One of the largest expenses when it comes to maintaining a residential rental home is the maintenance and repair of the heating and cooling systems, and believe it or not, the largest cause of failure for these systems in rental homes is something as simple as the furnace filter.
Properly maintaining and regularly replacing the furnace filter can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the years.
Most Common Furnace Filter Issues
When a furnace filter gets dirty (this applies to wall package units as well), it begins to block the airflow. If you are running in heat mode, the air begins to feel hotter, or in cooling mode the air is colder. Many residents mistakenly think this is a good thing and rarely call in a service request regarding it. Think about it; have you ever received a complaint from a tenant saying their air conditioning was too cold? The problem here is that this blocked airflow is actually making the system work a lot harder. Overtime this can cause catastrophic failures such as cracked heat exchangers and blown compressors, but you will never know until it’s too late.
When scheduling filter replacement, many people make the mistake of replacing furnace filters according to the timeframe on the filter itself (30-day filter, 90-day filter, etc.), but the life of a filter actually depends totally on the environment it’s in, and there is no such thing as an exact time frame for a filter. Whenever you change brands or types of filter, you should check that filter every two weeks at a minimum until you have found the right timeframe for that filter in that environment.
It never failed to amaze me how many times I would go on a service call for no heat or air conditioning and find that the furnace filter was missing completely. Many people would find that their filter was extremely dirty when they finally noticed that the airflow had been reduced to almost nothing. They would pull the filter out and find that the airflow came back; then they would commonly forget to put another one in. What really surprised me was how many times I would see a package of new filters right next to the furnace but not one in the furnace. This really got costly when the tenant didn’t know about the filter, and you had to pay a $100+ emergency call to have a technician come in and replace a $1.50 furnace filter.
Running a furnace or air conditioner with no filter is just as damaging to the equipment as running it with a dirty filter. What’s worse is that instead of just changing the filter to correct the issue, now you have debris up inside of your furnace and AC evaporator coil that will have to be professionally removed. Any furnace that is rated 90% or higher in efficiency will have a secondary heat exchanger inside of them. This secondary heat exchanger has fins on it similar to the radiator on a car. If there is no filter to catch pet dander, dust, dirt, etc. it simply builds up on this part of the unit. This effectively blocks the air flow just as a bad air filter would.
This same scenario can happen if you have a central air conditioning system. The AC evaporator coil also looks like a radiator and is usually located inside the ductwork or directly above the furnace. If either of these systems get clogged with debris, you will have to disassemble the furnace and/or the ductwork in order to get them clean.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is if you don’t have a regular maintenance program that includes the furnace filters, I suggest you get one. Even if you have it in your lease that the tenant is responsible for the filters, it would be in your best interest to set up some way of double checking them or at least holding them accountable for failing to do so. Setting up a free account with Network4Rentals is one of the simplest ways you can manage this. Get email or text reminders whenever a regular service is due, record communication when you reminded a tenant to replace filter, or simply record documentation from a contractor when a failure was caused by a bad filter.
No matter who’s responsibility it is to replace, you will ultimately be the one paying the price if it isn’t.