For many U.S. regions, the winter season bears an unwelcome mix of icy precipitation and frigid temperatures. These harsh weather conditions test the mettle of a structure and impel building managers to reassess the state of their property as they prepare for warmer forecasts and increased rainfall.
Spring maintenance flushes out the chilly remnants of winter and helps restore overall curb appeal. This proactive evaluation of both interior and exterior elements prevents further damage as well as extensive repairs, which saves property managers time and money throughout the rest of the year.
1. Inspect the exterior and roof
Blustery winds and cold snow batter the exterior of a building over the course of winter and accelerate the aging process. Property managers should investigate for chipping paint, damaged siding, holes in window screens and cracks in the foundation. They must also determine whether any roof shingles need to be repaired or replaced.
“It doesn’t have to be anything huge or expensive,” says Paul Rhodes, the national maintenance and safety instructor for the National Apartment Association Education Institute (NAAEI). “In a lot of cases, it’s just a deeper cleaning or a deeper sense of maintaining.”
2. Clean up the landscaping
Dead plants and limbs broken from the weight of snow—common among boxwoods and other small shrubs sheered for flatness—should be cleared. A dry summer followed by a dry autumn limits the amount of moisture available to vegetation over the winter and can lead to even more lifelessness in the spring.
“If you go into a dry spell before the ground freezes, it’s pretty harsh on your plants, especially evergreen plants,” says Shayne Newman, president of YardApes, Inc., a landscaping firm in New Milford, Connecticut. “That damage doesn’t usually show up until mid-to-late March; sometimes they’ll die as soon as they break out of dormancy.”
The shoveling and plowing of snow, furthermore, obscures boundaries between surface materials and greenery, which could harm foliage as well as curbing and displace other landscaping elements like gravel.
“Plants that are near the edge of the driveway and buried under a huge mound of snow, they’re going to be physically damaged,” says Newman, who is a member of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP). “Gravel is going to get pushed around from plowing, so every year that’s going to have to be raked back.”
3. Check the irrigation system
Supplying plants with water helps them break out of dormancy and becomes essential in the summer when rainfall decreases. Building managers should examine irrigation systems to confirm they were drained properly before the winter and to ensure they will operate effectively in the spring.
“This a good time—just before the grass starts growing—to schedule a thorough check of the irrigation system if your property happens to have one,” Rhodes says. “It might have sustained damage because of freezing weather.”
4. Troubleshoot any drainage issues
Controlling water takes on additional significance following the winter because of the increased rainfall in spring. Property managers should comb the premises and take note of any standing water in order to trace drainage problems to their source and correct them immediately.
“It’s amazing the amount of water that comes off a roof,” Newman says. “If a gutter’s clogged, all that water is going to flow up against the foundation of the building, and sometimes that can erode planting areas and cause problems in the basement.”
Unresolved drainage issues can destroy the soil around a building and subsequently create mudslides and sinkholes. Catch basins or drains filled with gravel offer property managers a great method to pick up rainwater at the highest point and redirect it away from the foundation consistently.
“A sinkhole is almost like an iceberg. You might have a hole that’s a foot wide, then you start digging down and it funnels out like a triangle,” Newman says. “You get underneath and it’s 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep.”
5. Freshen the plant life
Dormant pruning gives property managers an opportunity to trim plants (typically of the deciduous variety) before they leaf out in spring. Selectively removing vegetation also improves its health and growth by eliminating all of the broken and cracked branches plus any rubbing or crossing ones.
“We usually like to start with [dormant pruning] before we do the spring cleanup because it’s something that can be done even while there is snow on the ground,” Newman says.
“If you’re concerned about the flowering, you want to know when the plant is going to flower,” he adds. “If it’s an early spring flowering plant, just don’t get too aggressive with the pruning because there’s a good chance you might be cutting off flower buds.”
Rejuvenation pruning removes old, overgrown limbs but generally requires a hard cutback for the desired effect. “A lot of times plants are installed, and they get too big and out of bounds,” says Gib Durden, CLP, vice president of business development for HighGrove Partners, a full-service commercial landscaping company based in Austell, Georgia, that serves the Atlanta metro area.
“[Rejuvenation pruning] is a way to give you a fresh look at the property without the expense of ripping out and reinstalling a plant,” he adds.
Redefining bed lines around mature trees and expanding them gradually also revives a property by excising lackluster grass. Fresh mulch provides instant gratification, too, but more important it helps retain moisture in the soil and assists in controlling weeds. Pre-emergent herbicides and fertilizer further set the stage for growth.
“[Mulching] is almost like a fresh coat of paint. It can really make a property shine,” says Durden, who is also a member of NALP. “But if you don’t get the pre-emergent down within that right time limit before the soil temperature rises, you’re not going to get good use out of it.”
6. Update all mechanical systems
An air filter removes solid particles such as dust, pollen, mold and bacteria from the interior spaces of a building. Building managers should replace the air filter in an air conditioning unit each spring before using it in order to guarantee indoor air quality. Flushing water heaters also represents a worthwhile step in preventive maintenance.
“If you have an annual or required inspection of your sprinkler system or your fire safety system, this would be a good time to do it,” says Rhodes, who specifically mentions carbon monoxide detectors. “Depending on which kind you have, it may need to be calibrated or have its sensor replaced.”
7. Focus on the long term
Property managers should approach spring with more than just appearance or curb appeal in mind. They must learn to evaluate the status quo, predict the most likely scenarios and make as many plans as possible for the longevity of their building. Otherwise they run the risk of paying much more in the not-so-distant future.
“If a little bit of repair now can save a catastrophic failure later, then it’s worthwhile,” Rhodes says. “That way you can make minor adjustments as opposed to major replacements.”
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