Protecting Apartments from Blizzards and Ice Storms: 4 Tips from The Home Depot

the home depot

Even though Spring is right around the corner, icy weather across the nation continues to keep property management companies on their toes. A blizzard expected in New England tomorrow is set to be one of the biggest March storms ever, and sub-freezing temperatures can play havoc on water pipes in apartments and common areas if they’re not protected. Piping materials used in construction today are a little more weather-proof than those in past years, but older properties likely have lines that need insulation or wrapping to prevent costly broken lines resulting from freezing water.

Damage from a burst water line cost a property or homeowner up to $6,000 in repairs to not only the pipe but walls, ceilings and flooring. Regardless if a property has newer, freeze-resistant poly pipe or copper lines, property managers should take the necessary steps to protect all water lines when temperatures dip below freezing, especially for extended periods of time.

“It’s something people take for granted and they might not think about it until after the fact, and they’d wished they’d been more proactive about it,” says Jeff Watson, Regional Pro Sales Manager at The Home Depot.

Here are four tips Watson recommends for protecting properties:

1. Wrap exposed pipes before cold weather arrives

The first line of defense is protecting exposed indoor pipes using tubular pipe insulation or an electrical heat cable.

In attics over offices and common areas, like club rooms, it’s a good idea to inspect pipes and add layered or blown insulation if they are exposed, Watson says. Also, short runs of pipe exposed under peer and beam foundations should be insulated. Heat cable, which has to be plugged into an electrical outlet, is best used for exposed indoor pipes because other pipes can be wrapped with inexpensive tubular pipe insulation.

2. Check and cover outdoor faucets

Watson recommends that all outdoor faucets around the apartment community be covered by a hard faucet cover. These are a popular and inexpensive way to keep cold air out to exposed faucets or hose bibs used for outdoor watering.

Also, Watson says properties should especially be aware of faucets that were capped when frost-proof sillcocks or hose bibs failed and were repaired. Frost-proof hose bibs, commonly used in the northern part of the country, are designed to keep water from freezing in wall pipes that are connected to an outdoor faucet.

the home depot

“Those tend to leak, and because they are so difficult to repair, a lot of maintenance guys will thread a cap onto the hose bib to save on their water bill to keep it from leaking,” Watson said. “When it gets cold out and the faucet isn’t protected, it can cause quite a bit of damage.

“Check all those hose bibs and make sure there hasn’t been a cap put on any of them.”

3. Cover older water heaters with insulated blankets

Newer water heaters are well insulated but older models may require an insulated wrap or blanket when temperatures dip below freezing. Water heaters that are warm to the touch or not in use are candidates for a blanket, Watson says.

“For old water heaters, it might be worthwhile investing in one of those,” he said.

4. Turn the heat on in vacant units to guard against freezing

In areas of the country where temperatures routinely drop below freezing, Watson says property managers should consider keeping the heat on in vacant units to avoid frozen pipes. The temperature in the unit just needs to be above freezing to prevent damage in most cases. Open cabinet and closet doors where pipes are visible.

Another preventative measure is to allow faucets to drip warm water slowly. In many cases, the trickle will prevent water in the lines from freezing.

Also, Watson recommends installing water leak and freeze detectors near sinks, washers, water heaters, sump pumps and anywhere leaks can occur. The battery operated devices, which are Wi-Fi enabled, issue mobile and audible alerts via notifications and/or text messages when a leak is detected.


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

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Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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