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VOLUME IIIWinterization: Preparing for Old Man WinterBy Deirdre PaigeJust as relief comes from the dog days of summer, Old Man Winter is preparing for his annual appearance. But before he shows up with his freezing breath leaving fern-like patterns on the icy windows, it is vital that homes are ready for what cold weather winter brings. This includes properly sealing windows and doors, roof inspection, safeguarding pipes for vacant units, ventilation checks, and protecting the yard.Sealing Windows and DoorsChilly air leaking into windows and doors is a significant contributor to sky-high energy bills. An uncomplicated way to ensure residents do not experience increased power or gas bills is to caulk or weatherstrip the doors and windows of the property, making it energy efficient.1. Begin with a detailed visual inspection of both the exterior and interior of the property when checking the property for air leaks.2. Look for any areas where there is a gap between the window or door frame from old caulking. In the warmer months, caulk shrinks and can’t block air from blowing into the home. Once gaps or cracks have been identified, re-caulk the areas.3. Then, examine the property's window tracks, and clean out any debris that could obstruct the seals.4. While one person is inside the home, keep all the lights off. (Note: It is more challenging to uncover minor cracks in doors and windows—except at night.) Ask another person to shine a flashlight on all sides of the doors and windows.5. Mark any areas that the lights shine through, and either caulk or weatherstrip the door or window.Remember that caulking seals gaps in parts of doors and windows that do not move, like the siding, while weatherstripping seals cracks around moving parts like the perimeter of a door.Inspecting the RoofWinter storms are unpredictable. Although Texas is usually known for mild winters, in February 2021, the “falling iguana advisory” led to an unnatural amount of snow covering the Lone Star state. Meanwhile, Miami and Palm Beach Gardens had temperatures ranging from 86–90 degrees. So southern region residents must be ready for anything. And one of the most robust lines of defense against potentially frigid winter weather is to thoroughly inspect the roof of the property beforehand.1. Clean the gutters before starting a shingle check. (If this project is chosen as a do-it-yourself, or DIY, job instead of hiring a professional, wear shoes with nonskid soles.)2. Check for missing or damaged shingles after the roof is clear of any debris. During storms with heavy wind and rain, it is common to lose a few shingles. Even just a few damaged or missing shingles can easily allow water to leak into the property and jeopardize the home's safety.3. Consider reroofing the property, if necessary. Depending on the roof's age or the number of shingles that are damaged or missing, it may be about that time.Roofs last between 20 and 50 years, depending on the material. If the property owner bought or moved into the home without clarity on prior roof upgrades, a roofing engineer or roof repair company should be able to provide a general estimate of its longevity.Safeguard the Pipes— Especially in Vacant HomesProtecting the pipes on each property is essential. Frozen pipes not only jeopardize tenants' access to running water, but a frozen pipe that bursts outside creates hazardous conditions when temperatures drop to below freezing. It’s also extremely costly. According to HomeAdvisor, bursting pipes can cost up to $4,000.For landlords with vacant units, this should also be top priority. Even though Texas and Florida are not considered cold-weather climates, vacant units everywhere are more susceptible to water damage. Why? If water is not drained, it continues to settle and run even when no resident is there to turn sinks and bathtubs off and on.One primary example of this is surprise toilet repairs. Toilets can malfunction even if they haven’t been flushed in a while. A seal (also called a flapper) keeps tank water from entering the bowl. Over time, the flapper can develop cracks and/or algae that prevent it from having the tight seal it once had. When that happens, ghost flushing and leaks may start. To avoid this from happening, pipes should be drained of all water, either at the meter (if accessible) and inside of the unit.Landlords with bathrooms in cooler rooms may want to consider heat tape, whether a tenant lives there or not. Heat tape is designed specifically to create heat, keeping pipes from freezing. The electrical tape costs between $12 and $20.Another way to fend off frozen pipes is pipe insulation. Foam, rubber and fiberglass are the most popular materials used to insulate copper and iron pipes. Insulating the pipes keeps the pipe temperature as close to the temperature of the water as possible. Make sure the material is flexible enough to wrap around the pipes effectively.Protect the YardLate October into early December is the time to start preparing property for the winter. In Florida, residents have less of a choice anyway; the cutoff for winter fertilization is June 1st to September 30th.During the winter months, lawns require minimal maintenance, but caring for them is still necessary. To ensure a beautiful spring lawn, apply herbicides to weedy areas. If weed issues aren’t dealt with early on, they can create quite a problem in the spring. Applying a winter fertilizer also helps the grass preserve essential nutrients necessary to endure the winter months.Inspect the Chimney and FireplaceA dirty chimney is not only an eyesore, but it can also quickly become a safety and health hazard for tenants if not maintained. Check the chimney structure for loose bricks, cracks, water damage and deterioration. Thoroughly inspect for debris buildup and have the chimney swept.The chimney damper controls the airflow and smoke through the chimney. If the damper is stuck, usually due to rust, corrosion or debris, use a wire or steel brush and a lubricant like WD-40 to remove buildup.Give Some TLC to the HVACHeating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems are one of the most expensive home repairs, costing upwards of $13,000 for a new system.Prepare the Air Conditioning SystemSince air conditioning is rarely used throughout the winter in southern states, most people believe there isn’t anything to do but turn it off. However, air conditioners need preparation for the chilly season. Simple steps can be taken to ensure the system is protected during this season of inactivity.If air conditioning repairs need attention, they must be fixed before shutting the system down for winter hibernation. Allowing an unresolved issue to linger through the winter season can easily lead to significant problems with the system when spring rolls around.Clean the outdoor condenser by removing any dirt and debris from the condenser cabinet. Use a low-pressure hose to wash off the exterior. After the condenser is cleaned, allow it to dry. Then, shield it by placing a waterproof tarp to cover it. Use rope or a bungee cord to secure the tarp, protecting the unit from insects, dust and moisture.Prepare the Heating SystemWhile temperatures are still mild outside, have tenants turn on the furnace two or three times to ensure the system is working. It is also highly recommended to have an annual boiler room inspection and maintenance check with a qualified technician. The last thing anyone wants is to find out the furnace doesn’t work on the first chilly day of winter.Critters like rats, birds and squirrels can easily get lodged in ventilation systems, causing major problems. If animals are alive, they will be heard in the vents. If they are dead, most likely, the smell will detect them. Because of the dangers associated with animal removal, please get in touch with pest control. Leaving the little critters stuck will annihilate the system's energy efficiency and drive up tenants' heating bills, in addition to a rancid odor lingering through the home.There should never be anything within 3 feet around the unit. Conducting a visual inspection of the area is a smart move to ensure airflow is not restricted; reduced airflow can cause the system to break down. Most HVAC systems last between 12 and 15 years; however, they can last up to 20 years with proper maintenance.Winter Preparation Will Save Time and Costly HeadachesGiving properties a once-over before winter will keep its residents warm, safe and happy. If done correctly, it will also result in lower energy bills for property owners. By conducting proper maintenance and keeping the home in top-notch condition, property owners can help reduce the risk of chilly nights and depreciation.