Protect Your Real Estate Investment from These Elements this Winter
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Protect Your Real Estate Investment from These Elements this Winter

winter weather

Trees can be remarkably destructive. We’ve seen property damage totaling upwards of $70,000 from a single loss.

Protecting your property in the winter can mean protecting it from the cold, but there are other elements that can be particularly punishing if you don’t develop a healthy respect for them, namely Earth, Water, and Fire. Read on to find out how you can protect your property from Earth and Water this winter. I covered Fire in this article already, so here I’ll cover the others: Earth and Water.

Element #1: Earth – Preventing Tree Damage

Trees can be remarkably destructive. We’ve seen property damage totaling upwards of $70,000 from a single loss. Limbs or a whole tree could fall on your property, your neighbor’s house, a passing car, or even a pedestrian. A punctured roof can lead to water damage if you don’t tarp it quickly. Many of the tree losses we see can be prevented by making tree maintenance more than just an afterthought.


5 Signs You Have a Tree Problem:

Indicators of poor tree health are pretty clear if you know what to look for. Knowing these indicators may help you save an ailing tree or enable you to remove a tree before it becomes a hazard. Here are five warning signals to look for:

  1. Trunk Damage – look for peeling bark, gaping wounds, or vertical cracks in the trunk
  2. Prematurely Bare Branches – look for leaves that drop off before fall arrives or don’t come back in the Spring
  3. Damaged Roots – look for a leaning trunk, small branches sprouting from the trunk, or heaving soil at the tree base
  4. Fungus – look for shelf or bracket fungus on the trunk or branches and mushrooms growing at the base or along the root system
  5. Location – look for poor drainage or increases in sun and wind exposure, both of which can compromise tree health
Did you know?
  • A few tree species have brittle wood that makes them more susceptible to damage in a storm. They include: Chinese Elm, Silver Maple, Boxelder, various poplars, and Bradford pears.
  • A tree’s roots are crucial to its overall health. Damaging them can create points of entry for pathogens, reduce its ability to take up nutrients and water, and endanger its structural support, increasing the risk of it toppling onto your property in a storm.
  • Trees are living things that change over time. It’s important to check them at least once a year. A tree that was healthy and survived the last storm isn’t guaranteed to survive the next one.


How to Prevent Tree Damage

It’s easy to take tree health for granted. We assume our trees will always remain standing and won’t require any maintenance. Costly problems can sneak up on you, so be sure to:

  • Inspect your trees on an annual basis and spot check them during your quarterly inspections.
  • Utilize a professional arborist to diagnose and treat any issues and to give you advice if a tree needs to be cut down.
  • Trim dead branches or cut down dead trees in a timely manner, as they could fall at any time.


Hiring a Professional is Best

If you notice any signs of trouble with your trees, consult a professional, preferably one that has been certified by either the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) or the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). Both organizations have accreditation programs, adhere to a code of ethics, and require prior experience in the field of arboriculture.

Any professional you hire should have the appropriate liability insurance in place. Tree trimming can be very dangerous, so call someone who is experienced and properly protected. To find an arborist in your area, call TCIA at 1-800-733-2622 or run a ZIP code search on ISA-certified arborists can be found through a search tool at


Element #2: Water – Preventing a Burst Pipe

Without question, the most common type of water loss we see are those resulting from a burst pipe. In recent years, Arctic vertices have pushed freezing temps further south, damaging properties simply not equipped to handle that type of cold. A few degrees difference in temperature can have a big impact on your investment. Here are some helpful tips to keep your property comfortable and loss free even when the temperature drops:

For Occupied Properties
  • Insulate pipes on exterior walls, crawl spaces, and the attic. (Remember, insulation does not create heat.)
  • Keep your thermostat well-maintained to ensure it continuously registers the correct temperature.
  • Text or e-mail reminders to tenants when a cold snap is approaching to:
    • Open cabinet doors to allow heat to circulate to un-insulated pipes under sinks and appliances.
    • Let warm water drip overnight, especially for faucets on outside walls.
For Vacant Properties
  • Set the thermostat to no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit – may need to be higher for properties in more northern locations or when colder temperatures hit.
  • Ask your property manager, a friend, or a neighbor to check the house daily during cold snaps to make sure it’s still warm.
  • At the very least, shut off the water in the house. Better still, shut the water off at the street and drain the plumbing system. If you don’t feel comfortable winterizing your property, call in a professional.
  • Install a remote or “smart” thermostat so you can monitor the temperature while away from the property.

A Note about Mold

Mold can grow very quickly if you have a burst pipe – it only takes 24-48 hours (or less!) to grow after a water event. As such, it is imperative to dry out your property as quickly as possible. If the job is a large one, you may need help from a water mitigation company. Mold is typically excluded from most property policies, so swift action to remediate any mold issue is critical!

Won’t Insurance Cover These Losses?

The quick answer is…maybe. While insurance is an important part of your risk mitigation plan, it typically doesn’t cover every type of loss and each policy is different. Always check with your agent if you are unsure about your coverages. Even if your insurance does help, you can avoid a variety of expenses and hardships (think stress, loss of sleep, lost profits, lawsuits, guilt, and more) by taking the proactive steps above.