Winter-Proofing Your Rental Property

When you’re living in Chicago or anywhere near the Great Lakes, winter comes early. You have to make sure your investments are safe during this time.  With so many components to maintaining a house, winterizing your home is the smartest investment. Whether it’s your primary residence or your rental properties, there are many things you have to do to prepare your house for the winter.

These are the steps I take to winterize my investment properties.

Outside:

Calcium Chloride – I have in my lease that the tenants cannot use salt on the property to melt the ice; they must use calcium chloride or a product called Dragon Melt. Using this is much better for the cement and the steps. It won’t erode them away like salt will do. I’ll either have my property manager take care of it or I’ll drop a couple bags off. It cost a little more, but it is absolutely worth it in the long run. I had to replace my front steps in one of my properties. It was about a 100 year old house and the steps were original, so its understandable, however I’m sure the years of salt didn’t help. It was a $5,000 job. I’ve also had major patch jobs done to driveways due to years of rock salt. Don’t risk it, use calcium.

Installing the new steps
5 grand later

Use Hose Bib Covers for Outside Faucets

These simply cover the outside faucets to prevent cold air and snow from making contact with your faucets. They also decrease the likelihood of a frozen pipe. I found house bibs for a reasonable price on Amazon.

Clean Out the Gutters

If the water can flow through the gutters around your house and garage, icicles won’t form and cause puddles around the property. Also, make sure there’s no leaks in the gutters. This is so important to prevent you or your tenants from slipping and falling. 

Do a Sprinkler Blowout

If you want to avoid costly plumbing issues later on, winterizing your sprinkler system is an absolute must.  You can either hire a plumber to do this for about $80-$100, or you can do it yourself.  You will need to “blow out” the sprinkler system using an air compressor.  You can rent them rather cheaply from your local hardware store for about $30-$60 a day.

Basement:

Turn off water for outside hose – There should be a shut off valve for the outside faucet/sprinklers. Turn it off, go outside and open the faucet for a bit to drain the water, then close it up for the winter. The shutoff will be inside the house, so if the faucet does freeze on the outside it can’t travel inside. Add the hose bib covers, and it will be almost impossible to have a this pipe freeze.


Furnace filters – I wrote about this before

When it’s freezing out, you don’t want the furnace to stop working. The function of a furnace filter is to protect the furnace’s blower fan from debris like dust and hair that the return duct pulls in.  Without these filters in place, you could run into some massive issues. You can easily instal these on your own. Have the furnace checked and cleaned. If your furnace is 10-20 years old, have a tech come out and inspect it before the winter. The tech can test it and clean it to make sure it will survive the winter.  

If the furnace gives out, the tenant can withhold rent until it is fixed.  While you are scrambling to get it fixed, the HVAC companies are working overtime trying to fix furnaces in the winter.  This is because most people wait until the last minute to check these things. This has all happened to me before which I wrote about here.  Learn from my mistakes.

Leave the Basement Sink Dripping

A small drip from the basement sink will prevent a frozen pipe.  The constant water flowing and dripping out of the faucet will decrease the chances of a pipe freezing up. Just maintain a slow constant drip during the worst days below freezing.


Place a Built in Humidifier on Furnace

In the winter months, it is especially important to purchase a humidifier built-in on your furnace.  Two things can happen during the winter months.  The air becomes very dry which causes wood to shrink and crack.  The other thing that can happen is water vapor and condensation can form on the windows.  When this occurs, mold and rotting wood happens.  That’s where your humidifier comes into play.  This will keep the air in your home moist, but it won’t lead to expensive repairs later on.

Wrap Pipes To be extra safe take any pipe that leads to outside, wrap them in insulation to prevent freezing as well. It may seem overboard but once you have a pipe freeze and explode on you, you will have wished you could have prevented it.


-Keep a heat gun handy. I used this one when my pipes froze. It is extremely hot, be careful. It works very efficiently, like a powerful hair dryer. Just wave it over the pipe until water starts flowing again.


Fill in Cracks or Leaks in the Basement Drafts will wreak havoc on your home, especially during the winter months.  This will cause more condensation in the air which will lead to rotting wood and mold.  It can also cause problems with your foundation. You can inject epoxy or urethane into the cracks to help with the ground compression and leaks. However, be aware that there are several different kinds of cracks and leaks that can happen in your basement, so it’s best to have someone come and inspect it.


New Windows for Better Insulation

This is an investment for your home.  And when I say investment, it truly is one.  The windows I use are $400 a piece.  All of my units now have operable windows that open and close with ease.  While this is a decent amount to spend, it is worthwhile long term.  New windows help to keep heat in and cold air out, which as stated before, is extremely important when it comes to dry air and condensation building up during the winter.  Plus, it is one less thing that the tenants can complain about.  

Snake out main drain

If you’re closing up a property for the winter, you will want to ensure that there is no water leftover or built up in your pipes.  This is because if you have a clogged pipe with water in it and the water freezes, it will expand and burst the pipe.  So, to avoid this costly water back up situation, you can snake your main drain prior to winterizing your home.  Just remember, insurance won’t pay unless you have water back up coverage.

-Check Attic – make sure exposed pipes are wrapped. All windows closed and no holes in roof, especially for cold air or critters to climb in and seek warmth. Floor insulation intact.


Entrance:

-Non-Slip Mats

Your tenants are going to drag in a lot of melting salt when they come back to your property.  Therefore, the entryway will be wet.  It’s in your best interest to make sure these non-slip mats are in place so the floors aren’t ruined.  Plus, your tenants will be safe and won’t slip and fall.  Leave a shovel for them too

Conclusion

If this is a business you love and enjoy, all of this should be rewarding to fix and prepare.  It is best to be proactive versus reactive in real estate investments. Do this all before it gets too cold. When it’s 0 degrees out, you’re not going to feel motivated to do any of this. Start now. Remember, insurance probably won’t pay unless its sudden and accidental. If a pipe bursts because you didn’t take the proper precautions, it’s on you. Take my advice:  keep your home in good condition, and it will be an asset for years to come.

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