As a board member and homeowner at your community association, one of your main responsibilities (regardless of whether you have a community property management company or not) is to properly maintain the common elements of the association and to avoid maintenance emergencies such as floods and life threatening events such as fires. Fires clearly are the number one cause of deaths and causes the most amount of damage while water leaks are the most common cause of damage within community associations. In this article, you will find the most common scenarios that cause maintenance emergencies and life threatening events and the ways to AVOID these scenarios.
10. Sump/Ejector Pumps – It is very important to frequently check the sump pumps (annually at minimum, quarterly is preferable) and if possible install a power backup system to ensure the sump pumps continue to operate in a power outage scenario. In some cases, it might make sense to install a backup sump pump that will automatically turn on if the 1st sump pump fails. Failed sump/ejector pumps is one of the more frequent reasons why condo associations experience water damage and the damage is often quite smelly! Proactive replacement of sump pumps every 5 to 7 years is a great way to avoid headaches and will help avoid water leak emergencies.
9. Outdoor grills – When warmer weather comes to Chicago, many people love to grill outdoors. When that happens, it is important that homeowners refrain from certain activities that could potentially create fire hazards and life threatening emergencies such as charcoal grill usage. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Agency, 50% of all fires created by gas or charcoal grills start on balconies or porches. It is recommended that each spring season, a notice is sent out to ALL homeowners (and tenants) about the importance of following safe grilling practices. It is also advised that the community associations maintain fire extinguishers around the entire property. Taking proactive measures is always a much less expensive approach especially when it comes to fires!
8. Frozen water pipes – When the chilly Chicago winter hits, the temperatures often go below freezing and sometimes dip into negative territory. What that means is that pipes that are not properly insulated are at HIGH RISK of freezing and bursting. What is even more risky is having fire sprinkler pipes bursting. These pipes will cause even more substantial damage to your community association property. In order to minimize these circumstances, have your fire sprinkler pipes checked annually and make sure that all areas of the community association including garages, vacant units, community rooms, and club houses are heated at ALL times during the winter months. The temperatures in all areas should remain at about 50 degrees or higher. In extremely cold temperatures, it is advisable to turn on the hot water faucet so that a very slow drip flows and this step can often times prevent freezing pipes from occurring and bursting. Water flow helps minimize pipe freezing so fire sprinkler pipes that usually have no water flow tend to freeze before other pipes.
7. Dryer Vents – Dryer vents can cause fires. The leading cause of dryer vent fires is due to the improper cleaning of lint traps, vents, and the immediate areas surrounding the dryers. It is advised that community associations especially condominium associations ensure that all the dryer vents are free from obstructions especially where they exit the property and are properly maintained. In addition, it is advised the the community association maintain fire extinguishers around the property common areas and that homeowners maintain fire extinguishers within their homes.
6. Washing Machines – Improper maintenance of washing machines cause a fair amount of water leaks and floods within condominium associations. It is advised that homeowners are educated and reminded of the importance of checking the drain hoses and plumbing connections to the in-unit washing machines on a regular basis. Some community associations adopt and enforce a mandatory washing machine hose replacement resolution to avoid the potential of flooding especially in mid-rise and high-rise buildings. Proactive education and regular reminders of best practices to avoid leaks and floods is always a cheaper and more stress free approach.
5. Aging Electrical wires and systems – Should it be up to a homeowner to determine when outdated electrical wiring is upgraded? Should the association require upgrading of all outdated wiring components? Either way you look at it, the facts are that malfunctioning outdated electrical wiring and systems are one of the LEADING causes of fires within a home and community association. These issues should be of particular concern to board members living in community associations that have wiring and electrical distribution systems that are 30 years old. I can personally attest to a situation where a homeowner, who was living in an old vintage building with very old outdated wiring, was complaining about flickering lights and upon further investigation, an electrician found an electrical extension cord within a wall actually connected and conducting electricity. Of course I immediately notified the board of this circumstance and advised that the association conduct a more detailed evaluation of the building’s electrical systems. The board replied that they did NOT want to further investigate due to a shortage of funds……
4. Candles – In case you haven’t noticed, candles have grown in popularity over the last 10 years. Unfortunately, so have the number of fire incidents caused by candles. The leading cause of candle fires is due to having combustible materials too close the candle flames which results in a fire. Research has shown that Christmas day, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve rank 1st, 2nd and 3rd peak days of the year for candle fires. As a result, it is advised that community association educate and remind homeowners the importance of practicing safe candle usage. Simple reminders to the homeowners can help save lives and help save unnecessary damage and headaches to the association homeowners.
3. Water Heaters – In unit water heater tanks are fairly common in certain newer community associations but they DON’T last forever. The average life for a typical standard hot water tank is about 10 years. Board of directors should expect hot water tanks to fail now for buildings built around 2003 or earlier assuming the homeowner has not already replaced the tank. The question that comes up in my mind is the following “Should the association intervene and require homeowners to proactively replace their individual hot water tanks through an amendment of the governing documents?”. Regardless of your position, it is advised that the homeowners are educated and reminded that it is important to have their hot water tanks checked regularly for rust and leaks. Furthermore, it is recommended to proactively replace hot water tanks at or around the 10 year mark in order to avoid potential leaks and flooding scenarios especially in mid-rise and high-rise buildings.
2. Chimneys, vents and wood burning fireplaces – Does your community association have wood burning fireplaces? Are your fire place flue pipes properly maintained? Is it the homeowners responsibility or the association’s responsibility to maintain the flue pipes? Regardless of who ultimately is responsible, wood burning fireplaces can cause fires if not properly maintained. Ideally, the flue pipes should have a newer sheet metal liner rather than simply exposed inner bricks that can allow smoke and soot to enter into people’s condos while traveling up the chimney shafts. Additionally, the fire places should be checked by a professional fireplace technician annually. There are many ways that fires can start but educating homeowners and taking proactive steps as a board of director will greatly diminish the possibility of fires.
1. Sewers and drain pipes – One of the most common causes of maintenance emergencies for community associations is due to plumbing backups and clogs. These emergencies are frequently due to the lack of preventative plumbing maintenance that should be part of an overall preventative maintenance plan. Associations should have plumbing maintenance performed at least once annually for all major drain lines and sewer lines and should have all catch basins cleaned out during the plumbing maintenance service. It is usually much cheaper to have a plumber come out during normal business hours to perform proactive plumbing maintenance versus calling out a plumber at 2am on Super bowl Sunday. Unfortunately, some associations and board members have a fear of spending money and wait until issues become emergencies before taking action. This however ends up costing the association significantly more money and creates many more headaches than it would have otherwise through a more proactive approach.
Community association board of directors have a fiduciary responsibility to maintain the association. And it is usually more cost effective to take proactive steps to maintain the building and to educate and remind the homeowners on what are safer ways to live within a community association. Your association budget will thank you!
About the Author:
Salvatore J. Sciacca aka “Condoboss” is one of the nation’s leading experts in the community property management industry and is also recognized for his blogs and insight on personal and organizational transformation. He is also the President and Founder of Chicago Property Services, Chicago’s #1 community property management company specializing in management and operations of condos/townhomes/HOA’s of 100 units and under. Salvatore is also the founder of managmycommunity.com (MMC), which is a state-of-the-art online support portal for community associations.
With over 20 years of industry experience, Salvatore is recognized for his extensive knowledge of capital planning, preventative maintenance, cost-saving measures and community building techniques. He holds industry stature as a Certified Manager of Community Associations (CMCA), the designation of Association Management Specialist (AMS) and is fully licensed as a manager (License #: 261.001386) through the State of IL.