Maintenance Lessons Courtesy of the Polar Vortex

Winter is always a busy time for the Maintenance crew, and the kinds of work that need doing in the winter tend much more toward ‘emergency’

This year, Metro Detroit got really cold. The news pointed out on a couple of occasions that it was colder in Detroit than it was in Antarctica! And that kind of cold comes with a lot of unique issues. Winter is always a busy time for the Maintenance crew, but this one was way above and beyond.

Typical Wintertime Stress

Winter is always a busy time for the Maintenance crew, because by nature, the kinds of work that need doing in the winter tend much more toward ‘emergency’. No one is out painting houses or doing yard work, and many people aren’t even doing a lot of interior work on vacant properties just because it’s a pain in the butt to switch from ‘winterized with all utilities off’ to ‘utilities on and warm enough to do interior work.

Instead, we deal with furnaces. Lots of furnaces. ALL the furnaces. We had one poor owner this year who had to replace four different furnaces in a row, and those were progressively difficult conversations!  We also dealt with a LOT of frozen pipes, some of which burst causing even more damage. There were also the occasional falling or fallen tree, collapsed awning, or other snow-related (but still urgent) problem.

Compound all these high priority maintenance issues with the fact that everything took longer because the snow turned a 15-minute drive into a 45-minute drive, and you can see that winter just isn’t a fun time for Maintenance Departments

But THIS Winter…Sheesh!

With the Polar Vortex kicking our butts, the winter problems got turned up to 11. This year, so many furnaces couldn’t keep up with the workload and collapsed under the strain that we had our team running out to Home Depot between inspections so they could buy space heaters and deliver them to the tenants who were going to freeze without them.

But that’s not all — during the uber-cold snap, any property with water lines running in exterior walls seemed to result in those pipes freezing – even with the heat on! It was so cold that even leaving water trickling from faucets, which normally prevents frozen water lines, didn’t work. So not only did we max out every one of our ServiceTechs and HVAC Techs, but we ran out of plumbers, too! Every “new” HVAC tech and plumber we called told us they were swamped and couldn’t help, which led to a lot of unhappy tenants☹

Finally, during this extreme cold, we had a number of tenants suddenly care very deeply about the fact that their doors weren’t quite hanging correctly, or that the chimney of their once-useful-but-now-purely-decorative fireplace didn’t have any insulation in it to keep air from getting in from outside. And we had to treat both of the windows that actually broke during the freeze as legitimate emergencies (because they were)!

So if you’re a DIY landlord, or a newbie Maintenance crewman for some other property manager, and winter is gearing up to be a serious one, get ready. Buy space heaters in advance, and set up a way to track them as you move them from one heatless tenant to another as one’s heat comes back online and the other loses theirs.

Oh, and if any tenant moves out (or gets evicted), be sure that whoever is there to witness the eviction is also competent to winterize on the spot.

Posted in: 1. Property Owner Blog Posts, Detroit rental market, Maintenance, Managing Rentals, Repairs

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