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The annual process of preparing buildings, and their surrounding sites, for the onset of sustained inclement weather. A form of time-based maintenance captured in a winterization checklist.

Purpose of Winterization

Winterization is the annual process of preparing buildings, their components and the surrounding sites for the onset of sustained inclement weather. There are two general categories of winterization:
  • Complete seasonal shut down, for vacated buildings, where the property is not utilized by people or heated throughout the winter season.
  • Preventative measures for occupied buildings and sites, which continue to operate during the winter season and are exposed to normal patterns of activity.
In this article we focus our attention on occupied winterization. In light of the old adage that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, the purpose of a winterization program is:
  • To protect the owners' investment by mitigating deterioration of the vulnerable components during the winter months.
  • To keep all critical systems operational without wasting energy due to excessive infiltration and exfiltration through the building envelope.
  • To ensure that the facility remains comfortable, functional and safe for the occupants and their guests.
Winterization includes the implementation of site-specific measures to protect against various influencing elements, including the actions of the wind, rain, snow, ice, freezing temperatures, vegetation, people, and vehicles.

Winterization Strategies

Those who are tasked with having to establish a winterization program should consider the following five steps.

1.     Identify Historical Problem Areas

Every building has a few vulnerable features that tend to be problematic every winter. A significant amount of time is generally devoted to these recurring problems. It is therefore helpful to prompt our memories by asking the following types of questions:
  • Which roof drains tend to get blocked more often than others?
  • Where did the gutters previously leak?
  • Where do the pathways sometimes become slippery and/or full of ponded water?
Prior HOA Board members, the property manager, and service contractors are good resources for assistance in identifying these recurring historical issues. The Association’s attention should initially be focused on these problem areas.

2.    Determine the Extent of Deferred Summer Maintenance

Due to budget constraints, some Associations may have been unable to carry out all of the required maintenance during the preceding season. It is therefore necessary to keep a current catalogue of the accumulated deferred maintenance and to understand how to prioritize this backlog of outstanding work. Ask the following types of questions:
  • What is the condition of the sealant on the windows, doors, walls and roof?
  • Did we repair all the cracks and potholes in the asphalt roadways?
  • Did we clearance prune the trees away from the roofs and walls?
  • Is the winter servicing of our heating equipment (such as boilers and heat pumps) included as part of an annual maintenance contract?
  • When was the last time the roof drains were inspected and cleaned?
While all maintenance is 'important', not everything is 'urgent' at any one time. Skill is required to differentiate between those items that are discretionary and those that must not be postponed, particularly with impending seasonal changes.          

Board members should seek advice from their community manager and others for guidance on how to quantify and prioritize the maintenance backlog to achieve the three winterization objectives mentioned earlier.

3.     Recognize the Unique 'Personality' of the Building 

Winterization requirements vary from place-to-place, depending on factors such as local climates, topography, native soils, vegetation and water table.  Winterization also varies from building-to-building, depending on factors such as architectural features and space heating systems.  These factors determine the frequency and type of maintenance activities and leads to the following types of questions: 
  • Which parts of our building are difficult to access for maintenance and sometimes get neglected?
  • Which sides of our building are most exposed to wind driven rain?
  • Where are the splash zones when water spills over the roof or other projections?
  • Do our trees shed leaves onto our roofs and accumulate in the gutters at particular locations?
  • Which are the high traffic locations where snow clearing is most important?
  • What alternative traffic patterns do vehicles and pedestrians adopt when snow/ice accumulates on roadways, walkways and at perimeter doors?
  • In which direction does storm water drain off the site?
  • What type of heating system do we have (electric, hydronic, forced air, heat pumps, etc)?
  • What temperature sensitive HVAC, plumbing and fire sprinkler systems and components do we have that is subject to freezing or cold weather operating requirements?
  • Which exterior doors and/or locks are susceptible to changes in alignment, shrinkage, stiffening and other reduced operation during lower outdoor temperatures?

4.  Understand the Community's Role in Winterization. 

       A good winterization program can be easily undermined by a lack of care on the part of some residents. The community plays both a direct and indirect role in the winterization program, which is evidenced by the following types of questions:
  • Have we set up service contracts, or made other appropriate arrangements, for snow clearing, drain cleaning, etc?
  • Have we issued a reminder notice to our residents regarding outdoor hose bib shutoff, storage of seasonal furniture, etc?
  • Have we made arrangements to have the sprinkler irrigation system shutdown?
  • What supplies do we need to keep on site, such as ice melt, snow shovels, etc.
Maintenance includes checklists of the things that “must be done” to keep the facility in good working order (such as inspecting, cleaning, lubricating, and refastening). "Care", on the other hand, contemplates things that “must be avoided” in order to protect the facility from accidental damage (such as damage to balcony membranes from snow shovels or nailing of Christmas lights into the siding).  The Association is primarily responsible for the former and the individual owners are primarily responsible for the latter.

5.     Utilize the Available Resources.

Rather than “reinventing the wheel” each winter, the HOA should try to make full use of all available resources.  There are many good service contractors who can assist with winter maintenance and there are some published reference guides available through the Community Association Institute. At the end of this article we have also provided a winterization checklist for general reference purposes.

Seasonal maintenance program represented by system.
Fig. Seasonal maintenance program represented by system.

Seasonal maintenance including winterizations and summerization activities
Fig. Seasonal maintenance including winterizations and summerization activities.


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