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(707) 539-4533 |  Sonoma Napa and Marin Counties

As a landlord or building manager, you have a thousand different things to consider when taking care of a rental property. It’s easy for things to slip through the cracks, especially preventative maintenance. When you have to decide between focusing on giving your HVAC system a tune-up or cleaning up some pressing issues, the air conditioner can often end up by the wayside. However, regular tune-ups and maintenance appointments are extremely important to make sure your HVAC system is running smoothly, and skipping them can lead to serious costs for you later on down the road.


HVAC 101 Everything you need to know


Common HVAC Issues in Santa Rosa Rental Properties

Santa Rosa gets pretty warm during the summer but it never gets to be boiling hot, which means most of the issues you’ll run across have to do with gradual wear and tear. The most common problem your tenants will report is a general lack of airflow coming from the vents. That could be reduced airflow in the whole building or blockages in specific rooms or apartments. Either way, the first thing you should do is clean up a little. Dust and other particulates can get caught in the vents or the ducts and block airflow through the whole system, leaving your tenants sweating in the summer. While the residents can take care of cleaning the vents themselves, the rest will be up to you to handle.

In many cases, reduced airflow is caused by a blockage at a single bottleneck: the air filter. These filters typically need to be cleaned or swapped out about once a month, and failing to keep up with that schedule can cause clogs to form. Not only will this reduce the airflow to the living spaces inside, but it also forces the system to work harder, causing more wear and tear.

If the air conditioner won’t turn on at all, you should make sure the breaker hasn’t been tripped. If power is flowing to the unit but it won’t turn on, you should contact an HVAC technician to take a look. The same goes for reports of strange sounds coming from the unit. Grinding, knocking, or scraping sounds are generally an indication that something is actually broken inside the AC unit and you should have it fixed immediately. Letting a broken air conditioner continue to function without fixing it will only make the problem significantly worse.


How to Identify and Address HVAC Problems in Your Rental Property

Ultimately, the answer to most of these issues will be to just call a professional to fix the system, but there’s still plenty of troubleshooting that you can do on your own first. If your tenants aren’t getting enough cold air and you’ve already checked the vents and the air filter, your next step should be to check the unit itself. Take a look around for excess moisture or ice forming on the unit. This could indicate a refrigerant leak, which often causes a reduction in efficacy for the AC. Low refrigerant levels can cause moisture to build up inside the air conditioner and eventually freeze. You should turn off the unit and allow the ice to melt by itself – don’t try to hurry the process by breaking it off, since the coils inside an air conditioner are extremely fragile and easily bent. The best way to avoid a refrigerant leak is to keep up with your regular maintenance appointments. Generally, the technician will both check the refrigerant line for leaks and top off any refrigerant that was lost over the course of the year.

It’s also worth taking a look at some things outside of the unit itself. For example, if a single apartment isn’t receiving any cold air while the others are, that could indicate a problem with the thermostat, not the air conditioner. In most cases, simply switching out the batteries in the thermostat can completely fix the problem. Replacing a thermostat is often cheaper than repairing an air conditioner, so make sure you check them as well.

If the AC is making any strange sounds, try to write down what kind of noise it’s making. This can be a big help for the HVAC technician when it comes time for them to diagnose the unit, so ask your residents for a description of any strange noises they hear coming from the AC.


The Benefits of Working with a Professional HVAC Repair Company

One major part of being a good building manager is knowing how to make some repairs yourself so you don’t have to pay for outside help. That’s generally a good idea, but we’d advise against trying to fix an air conditioner by yourself unless you’re extremely confident in your own experience. Air conditioning units are fairly complicated, and the parts inside are pretty delicate. They require a great deal of knowledge and expertise to repair, and even a single small mistake could lead to a pierced refrigerant line ($400 to replace) or a bent evaporator coil ($1500 to replace). When you’re dealing with something that’s both complex and expensive, it’s usually a good idea to let the professionals handle it for you. That’s especially true if you’re taking care of an entire rental property since it frees you up to address some of the other issues that are constantly popping up.

Most HVAC repair companies will offer maintenance contracts to rental property owners, which can be a huge advantage for you. These contracts typically entitle you to free maintenance appointments, generally one or two a year, which means you can keep your HVAC system in good working order without having to take a look at your budget. They generally also include free labor for any repairs your unit might require, as well as a reduced cost for replacement parts. You’ll have to do the math yourself to figure out if a maintenance contract is the best option for you, but they’re worth taking a look at.


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The Role of the Landlord in HVAC Maintenance and Repair for Rental Properties

The landlord’s role in maintaining and repairing the HVAC system will depend on the parameters laid out in the lease. Most agreements have a shared responsibility, so the tenant is responsible for certain things and the landlord is responsible for the rest. Generally, under this model, the tenant is responsible for performing basic maintenance tasks themselves, including cleaning the vents and replacing the air filter. The tenant generally also takes care of the thermostat and replaces the batteries. In return, the landlord pays for any additional maintenance and repairs that require outside help. This is pretty standard and often extends to other household systems as well, like plumbing.

For multifamily rental properties, another common model has the landlord taking full responsibility for the HVAC system. This is obviously less ideal for you from a financial standpoint, but it’s actually a lot easier to manage everything this way. In apartment buildings, tenants often don’t even have access to the HVAC units, which are usually kept in the basement or otherwise away from the living spaces. Landlords taking full responsibility for the cost of maintaining the HVAC system frequently choose to sign maintenance contracts with HVAC repair companies so they don’t have to worry about the cost of each appointment.

There are some cases that involve tenants taking full responsibility for the HVAC system, but they’re relatively rare. This usually happens when a single tenant is renting a house or other single-family building and would prefer to have more control over the heating and cooling of their home. In this scenario, of course, HVAC maintenance and repair would be entirely out of your hands and so you wouldn’t have to worry about any of the information in this particular blog post.


The Cost of HVAC Repair for Santa Rosa Rental Properties: Is It Worth the Investment?

We’re going to skip ahead and just answer this question now – yes, it’s always worth the investment to repair and otherwise maintain your HVAC system. Air conditioners and furnaces are a little bit like cars in that small problems tend not to just go away if you ignore them. Ignoring a small issue will only cause it to become a big one later on, and you could also see a sudden loss of efficiency in the system. If you don’t want to be hit by a wave of complaints the next time your tenants open their monthly utility bills, you should make sure to stay on top of your regular HVAC maintenance.

The average cost to repair an air conditioner or furnace varies based on what exactly the problem is, but you can expect to pay between $200 and $600 if something is broken inside the unit. If you have to order replacement parts, that cost can get as high as $2,000 for a new compressor. That’s one of the reasons why regular maintenance is so important – it can mean the difference between a $200 repair job or a $1,500 replacement part. We highly recommend giving your HVAC system a tune-up once a year or so and sticking to that schedule once you have it set up. Skipping even a single year’s maintenance appointment can lead to real problems when the system is running.

There is one instance when paying for repairs might not be worth the money, and that’s when your air conditioner or furnace is already very old and will need to be replaced soon either way. In the HVAC business, we generally use a quick bit of math called the “$5,000 Rule.” Next time you get a repair bill from an HVAC technician, multiply the cost by the age of your air conditioner or furnace in years. If the resulting number is higher than 5,000, you might be better off just buying a new unit instead of repairing this one. However, this rule isn’t necessarily a hard one, so we’d recommend having a discussion with a trusted HVAC professional before making a decision either way. Keep in mind that HVAC contractors and technicians typically have years and years of expertise that they’re more than happy to share with anyone who asks!


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HVAC Repair and Maintenance: A Win-Win for Landlords and Tenants

An HVAC system isn’t necessarily the first thing a potential tenant looks for while shopping for a new home, but a subpar one can absolutely be a dealbreaker. Especially in places like Santa Rosa where the weather can get pretty uncomfortable throughout the year, a faulty air conditioner or heater can turn the perfect living situation into a miserable one for your tenants, and we don’t have to tell you why dissatisfied tenants can be a real problem for landlords. After all, who wants to spend all summer sweating in their own home?

Luckily, it doesn’t take all that much work to keep an HVAC system in good working order if you’re willing to stay on top of a maintenance schedule. Keep up with your yearly tune-up appointments and don’t put them off – ideally, you should be getting those done just before the heavy use season starts up, so AC maintenance should be done in mid to late spring, and heating maintenance should be done in the fall. Encourage your tenants to report any issues they’re experiencing with the HVAC system, including poor airflow, uncomfortable temperatures, strange noises, and anything else that seems off. Remember that a small repair now can be a lot less expensive than a big repair later, even if it does sting to pay for help.

If you’re in Napa, Sonoma, or Marin Counties and you’re interested in more information or you’re looking for someone to help you out with HVAC maintenance, Valley Comfort Heating & Air is here to help. You can come to visit us at our location in Santa Rosa, contact us right here through our website, or just give us a call at (707) 539-4533.