An extreme and sustained blast of winter snow handed property managers across the nation challenges to overcome, and lessons to learn from.

Extended periods of cold and snow in Georgia caused sprinkler system pipes to burst at a few Pinnacle properties, Michael P. Henry says. Dallas-based Pinnacle manages more than 150,000 units across the nation including several properties in Atlanta, which received a winter blast this year.

Regular maintenance of the sprinkler systems can drain much-needed antifreeze from fire suppression systems over time, Henry says.

“When you have property in Georgia that never sees these kinds of temperatures, then it’s not on your radar to check the antifreeze and then you get hit with a big storm like this and it becomes apparent that you should have,” he says.

Standard operating procedures at Pinnacle-managed properties instruct managers to have ice melt or sand onsite at the start of winter, regardless of whether the community is in a northern or southern state.

“We require every property to have three days’ worth of sand or ice melt on-hand,” he says. “If you wait until when the snow fall occurs, then it’ll all be gone [from stores].”

Up north, property managers found themselves short-handed when it came to the amount of ice melt on-hand this year, says Jeff Barnum, a property director at Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Edward Rose & Sons.

While each property has a specific amount of ice melt and rock salt it usually uses, a winter like this one has made several properties put in second orders for more, Barnum says. The 660-unit Crossings Apartments in Grand Rapids, Mich. anticipated using 20 pallets of ice melt and 30 pallets of rock salt this year, much more than it would use in a typical winter.

Barnum manages more than 60 properties across 10 states including Michigan and Indiana and knows the cost of snow. His properties specifically budget for snow removal and sidewalk care each year, an expense southern owners don't have to contend with.

“We have properties near Lake Michigan, so they get lake effect snow and so it can be a significant cost,” he says. “We spend 1 to 2 percent of total property income on snow removal and that would include grounds personnel, materials and contractor costs.”

Contractors are hired to plow parking lots based on guidelines set by the company. For instance, some properties have contractors who will come out when two inches of snow have accumulated, but the guidelines vary depending on the location of the property and the snowfall.

Meanwhile, when it came to getting the snow removed this winter in southern states, it was a mad dash to find contractors, Henry says. While this winter may have been brutal, it was definitely eye-opening for where extra winter training will be needed.

“Basically we’re taking what Minnesota does every day,” Henry says, “and teaching Georgia to do it for a couple months out of the year.”

Lindsay Machak is an Associate Editor for Multifamily Executive. Connect with her on Twitter @LMachak.