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Chilly Nights, Icy Steps:
How to Keep Residents Safe All Winter with Mobile Inspections

Industry Insights

With winter underway, property managers face a range of high-stakes issues: from heating-related fires to dangerously icy walkways. Here’s a detailed look at winter’s biggest threats — and the best ways to keep residents safe by switching to a mobile inspection platform.

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From ugly sweater parties to Secret Santa swaps, the holiday season presents all kinds of creative escapes from our everyday routines. But for multifamily property managers, winter means winterizing — and there’s a lot on the line when you’re working to keep communities safe in cold and dangerous conditions.

With the new year right around the corner, there’s no better time to take a careful look at your winter inspection and maintenance strategy. As temperatures drop quickly around the country, it’s your moment to decide: will your guidelines keep residents warm on chilly nights? Will your policies keep people safe from icy stairwells? If not, it’s time for a change.

To that end, here are some of the biggest threats multifamily managers should keep in mind every winter — and the best strategies to prevent them.

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The common thread causing so many winter fires

space heater

Space heaters are a tempting way to keep an apartment warm and cozy, but these devices can have devastating consequences. USA Today reports that space heaters are responsible for about one third of all deaths linked to winter house fires and roughly 80 percent of all deaths from heating-related winter house fires. The risks from carbon monoxide poisoning only make these tragedies worse.

States with harsh winters aren’t the only places where space heaters can prove deadly. In areas with more moderate climates, residents are sometimes unfamiliar with proper safety precautions for these devices. As USA Today reports, a wall-mounted baseboard heater sparked a fire that killed nine out of 11 members of a Kentucky family during an unusually cold winter.

Unfortunately, property managers face an uphill battle trying to unravel the common thread behind so many fatal winter fires. Despite the significant threats they pose, portable heaters are legal almost everywhere. New York City has banned kerosene and propane heaters, but it still allows electric ones. California lacks any kind of ban on space heaters.

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Raising awareness is a powerful first step toward preventing these tragedies. Property managers can organize community meetings among their residents, increasing participation by offering free food or a worthwhile raffle. They can email this alarming Today Show video, in which the St. Paul Fire Department reveals how a blanket or heater can spark a significant fire in a matter of minutes. Property managers can also make this compelling case: electric space heaters are less than half as efficient to operate as the gas appliances already available in most units — spelling hundreds of dollars wasted every year on electricity bills.

If you find that residents continue to use space heaters despite your warnings, it’s wise to ask: “why?” It might be that they’re unsure how to properly work a gas heater or radiator. That’s the perfect opportunity to show them. But their pattern could also point to a different problem. The heating system in their unit might either be broken or unable to pump out enough heat.

In that case, it’s important to remember: property owners are required to offer sufficient heating. In San Francisco, for example, landlords must provide a permanent heating source “capable of maintaining a temperature of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit in all habitable rooms” (space heaters don’t count). In New York City, residents should be able to maintain 68 degrees inside when it’s less than 55 degrees outside during the day, and 62 at night. Failing to meet these standards is a liability on two fronts: first, it can entitle residents to sue for lower rent. Second, it can leave residents feeling they have no choice but to use space heaters (ones linked to so many deadly accidents).

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The straightforward solution to winter’s risks? Inspections.

ipad mobile inspection

Rigorous inspections and a diligent maintenance strategy are your straightforward solutions to winter’s risks. Annual inspections can keep heaters and boilers in top-quality condition. They can also do something valuable for your bottom line: spur preventative maintenance, lowering the odds that your systems will need extensive repairs down the road.

Switching to a mobile inspection platform could enhance your inspections in powerful ways:

results chart

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Prevent slip-and-falls: keep your common areas safe.


Space heaters are just one of the major risks to consider during wintertime. It’s also critical to protect your communities from the dangers posed by snow and ice. As Justia makes clear, property owners are required to: “use reasonable care to maintain any property under their control.” By switching to detailed, user-friendly mobile inspections, you can ensure residents don’t face a hazard like black ice (a transparent layer of ice on top of sidewalks or roadways). While it’s impossible to prevent all injuries, managers can use mobile inspections to their advantage by quickly marking which high-traffic areas need attention from a maintenance technician.

Your safety checklist to prevent slip-and-falls should include: drains (are they clear of leaves, trash, and other debris?), lighting (can residents see ahead of them to avoid icy or wet pavement?) and steps (are railings accessible and properly fastened?). With a high-quality mobile inspection platform, you can produce custom forms perfectly suited for your outdoor slip-and-fall inspections. As you learn more about your property’s conditions, you can easily adjust these forms in real-time. Choosing a cloud-based mobile platform with a business intelligence (BI) function allows you to analyze data and identify trends to predict which areas are most likely to get icy. With that information in mind, you can decide to either redirect the flow of water or put up prominent signage to warn residents and their guests.

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Winter is here — make it merry with mobile inspections

Compliance Dashboard

With a truly nimble mobile inspection platform, you can get ahead of winter’s risks and keep your communities safe all season. Once you’ve covered the biggest concerns — heating systems and icy walkways — you can address a number of related issues to make this winter a merry one for residents and visitors alike. It’s key to keep gutters free of dirt, check that pipes aren’t at risk of freezing or bursting, and maintain generators in case of a power failure. With so many high-stakes issues on the table, winter is the best time to trade pen-and-paper inspections for a seamless digital experience.

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Give the gift of reassurance this holiday season!
HappyCo will put your residents at ease when it comes to winter worries: heating systems, icy walkways, and much more. But you’ll be treating yourself, too — by saving time and boosting revenue through rigorous, reliable mobile inspections.

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About the author

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Glennis Markison
Content & Webinar Producer

Glennis is a writer/producer from San Francisco. Taking the city’s trains and buses with riders of all ages and backgrounds inspired Glennis to go into journalism and share people’s stories for a living. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 2013, she worked at CBS San Francisco as a program coordinator, public affairs producer, and ultimately full-time news writer for the KPIX 5 Morning News. She’s excited to enter the bustling startup world and tell HappyCo’s stories across channels.

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