19 October 2012

Who can forget December 2010? Who can forget the frost, the snow, temperatures in the region of minus 17C, frozen water pipes, suppliers running out of salt, and the country virtually grinding to a halt? It does not bear thinking about, but every property owner, manager and tenant should be thinking about it and making preparations prior to the onset of winter. Who would buy an expensive vehicle and drive it year after year without servicing it? Likewise, landlords and property managers need to "service" their properties especially before the onset of the monsoon season, which appears to have started six months early this year.

We get a lot of rain in this country and a thirty minute survey can easily determine if there are problems to be addressed. Start at the top and work downwards. If it’s a pitched roof, try viewing it from a neighbouring building. Look for missing ridge tiles, tiles, slates, or sagging gutters. For flat roofs, ensure that all water channels are free from moss, debris, litter and replace any missing leaf guards. From ground level, check for signs of plant growth in gutters, chimneys or in brickwork. Check for evidence of algae growth on the external render; this is a classic indicator of on-going water ingress, which is frequently caused by overflows from toilets and mains tanks. A rough estimate of wasted water at five litres per minute equates to 50,400 litres per week, which at 107 pence per cubic meter will cost £2,800.00 per annum!

Next, check all windows and perimeter doors. Look for damaged hinges and missing handles on the windows, which can leave your property unsecured and cause draughts that can increase heating bills considerably. Fire doors should be able to be opened in one action, so avoid deadbolts, chains, padlocks etc, and ensure that vertical drop bars latch securely. Have a look at water gullies and Aco channels to ensure rainwater can flow freely as these frequently fill with sediment and other debris. Loose or missing Aco channel covers can turn into trip hazards, so service bi-annually to ensure that they are free flowing and secure.

It is also necessary to service heating and ventilation equipment prior to the onset of winter thus ensuring that it will operate more reliably and efficiently. Heating control time clocks set to operate an hour before building occupation and to turn off two hours before quitting time, will trim energy bills by a considerable amount. Similarly, time clock combined with photocell control of external lighting will ensure that it operates solely when required therefore helping to reduce electricity bills. Stopcocks and other utility shut off valves should be checked to ensure that they operate properly. It is also important that relevant staff are aware of their location, should an emergency arise.

It is best to record property inspection on a simple form and to take lots of digital photographs for reference and proof. I am aware of two cases within the last twelve months where insurance companies have rejected six figure claims for damage to vacant properties because the landlords could not prove that they were undertaking vacant property inspections on a regular basis. Some insurance companies require weekly or fortnightly inspections of vacant properties. Evidence of graffiti of beer bottles indicate that vandalism is on the increase, in which case additional security measures may need to be taken to prevent damage and unauthorised access to the property. Sometimes something as simple as a PIR-operated security light is enough to prevent potential vandals congregating beside your property. 

Consider the hassle and inconvenience of potential insurance claims for property damage, loss of stock from water ingress, loss of ability to trade, loss of profit, likely personal injury claims, increased insurance premiums and downtime for repairs. The consequences of doing nothing are far outweighed by a bit of low-cost maintenance that could save a lot of expense at a later date.

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