When Greg Johnston says he’s weathered the storm after a day on the job, if it’s in January or February, chances are he’s not kidding.
Johnston, vice president, property management, at Ottawa, Ontario-based Colonnade Development, knows that cold, Canadian winters – as picturesque as they appear – can pose plenty of property management challenges.
“Ottawa’s average annual snowfall is approximately 100 inches,” Johnston explains. These heavy snows, not to mention temperatures that drop to below -10 degrees F. and swing back up to milder weather in the span of a week shape the way Johnston and his property management group maintain the company’s 2.1 million square feet of space in the Ottawa area.
“We do take proactive measures at each of the properties in preparation for the winter months,” Johnston says. Preparations include shutting down and draining exterior landscaping systems, cleaning up the property to remove fallen leaves, and inspecting rooftop drains to ensure they are clear for proper drainage during warm spells and in the spring.
Once the cold North wind begins to blow, Johnston and his team rely on the expertise of various contractors to help them keep properties operating efficiently and safely until warmer days return. Still, 100 inches of snow over the course of only several months is enough to produce a little stress – even for the most seasoned property manager. The winter season does pose liability concerns for landlords. With ice and snow comes the potential for slips and falls.
“Although we have a couple of the best snow removal contractors in Ottawa providing our snow removal services, my anxiety level increases slightly with the arrival of the first flakes,” admits Johnston, a 17-year veteran of the commercial properties industry.
Colonnade’s snow removal contracts require contractors to clear the walks and parking lots by 6:30 a.m. Johnston confesses that he sets his alarm for 4:30 a.m. when the forecast predicts a heavy snow overnight. “I will head into work and inspect a few properties on the way in to ensure that the removal services are completed or at least in progress,” he says. “I have all the confidence in our snow removal contractors; however, I would prefer to address any concerns or issues prior to the tenants’ arrival at the properties.”
Colonnade structures its snow removal contracts based on a minimal snow fall of 60 inches, with a rate per inch in excess of the 60-inch base, ensuring that the contractors’ costs are covered in unseasonably mild winters. And, if it snows more than the minimum, Colonnade is paying for the actual snowfall.
Ottawa also is susceptible to midwinter temperature swings. It’s not uncommon for residents to weather mild temperatures mixed with freezing rain one week and withstand constant sub-zero temperatures the next. The combination of inclement weather, and multiple freeze-thaw cycles can place a significant load on roofing structures. In extreme conditions, the company contracts structural engineers to assess load levels. “There is greater potential to sustain building damage due to the extreme exterior temperatures, particularly if there is a failure of any of the interior services,” Johnston says.
Johnston – an Ottawa native – wonders if the grass is greener on the other side of the continent, but the feelings always pass.
“In 1989, a fellow property manager and I vacationed in Florida and commented on how nice it would be to manage properties in a climate with less temperature extremes,” he recalls. “However, each geographic region is faced with its own challenges. And in Ottawa, the benefits of skating on the Rideau Canal, cross-country skiing, and downhill skiing just 30 minutes from the city center far outweigh the management challenges imposed by our winter climate.”
Robin Suttell, based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.