Keeping track of maintenance needs at rental properties can easily become overwhelming. A good technique for staying on schedule is to pair your to-do list with the change of seasons. And as fall makes its arrival and the harsh heat wanes, now is the time to ensure your heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) units are maintained and ready to function at optimal levels through the long winter months.

Why HVAC Maintenance is Important

Appliances hum away in the background of our lives. So, it’s easy to overlook them until they suddenly raise a red flag with a strange noise, funny smell, or outright breakdown, usually on the hottest or coldest day of the year! Instead of letting them fade into the background until a crisis occurs, schedule a time to inspect, maintain, and repair your units. That way you’ll reap dividends from these important machines. Maintenance will:

  • Extend the Life of the Unit – Throughout the summer, HVAC units draw in dust and debris. This material builds up on coils and restricts airflow, which can cause the unit to work harder. Improper care creates more significant wear and tear over time.
  • Reduce Breakdowns – Breakdowns are inconvenient for tenants and can be a significant cost for landlords. Use scheduled maintenance to identify issues before they become bigger problems.
  • Maintain Energy Efficiency and Lower Energy Bills – Regular maintenance is critical to efficiency. Preventative service allows the unit to operate at optimal performance. By contrast, poorly maintained units can use up to 20% more energy as they try to keep up with demand.
  • Improve Air Quality – Dirty filters and components add to the particles floating in the air. A maintained unit can control humidity and temperature, and reduce allergens in the home.

A Maintenance Checklist

For certain jobs, it’s important to call a licensed technician to inspect and clean your HVAC units. Landlords and tenants can often take care of smaller maintenance needs making it less intrusive for everyone. Here is a general checklist to keep track of your HVAC maintenance.

Change or Clean the Air Filter

Check your unit specifications to determine how often you should inspect the filters. The more occupants and pets, the more frequently you should change the filters. Landlords can include this task as a tenant’s responsibility depending on the unit’s location, but they should follow up and ensure that it has been completed.

Clean Vents and Ducts

Dust can collect and cause blockages that decrease efficiency and should be vacuumed or wiped down frequently. Remind tenants not to block vents with furniture or items.

Inspect Furnace Burners and Blowers

Changing from heat to cooling or vice versa means ensuring that all components work correctly to maintain safety. If you notice unusual smells or noises, turn off the unit and call a professional to double-check the unit.

Check For and Seal Air Leaks

After putting the time and effort into making sure your HVAC unit is working properly, don’t make it work harder by allowing the air to filter out through cracks around the doors and windows! Take time to seal cracks and install weatherstripping.

Remove Outdoor Debris

Close-growing shrubs and falling leaves and branches can collect around the unit, inhibiting airflow and efficiency. In addition, piled-up debris can hide cracks and damage, so take the time to clear the area and do a thorough inspection.

Test Safety Equipment

Despite a complete inspection checklist, problems can still arise. So, make sure that fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors work properly. Tenants may need a reminder to run these tests, but a landlord should follow up to ensure that it has been completed.

Hire an HVAC Professional

Many of the tasks on this checklist can be done by the landlord or tenant. However, a professional inspection ensures that a thorough assessment has taken place and that any needed repairs or adjustments are made in a timely manner.

Invest in a Programmable Thermostat

Updating a thermostat may not be needed immediately, but as the weather fluctuates, outdated thermostats can have more and more difficulty keeping up. Eventually, upgrading to increase the efficiency and ease of heating and cooling may make sense.

Upgrade Your Old System

Despite years of proper care and maintenance, an HVAC system’s life cycle will eventually run its course. Constant breakdowns and excessive repairs will begin to chip away at a landlord’s budget, and at some point, they’ll need to weigh the cost of ongoing maintenance against the investment into a new unit.  The $5,000 rule is an easy guide to help you know when the balance has tipped. Multiply the age of the unit by the cost of the potential repair. If the total exceeds $5,000, it is likely worth replacing the unit.

Check the Thermostat

One wouldn’t think that the small thermostat could be so instrumental in the overall health of the HVAC system. But many HVAC problems actually result from the thermostat, which tenants can easily maintain. Checking these things may save you much problem-solving time and energy.

  • Programming – Failure to program the thermostat properly is so common that it’s usually the first stop for repair specialists. Make sure you properly select the thermostat switch for heating or cooling. Double-check that you selected the target temperature. Verify that the unit is even on. Tenants should have a copy of the manual to check the settings themselves before calling for help.
  • Batteries – If the batteries in the thermostat are weak, the heating/cooling system won’t get the message to turn on. Batteries are easy to replace, and you can set up an automatic reminder via text or email to have the tenants change them easily if they have the manual.
  • Cleaning – Thermostat leads can get dusty; all it takes is a blast of compressed air to clean them. Accessing the leads means removing the cover, which tenants can do if they have the manual to guide them.
  • Location – Persistent failure of the HVAC system to maintain the target temperature could be caused by a poor thermostat location. It may be in the sun, behind a bookshelf, or in the path of a draft. Moving the thermostat and replacing worn wires is usually a major job, and it’s wise to call in a certified repair specialist.

By following a simple preventative maintenance plan for your properties’ HVAC units you can help ensure the longevity and efficiency of your units, and that your tenants stay comfortable and happy year-round.

Partner With the Experts

Rent Portland Homes by Darla Andrew is one of the fastest growing and best reviewed property management companies in the Portland metro area. Partnering with experts can help you shoulder the burden of wading through the details, lessen your stress levels, and increase the value of your properties. Call or text Darla Andrew today at 503.515.3170 to learn more about how we provide the support you need to confidently enjoy the rental process.