Heating and Cooling System Inspections for Rental Houses
April 10, 2017
Landlords have known for quite some time that aside from roof leaks, there is nothing more inconvenient than an emergency furnace or AC repair. While we know that most owners of rental properties are focused on keeping costs down, the smart ones know that the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is really true when it comes to heating and cooling systems for the house. The problem for years was that most furnace service companies priced themselves out of the market. What is happening now is that the municipal government is stepping in and demanding annual furnace inspections (complete with certificates) to protect tenants and minimize ‘no heat’ situations.
Most HVAC companies have their own version of preventive maintenance where they check a number of components in the furnace and sign off a work order that everything is in working order. This usually takes an hour and unfortunately missed the real point of preventive maintenance especially when it comes to furnaces. Good preventive maintenance includes some sort of nozzle adjustment to ensure gas consumption is minimized and a recommendation for regular filter changes if there doesn’t appear to be one. We think it should also include a short ‘keep your eye on this’ list where the technician looks at your furnace, identifies parts that are showing some wear, and communicates to the customer that they should consider replacing the affected parts.
By performing preventive maintenance on a regular basis, the landlord can better prepare for upgrades or repairs to the furnace. What’s more, they can do it on their own schedule before the bad weather comes rather than getting the dreaded phone call at 2 am on a cold winter night saying “the furnace died” or “the AC broke”. Good HVAC companies recognize the value of a long term customer and price their tune-ups accordingly. Rather than looking to maximize their return on a preventive call, long term thinkers know that the customers we all want are those that plan, prepare, and maintain their heating and cooling systems to prolong their lives. As an added bonus for the buyer, systems installed by experienced, trained technicians are likely to break down less, operate at better efficiency levels and last longer.
When you look at the total costs over the life of the equipment is by far the energy it uses (gas and electricity). The second largest cost is premature replacement. To put it in perspective, typical houses use around $1500 of gas and electricity on heating and cooling annually (and rising). Put this over 15 years and you’ve got over $22,000 in expenses. Now add in the cost of another furnace after 10 years because the parts got so stressed from running without maintenance ($3500) and you can see that saving a couple hundred dollars on a furnace is really a false economy. Landlords might say “I don’t care about operating costs because I don’t pay them”. For these people, the biggest costs then become premature replacement, and miscellaneous repairs. Again, branded reliable furnaces with a track record of success not only last longer (with maintenance) but break down less! This doesn’t even begin to address the ‘irritation costs’ of having to deal with an emergency repair in the middle of a heat wave (when everyone else is calling too)!
We encourage landlords to do their homework and find out what purchasing decisions are likely to determine the difference between a ‘good’ purchase (reliable, long lasting, efficient) and a convenient one (inexpensive, installed by moonlighters, maintenance only when required, and not durable). After they make the right purchasing decisions, have qualified professionals take a hard look at it from time to time, and enjoy the leisure that comes from doing your homework.