Climate change notwithstanding, the onset of winter in our area generally means more wear-and-tear on buildings than any other time of year. Snow, ice and freezing temperatures can cause costly damage. That's why it's so important to make sure your building's exterior and its various key systems are ready for whatever Mother Nature may throw at them between now and springtime. Here's a quick rundown of a few things supers, managers, and boards should be aware of.
Waterproofing and energy conservation converge overhead, on your building’s roof. One of the most common issues affecting flat roofs are ice dams. Ice dams are formed when heat—both from inside the building and from the sun overhead—melts snow on the roof. The melted snow then runs into the much colder gutters and eaves, where it pools and refreezes. The continual freeze-and-thaw cycle creates 'dams' which in turn cause melted water to back up behind them, overrun the sides of the gutter, and seep underneath the shingles or roof membrane. Eventually, moisture can find its way into the building itself, trickling down into ceilings and exterior walls. If and when the ice dam breaks free, it can take shingles and gutters with it and, if the roof stays wet, mildew and mold can flourish, adding even more trouble to an already bad situation.
There are many ways buildings can defend against the damage ice dams can cause -- including having fiberglass insulation installed, ensuring proper venting in the soffits and eaves, and having a qualified roofer install ice dam prevention material on the roof -- but on a day-to-day basis, your super or building maintenance staff should check regularly to make sure that all gutters and downspouts are clean and free of debris at all times. Those connection points between areas of a roof, such as where the roof meets the gutter, or where shingles meet flashing, can turn into problem spots for leaks, if left unchecked for too long.
It's also worthwhile to take a look at the caulking around you building's windows and assess the integrity of the windows themselves. Depending upon the type of caulking used, as well as building conditions and how well the caulking was applied, it could need to be replaced every few years. The only way to really know when that job must be done is to have a qualified professional inspect the caulking -- but residents often can tell when something’s amiss because their units will be drafty.
While the roofs are especially vulnerable to wintertime woes, the parts of your building that lie below the surface are just as important. Throughout the winter, pipes and plumbing should be inspected to ensure they are safe from freezing temperatures. Special attention should be paid to pipes that are in unheated spots in basements, or that are exposed to the elements. Exterior plumbing and water sources should all be insulated or turned off before the first freeze, and anything that can retain water (like hoses used to water landscaping elements or clean sidewalks, for example) should be drained and stored away til spring.