter if left alone. When the top of your house absorbs the warmth from the other areas of the house, an ice dam will very likely form at the edge. They may seem like just a ridge of ice, but the water backing up behind the shield of snow can actually leak into the property, causing damage to walls, ceilings, insulations, and other areas. To prevent this kind of disaster from happening, you should invest in at least one of these helpful prevention tools.

  • Snow roof rakes: Rakes designed specifically to shovel the snow off the hard-to-reach roottops come in various shapes and sizes. You can get the more simple designs that are essentially a curved shovel with a very high reach, but you can also get the slightly more expensive Avalanche brand. Avalanche rakes take a lot of the physical labor out of the process with the designs with added wheels, cutter heads, and a roll-out “chute” the lets the snow slide right off.
  • Attic solutions: If your property has an attic directly below the roof, having heating ducts, recessed lights, skylights, can cause ice dams. Having an air barrier installed can reduce the radiant heat transfer when exposed to air spaces. Adding roof and soffit vents are also something to consider.
  • Electric tools for success: If there’s snow building up and you don’t have time to shovel, one thing you should NOT do is a cheap electric solution. Heat cables or tape are those hot cables used to melt all the ice, but reception has been lousy. IceDamGuys.com says that they are mostly useless, can cause ice dams anyway since the melted snow moves to another area on the roof, and they can also be a real fire hazard.

The site does recommend instead to invest in a steamer to get the job done. Steam is the only safe way to remove ice dams without risking damage to the roof and won’t make any leakage worse. Snow blowers are also effective enough, but the key with ice removal here is to NOT stand on your roof.

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