Preventive upkeep plan can save money later

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Maintenance emergencies seem to happen at the most inopportune times.

The boiler conks out during the coldest day of the year. A frozen plumbing pipe bursts on a holiday. The 25-year-old roof sprouts a serious leak just as the reserve account was drained.

Community associations can't predict when such emergencies will strike their buildings, but they can take steps to lessen the impact and maybe even avoid them. Consider the following advice from industry veterans who have been on the front lines:

Let a reserve study be your guide. A reserve study is an engineering report that lists an association's common elements and major building components, estimates their remaining life span and predicts the future replacement costs.

A reserve study can't foretell precisely when the boiler or water heater will stop working, but it shows which replacements are coming up. Use the information to plan ahead, said Marcia Caruso, president of Caruso Management Group in Naperville.

"You're always better off taking action before a crisis occurs rather than after," she said.

If it's not broken, fix it. Routine inspections can catch drips, drafts and cracks before they become big ones. Inspect common elements and building components at least once a year, and make small fixes as you go, said Keith Weber, a consultant at Coder Taylor Associates Inc. engineers and architects in Barrington.

"I've seen too many associations put off spending $1,000 in preventive maintenance because they say they don't have the money," he said. "Then the roof fails, and they have to spend $20,000."

Create an annual maintenance calendar. Assign action items to each month. The November list, for example, might include gutter cleaning, roof inspection and final fall landscape cleanup.

"This is a great planning tool that ensures items get taken care of in a timely manner," said Michael Carnahan, principal at RedBrick Property Management in Lombard.

Protect your pipes. Suggestions from Nick Sundberg, director of building services at ACM Community Management in Downers Grove: Insulate water and plumbing lines in unheated areas; remove outdoor hoses from spigots and close interior shut-off valves; if pipes freeze, open faucets to allow ice melt to flow.

It doesn't matter if the pipes are metal or plastic, if they burst, they cause extensive damage, he said.

Educate your owners and residents. Send periodic reminders about cleaning out clothes-dryer vents, making sure drain hoses and plumbing connections to washing machines are secure, placing candles and outdoor grills away from flammable materials, and keeping fire extinguishers in homes.

If reminders aren't strong enough, include safety practices in your rules and regulations, said Salvatore Sciacca, president of Chicago Property Services Inc. in Chicago.

"Some community associations adopt and enforce a mandatory washing machine hose replacement resolution to avoid the potential of flooding, especially in midrise and high-rise buildings," he said.

Line up your recovery team before you need it. Pre-qualify vendors such as plumbers, board-up services, and water evacuation and restoration experts, so you don't end up hiring the first one who answers the telephone and paying exorbitant after-hours prices, said Jack Mancione, chief executive at Werk Management in Woodridge.

"You need to know who you can call at 3 a.m. if you ever have to," he said.

Keep contact information for your recovery vendors and utility companies on your cellphone, he added.

Save for the rainy days. Build contributions to the reserve account in your annual budget, said senior financial analyst Nancy Taub at Community Advantage, a division of Barrington Bank & Trust in Palatine.

Although reserve funds are intended to be used to repair and replace common elements and major building components, associations can borrow from them to cover emergency expenses, she said.

ctc-realestate@tribune.com

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