Property Maintenance: Furnaces and A/C

When it comes to owning a rental property, there are certain universal laws—sort of like Newton’s Laws of Motion. (OK, not really.)

Gilburne’s Laws of Rental Property Maintenance

  • Rental Property Law #1: Stuff will break.
  • Rental Property Law #2: Really expensive stuff tends to break in the middle of the night.
  • Rental Property Law #3: Fixing broken stuff costs money.

Now, if you clear away the cobwebs covering the long-forgotten lessons of high school physics, you might recall something called the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Well, did you know that the world of rental properties also has a unique set of laws of thermodynamics? These laws are called Gilburne’s Laws of Rental Property Thermodynamics. (Hey! They’re my laws—I get to name them the way I like. Jealous? Go make up your own nonscientific laws.)

Gilburne’s Laws of Rental Property Thermodynamics

  • At 11:46 p.m. on the coldest night of the year, at least one furnace will blow its last gust of heat and die.
  • At 10:03 p.m. on the hottest day of the year, the A/C will break down, or your tenant will say that the place is sooooo hot that they are willing to break the lease to move out of the home that doubles as a broiler.

So, when you combine my laws of property maintenance and thermodynamics, what do you get?

Answer: a whopping headache—and a big bill.

Horrible humor aside, you own a business with moving parts. Sometimes, those moving parts break. Sometimes the parts that break are expensive to repair. So although you have a property manager working for you—or, perhaps, you’re your own property manager—you’re going to have to make a decision regarding replacing this broken thing.

Bottom line: If you have a home with central air, unless you have a fairly new unit, sometime during your ownership of the property, you are going to have to make an investment.

Whether you’re looking at a new furnace or A/C, the market is like so many: There are a lot of brands that all make the same claims. They all say they are the best, the most efficient, the…blah, blah, blah.

In fact, if you removed the branding from all the different manufacturers’ literature, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them.

Now, if you have particular experience with a certain brand—like you grew up with Brand X, and it never stopped running—you might be inclined to go with that brand no matter what the cost. Likewise, if you had Brand Y, and it stopped running after a few years, you’ve likely sworn off that manufacturer.

Well, as the owner of a rental property business (yes, I’ll always remind you that you own a business, not a simple investment), I’ll suggest that you forget what you think you might already know about the residential HVAC industry—set aside your past experiences. Consider some of the information below, and keep it in your back pocket for the next time you are faced with having to tell your property manager what you want to do about that dead furnace.

Let’s be clear: I’m a property manager…and a pretty good one if I may say so myself. I’m also a geek who loves learning about how things work, why they break, and how to fix them—or more accurately, how the professionals fix them. Like you, I rely upon and learn from the expert repair people in the industry, along with good ol’ Google research.

So, with that said, my approach to helping you become more comfortable with the furnace market is to share with you some fundamental facts and some great sites I came upon with a little research.

With this information in hand, when your property manager calls you on a Sunday to say they need your approval to install a new furnace, you will (hopefully) be sufficiently knowledgeable and feel less at sea when making what could be a several-thousand-dollar decision.

 Four Key Facts About the Furnace Industry

  • There are a LOT of brands. I found one list citing 30. If you keep on digging, however, you will see a subset of brands that are most commonly noted: Amana, American Standard, Bryant, Carrier, Coleman, Ducane, Goodman, Heil, Lennox, Rheem, Ruud, Trane, Westinghouse, and York.
  • Industry has consolidated. Over the years, there has been a significant merging of brands under a relatively smaller number of manufacturers. For instance:
    • Carrier and Bryant are both made by the same company.
    • Goodman and Amana are both manufactured by Amana.
    • American Standard renamed itself Trane, which was acquired by Ingersoll Rand.
    • Heil and Tempstar are made by Intercity Products.
  • Installation is arguably more important than whether you go with a Bryant or Carrier.
  • After installation, annual service is the next most important consideration.

Following are a couple of good sites worth perusing. The first has some good information on the basics of home furnaces.

If you just go to the two sites above, after a couple of cups of coffee, you will be well armed to have a meaningful conversation with your property manager when you are told it’s “time.”

As noted above, my impression (after countless conversations with various HVAC companies and a fair amount of reading) is that the fundamental aspects of products within a given efficiency tier are the same. No doubt there are some subtle differences. Indeed, those differences may be important to you and justify an increased expenditure. But keep in mind that it is the installation and maintenance service that will make or break you.

Therefore, if you are faced with investing in a new furnace, make sure you are comfortable with the company doing the work. Ask your property manager why they recommend the provider that they have placed in front of you. What’s their reputation?

Enough said.

To inquire further about property management, please give us a call at (503) 777-0788 or visit our Contact page.

Andrew Gilburne
Managing Partner
Portland Homes & Commercial Properties

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