Cool it, buster
When you own rental property, there are a lot of expenses you should plan for. Most people understand making payments on their mortgage and property taxes monthly, but there are sporadic expenses you should be saving for monthly as well. They include things like vacancy and repairs. The savings we set aside for paying these costs is something we call a rental’s “expense factor.”
We save about 10% of each month’s rent for when things like water heaters go out. We contribute to this fund monthly because you never really know when something is going to break. You can plan for things like replacing a roof by watching the age and how it is wearing over time. You can even buy yourself some time to save for the full replacement on a roof by doing some patches. But when things like the aforementioned water heater go bad, you need it to have the funds to get it taken care of.
But what do you do if you don’t have enough money when the time comes — like if multiple things go bad at once?
One of the great things about single family rental property is that a landlord can fix most things around the house without any specialized training. You can patch a roof and replace light and plumbing fixtures. You can even buy an electric water heater with a credit card if need be and install it yourself. And there are plenty of YouTube videos that can guide you through the process.
There is one costly system, however, that you need a license to work on — that’s the air conditioning.
Before you go speeding off to call an AC Technician, though, let me give you some tips on maintaining and troubleshooting some common problems.
First, change your air filter monthly. One of our AC techs told us the cheap, 30-day air filters are better than the 90-day ones because they put less stress on the system. Just get a pack for $5 and leave them at the house. It’s important to note that we don’t handle filter changes unless the house is vacant.
You see, according to our lease it’s the tenant’s responsibility to change the air filter every 30 days. If they don’t, and it damages the system, they are responsible for paying for the repair. When a tenant calls saying the unit is not cooling enough, the first thing I ask is if they have changed the filter lately. That fixes things about half the time.
Another thing you should do as routine maintenance is clean the outside unit’s “coil” — which is the fins surrounding the big fan outside. When the coil gets stopped up with dirt and grass clippings, the machine can’t breath correctly and won’t cool. To clean it, turn the unit off and run a water hose over it at low pressure. They also make a spray condenser cleaner that foams up and removes dirt for about $8. Doing that at least once a year will add to the life of your unit and keep it cooling longer.
These are easy maintenance things you can do. But what happens when you get the call that a unit is not cooling after the first real hot day of the year?
The first thing you want to do is find out if the vents are blowing air. To accomplish this, turn the fan from “auto” to “on” at the thermostat. If the vents don’t blow, then the inside fan motor is probably bad and you should consult a technician.
If the vents are blowing, however, it could be something else.
There’s a little breaker built into the circuit board of the AC unit that can trip the first few times the compressor kicks on after winter. This happens a lot. And the way you reset this breaker is to turn the thermostat to the off position, and then flip off the breaker to the AC in the electrical panel. Let it sit that way for 10 minutes. Then, turn the electrical panel breaker back on and turn the thermostat to cool. (Make sure to do it in that order.)
If you get cool air, problem solved! And truthfully, it’s one of the first tests the AC man is going to do anyway. That little trick can save you a ton of money in services calls while getting your tenants back in the cool more quickly.
Joe and Ashley English buy houses and mobile homes in Northwest Georgia. For more information or to ask a question, go to www.cashflowwithjoe.com or call Joe at 678-986-6813.