Winter is Coming Preparing Your Building for Cold Weather

 As the last few years have demonstrated, winter can be an unpredictable time in  New York City. Some years, temperatures remain fairly mild and we barely get  any snow, while other years are bitterly cold, with howling winds and epic  snowstorms.  

 Regardless of what the weather decides to do, co-op and condo boards, managers,  and maintenance staff need to make sure their buildings are ready for whatever  may come—and that means taking care of seasonal winterizing tasks before the first flakes  fall.  

 Do It Now

 Whether relatively mild or historically harsh, winter is the hardest season of  the year in terms of wear-and-tear on buildings. Ice collects in cracks and  spaces between bricks and masonry and contributes to façade deterioration, salt stains and chews up metal and marble finishes, boilers  and steam pipes work overtime, and colder temperatures and more hours of  darkness equal higher heating and electrical costs.  

 Which is why it's so important to prep your building before whatever happens  happens. “Good winterization begins well before the winter arrives,” says Peter Grech of the New York Superintendents Technical Association. “If the temperature outside goes below 55, it may be too late. As a cost-cutting  or preventative measure, all mechanical devices must be maintained and serviced  if necessary before the cold weather arrives.”  

 Windows & Walkways

 Windows may be the eyes of your building, but when it comes to water and cold  penetration, they're a definite weak point. Because of this, window frames and  sashes must be inspected and repaired if necessary before winter arrives—preferably in early fall.  

 “You need to make sure all the sealant around the windows are soft, pliable and  still have some elasticity to them,” says a Manhattan-based exterior contractor. “If your caulking is brittle, you’re going to have problems all winter long.” And, he adds, even if you have the wherewithal to fix faulty caulking in  mid-winter, inclement weather will likely prevent repair crews from being able  to carry out the work.  

 Also, the steel lintel—that little piece of metal over every single window head that supports the brick  above the window—must be inspected. If allowed to rust, the lintels will eventually buckle and  fail, causing the bricks above them to become loose and allowing water  penetration and even more damage. Lintel inspections should be done with plenty  of time before winter, because repairing them is an in-depth process that  requires proper permitting, scaffolding and a large work crew.  

 According to the pros, the same holds true for any masonry or cement work. New  cement can't be poured in the winter because of the cold temperatures, so  paving pros recommend getting repairs done by Halloween to beat the onset of  wintry weather. If an emergency situation arises and cement work does need to  be done then, it's a hassle for everyone involved—and it may even yield an unsatisfactory result.  

 “You are really bending the rules when you tell me you want to do quality  construction repair in the winter,” says the exterior expert. “There are additives and supplements you can put into the mortar mix...but  depending on how cold it is outside, you have a very short window of usability.  Not to mention the human aspect of how uncomfortable it is for the workers. If  it’s not ideal conditions, you really shouldn’t be doing it.”  

 That’s why it’s important to do the maintenance work and any cleaning beginning in April or  May.  

 The Heat is On

 With energy prices high and many buildings watching their purse strings more  closely than ever, conserving heat has become a serious concern for boards and  residents as well. According to Grech, there are a number of measures that a  building staff and individual owners can take to ensure that heat is staying  where it belongs: inside the building.  

 “You need to search for areas where heat can escape,” he says. “Windows and terrace doors are big culprits. You have to check the gap between  the bottom of the door and the saddle, as well as the gap around the door  frame. For a reasonable amount of money, you can weather-strip the door, not  only to save money, but to improve the comfort level inside the apartment.”  

 Grech also suggests checking the basement to make sure not air or heat is  escaping via that route.  

 “A simple way of inspecting the basement is by taking a lit candle down there to  check for drafts,” Grech says. “If the candle flame moves, then you know air is moving. For individual  apartments, you can put a candle by the window—if it’s flickering or moving, you know that air is getting in. Or you can go with the  new way, where you buy an expensive infrared thermometer and see where the heat  is escaping.”  

 During the heating season, building personnel should closely monitor fuel  consumption relative to past consumption on similar-temperature days and  address any notable increase immediately. If your building is sucking fuel,  it's costing money.  

 All steps in winterizing are important, but there are certain items that are  just not negotiable. “While there really is no one single most important thing to prepare for winter,  if I had to choose one, it would be the heating plant,” Grech says. “Boilers must be tuned, cleaned, and tested for heating production before winter  arrives. Second, and equally most important, is to make sure all water lines  that are exposed to the weather are shut down and drained.” Neglect this step and you run the risk of burst pipes, leaks, and all the legal  and maintenance headaches that come with them.  

 On the Boil

 One of the most important parts of winterizing is making sure your building’s boiler will operate properly throughout the long winter.  

 According to Bill Jebaily, owner of Aggressive Energy & Mechanical Group in Brooklyn, oil burner maintenance is key to insuring a long,  productive life for the equipment and saving your building money in the long  run.  

 “The bottom line is that one-eighth-of-an-inch of soot inside a boiler will  significantly reduce the efficiency of the boiler, causing excessive use of  fuel and reducing the efficiency by 20 to 30 percent,” he says. “If a building was spending $100,000 a year on fuel, now it’s spending $120,000. That’s what should get people to move and do this.”  

 Since 70 percent of oil is used between October and February, having your boiler  winterized between the spring and fall seasons is vital and will save your  building money in the long run.  

 “This is the time to do an overhaul on the boiler,” says Jebaily, “which is basically brushing and vacuuming the boiler before breaking the oil or  gas burner down, repairing any wear-and-tear on parts and cleaning all the  components thoroughly to be as close to new as possible.”  

 The waterside of the boiler has to be cleaned as well. This removes scale,  sediment and mud, which if not cleaned, can result in weakening the boiler.  

 Keep the Rain Off

 Along with windows and the HVAC system, a building's roof is another crucial  component in its ability to resist the cold. The typical flat roof should be  prepared with an ultraviolet roof coating, preferably before October. The  coating is a relatively inexpensive petroleum-based product with the viscosity  of oil that is literally painted onto the roof. It contains reflective silver  additives and creates a barrier that will insulate your building and protect it  against ice and snow.  

 Additionally, roof drains should be cleared to prevent blockages that could  cause a slushy area—and possibly a leak—once winter snow hits. Once the snow is over, you can check for leaks, that the  windows and doors are intact, that the brick joints are sound and that the  flash points around the perimeter are safe.  

 And while it may not be something everyone thinks about, another area of a  building that can benefit greatly from a pre-winter inspection is the bulkhead  room on the roof that houses the elevator machinery. Elevator repairs are  costly and inconvenient, so it definitely pays to avoid them whenever possible.  Making sure the machine room is secured—against trespassers, as well as the elements—and kept clear of blown-in trash or other debris is an easy way to spot trouble  early and head off expensive repairs.  

 Pitching In

 Building superintendents should be the eyes and ears of the building and bring  any areas of concern to management’s attention, but a well-maintained building can be helped by all the people who  live there. Residents can help prepare for winter by lowering thermostats just  a few degrees to save money on fuel, keeping an eye out for things that need  repairs, and alerting the super or manager of anything that needs to be fixed.  

 You don’t want to wait until the cold weather actually arrives to start thinking about  winterizing your building. This is the time you should be making repairs and  doing preventative maintenance, if only to avoid exorbitant repair fees,  mechanical failures and cranky residents.     

 Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.  Associate Editor Hannah Fons contributed to this article.  

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