The Ultimate Guide to HVAC Systems for Rental Properties

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To deliver a level of service that attracts quality and long-term tenants, the HVAC systems in a rental property must be very good. They must not only work efficiently but they also should be fairly easy to maintain, both in terms of real dollar amounts and time.

HVAC maintenance and repair can be a major problem. And it often constitutes a huge drain on tenant’s and landlord’s resources. A system that malfunctions frequently or performs below expectations will severely damage the experience of tenants in a rental home.

If tenants are uncomfortable in a rental and motivated to leave on account of the HVAC’s inefficiency, that would hurt the landlord’s business. An investment property that is unable to attract and retain tenants cannot generate rental income on a steady basis.

To ensure that a rental’s HVAC performs are up to requirement, it is important for landlords to know a few things about these systems. In general, HVAC systems have a life expectancy of between 15 – 20 years. But, several factors can intrude and cut the life of the system short.

However, the most important factor in the longevity of the HVAC system is purchasing the right system for the rental. Buying an HVAC system that matches the needs of the rental will automatically ensure the system’s efficiency, slow its decline, and prolong its life.

What should landlords know when shopping for a new HVAC system for their rental property?

Types of HVAC systems

Packed or packaged units VS split units

Split Units
  • Packaged units

These are self-contained systems with all their components in one place. They are the “plug and play” version of HVAC systems. Everything the system needs to function is integrated to make a single piece of equipment.

Packaged systems do not need a complicated duct hookup. They are simple to install and ideal for homes where space is limited. The downside of the packaged units is that they have to be installed outdoors where they are exposed to the elements. This affects their efficiency and makes them unsuitable for areas with harsh winters.

  • Split System

Split units are the opposite of packaged units. One part of the unit is indoors, while the other is outdoors. The inside unit often includes the filter, heater, and air handling components. But the compressor and condenser are usually outside.

Split units have a better energy rating. They are more durable and longer-lasting than packaged units, partly because their sensitive electronic systems are sheltered indoors. However, the installation process for split units is complicated. And the system’s performance will depend more on proper positioning and installation by a good contractor than on the system’s capabilities. Split units also require more space.

Furnace heating vs heat pumps vs dual fuel heating

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Both split-units and packaged units can have a furnace heater, electric heat pump, or dual fuel system.

  • Heat pumps

These make use of electric heaters and have a valve system that switches from cooling to heating. The electric heater is part of the same system that supplies cooled air during summer. The system has a reversing valve system that switches it from cooling to heating. Heat pumps are suitable for places with mild winters.

  • Furnace heater

This exists as a separate system from the home’s air conditioning. There is a detached furnace system that burns either gas or oil to heat the air. But the heated air is still distributed via the same air ducts as the cooled air. Furnace heating is suited to areas with cold winters.

  • Dual fuel heating

These systems combine the two fuel systems: the heat pump and the furnace systems. They may be programmed to switch from electric heating to furnace heating at different temperature levels. This is done because electric pumps lose their efficiency at very low temperatures. Dual fuel systems are best for areas where it gets extremely cold in winter.

Ducted Vs Ductless Systems

Ductless Unit
  • Ducted systems

In this system, the cooled air is distributed throughout the home using air ducts made of sheet metal, which are located inside the walls and ceilings of the building. Warmed or cooled air is pushed through the ducts to each room in the home.

  • Ductless systems

These do not use ducts for air distribution. In place of air ducts, the outdoor unit cools and condenses a refrigerant which is connected to an indoor unit (a small air handler or blower) via a small line.

Ductless units are suitable for multi-unit rentals. Although cooling is done centrally, individual apartments can choose their temperature settings. They are also suited to buildings that lack space for large air ducts, but are more expensive than duct systems.

Buying the best system for the rental

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To get the best HVAC system, in addition to the above, landlords should also consider the warranty on the system. An HVAC system with an extended warranty and a scheduled maintenance program will last longer. But to get the best price for such a system, it is recommended that landlords get quotes from two or three respectable contractors before buying.