In many parts of the U.S., winter has arrived. Are you and your tenants prepared?
As cold weather sets in, it’s time to winterize your rental properties. This article discusses five ways to keep things running smoothly, avoid expensive surprises, and keep your renters happy.
Roofs, windows, and electrical and plumbing systems are all vulnerable to the ravages of freezing temperatures. When it comes to winterizing, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of expensive sub-zero repairs.
In addition, the holiday season presents an opportunity for landlords to thank their renters with small gifts. Let’s get started.
1. Keep Your Tenants Safe
The holiday season means Christmas trees, and they can be an accident waiting to happen. A safety reminder to your renters—in the form of a holiday notice—could help avoid an expensive and dangerous catastrophe. The National Fire Protection Association says that one-quarter of the 210 Christmas tree fires that occur each year are caused by the presence of a flame or other heat source, and 35% are caused by electrical equipment.
Install GFCI Outlets or Breakers
Even if you’re not required to have a GFCI outlet in the living room, it’s prudent to install at least one and encourage tenants to plug the Christmas tree lights into that outlet.
The outlet trips when a short occurs, which greatly reduces the chances of a fire from electrical arcing. As an alternative, replace the living room breaker with a GFCI breaker. That way, all the outlets on the circuit are protected.
If your renters plan to hang outdoor lights, make sure they have an outdoor GFCI outlet. Also, it doesn’t hurt to advise your renters in the holiday notice to use new—or at least undamaged—cords and light strings. If you opt for a GFCI breaker for the living room circuit, you might as well install one for the outdoor circuit(s) as well.
Don’t Forget the Smoke Alarms
The NFPA recommends that you replace smoke alarms every 10 years, and the fire marshals in many states, including California, require it. Check the installation dates on the smoke alarms in all your rentals, and replace the ones that have expired.
2. Keep the Gutters Clean
Debris on the roof slides into the gutters and eventually clogs them. As snow melts during the day, it can back up onto the roof and form pools that refreeze at night to form ice dams. Nothing is worse for the roof, which can leak or sag as a result. Prevent this kind of damage by blowing off the roof and cleaning out the gutters before the cold weather sets in and the snow starts.
While your maintenance crew is on the roof, they should also look for and remove overhanging branches. Limbs routinely break during ice storms, and if they don’t cause damage immediately, they can contribute to ice dam formation.
3. Prepare for Frozen Pipes
Exposed water pipes can easily freeze in the winter, and when the weather warms up, you may need an expensive emergency plumbing call to stop the resulting leak. The pipes inside the walls are usually safe, but any pipes that run through crawl spaces and attics are vulnerable.
Insulate outdoor pipes before the cold weather comes.
It’s common to overlook pipes that may be part of a sprinkler system or network of outdoor faucets. The best way to prevent an outdoor burst is to shut off the water to the outdoor system and drain all the faucets. Even if you do that, some water may remain in risers and exposed horizontal runs. Insulate those runs as well.
Clean the Vent Stack
While your maintenance crew is cleaning the roof, have them clean out the sewer vent stack. It may be a nasty job, but if debris is partially blocking this vital component of the plumbing system, ice can destroy it. Then the toilets and sinks won’t drain properly.
4. Ensure the Heat is Working
When temperatures drop, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that everyone stays warm. In some places, such as Massachusetts or the City of San Francisco, the furnace must be able to maintain a minimum temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Even if there is no specific temperature requirement, though, the heater—whether it’s a furnace or wood stove—must be maintained in good working order.
A Short Checklist
You should inspect and maintain the furnace and fireplace yearly. Here are three important things to do:
- Check the thermostat—Start by replacing the batteries, then turn on the heat and wait for the blower to come on. Make sure the air coming from the blowers is hot.
- Replace filters—Air return filters aren’t expensive, and you should change them on a yearly basis. This not only guarantees efficient heating, it prolongs the life of the furnace.
- Inspect and clean the chimney—If your rental unit has a fireplace or wood stove, you need to regularly remove creosote from the chimney and chimney cap to ensure proper updraft. Besides improving performance, cleaning also reduces the possibility of spark emission from the chimney.
5. Spread Some Holiday Cheer
Lawyers and shopkeepers understand the value of keeping their clients and customers happy with gifts during the holiday season, and so should you. Foster good relations with your renters (at least the ones you want to keep) with a small gift. The good feelings can last throughout the year. For example, if you’re firmly in the black and feeling generous, consider a modest end-of-year rent reduction. It’s a gift that any renter appreciates.
In summary, it’s easy to keep your renters safe, dry, and warm inside and out, and the rewards are well worth the small output of effort.
Credit to Chris Deziel
Chris has owned and managed 4 rental properties in Santa Cruz, CA, and Salida, CO. He is a DIY handyman expert for popular sites like Pro Referral.
You don’t have to limit your holiday decorations to a plastic tree or fake candles just because you live in a rental unit.
Here are five ways to decorate for the holidays without violating the terms of your lease.
1. Suction Solutions
Putting lights around the perimeter of a window allows you to share a little illumination with the outside world.
Instead of putting screw hooks in the frame around the window, use suction-based hooks or clips designed to stick to glass or any flat, smooth, and clean surface. Suction hooks have a standard, clear suction cup on one side and a small hook on the other; simply press one every 8 to 10 inches around the perimeter of a window to hold a strand of mini lights in place.
Suction clips work just like suction hooks. The difference is a swiveling clip mounted on the non-suction side. These clips are ideal for adding light strands to a window.
You can use both the suction hooks and clips to hold other lightweight decorations against the window, such as small flat wreaths, snowflake ornaments, and other nearly flat decorations. Some companies even offer suction hooks designed specifically for wreaths.
2. Temporary Adhesive Hooks
Temporary adhesive hooks are good ways to hold items onto surfaces. Look for brands such as Command Decorating Clips. They’re designed to work on almost any smooth, clean surface and they can be peeled away without leaving a mark when it’s time to pack away the holiday decorations. These hooks work equally well for strands of lights, wreaths, stockings, and almost any decoration that can be hung.
Read the package to ensure the clips you buy are strong enough to hold the items you intend to display. While temporary adhesive hooks are designed to peel away without damaging walls, check with your landlord, or read the terms of your lease to ensure they’re allowed.
3. Frames for Festive Lights
At least one manufacturer has recognized the need for hanging lights around a window without tape, tacks, or hooks. The “Window Wonder Frame Kit” is a customizable plastic frame system that you can press in place between the windowsill and top window jamb. Add-on pieces are sold to fit windows of larger sizes so you can customize the fit for just about any window.
Clips on the plastic frame hold incandescent mini-lights in place, but they’re not designed to hold LED lights. Once installed, the lights are visible from inside or outside, and they’ll be perfectly aligned around the perimeter of the window.
4. Brick Clips
If your apartment has a brick wall or fireplace, you can use brick clips, which snap in place vertically over bricks. They can even hold weighty decorations such as wreaths. The metal clips work on any brick that juts out a bit from the masonry, and they grab the top and bottom portions of the brick without harming the facade in any way. Two small hooks in each clip offer flexibility when hanging items such as stockings or wreaths.
The clips come in different sizes based on the most common brick heights, so be sure to measure a brick before purchasing the clips. Many of the clips are designed for indoor or outdoor use, so you can decorate your patio or balcony, too.
5. Window Clings
Window clings offer an excellent way to decorate windows and mirrors without leaving any marks or residue. Static electricity holds the clings in place. When you no longer need them, you simply peel them off the window and place them back on the original backing paper.
For even more fun—especially for kids—make your own clings out of puffy paint.
- Draw or print out a simple design such as a snowflake, ornament, or Santa.
- Place it beneath a sheet of plastic wrap or a clear plastic storage bag.
- Trace the design with any color of puffy paint (or even several colors).
- Let the paint dry overnight.
- Peel it off the plastic.
- Stick it on the window.
Any of the above decorating ideas can be applied to other holidays—and they help keep homes in their best shape.
Credit to Kathy Adams
Kathy is an award-winning investigative journalist, not to mention a writer, brand blogger, decor/DIY expert, renter, commercial landlord. She also writes for brands such as Behr, Kroger, Canon and Black+Decker on topics pertaining to home and apartment decorating and maintenance.