Property Management Basics: 4 Preventive Maintenance Money Savers

Episode Sumary

Today’s topic is property management basics: 4 preventive maintenance money savers. These are very basic. I’ll tell you what the four are upfront and then we can proceed from there. They are:

  • Air filters and why they are important
  • Water flow restricting devices
  • Drains and storm drains.
  • Outdoor lighting and cameras

Episode Transcript

All of these, while they low cost maintenance items, they're really like an oil change to cars. You know if someone has a $30000 car and they're unwilling to spend $30 on an oil change there's something wrong with that picture right.

[00:00:43] It's the same with a million-dollar building or a $10 million-dollar building. We should be willing to spend $1000 or $10000 on preventive maintenance to keep the building in good operating order. It’s fine to run around and replace doors and windows and concrete but at the end of the day we really need our major systems to be in good order which is plumbing and HVAC. Those are the two primary major systems. These four topics that we're talking about today are the ones that keep things for the long term. So, let's start with air filters and why they are important.

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[00:01:26] The primary reason to keep functional air filters is because they are the number one reason for air-conditioning failure. Simply changing a filter will do a world of good for any air-conditioning unit whether it's new or 15 years old but consistently changing air filters is what assists the unit in running smoothly over the long haul, over the long term.

[00:01:52] And along with that, we want to have healthy homes and apartments and having air filters that are changed consistently assist in doing that. They filter out the outside air which includes pollen and dust and very often hair. And they also remove large particles such as insulation. And as I shared pet hair from the air that we breathe within our homes and dwellings. They do have a quality function and although they're low cost they have a very big impact on interior air quality. Functioning air filters extend the life of your HVAC system.

[00:02:34] Now the question is how much to they extend useful life of the system? Without giving you a specific answer, (it's more intuitive than that) we can say for certain air filters that are clogged shorten the life of HVAC systems. And no, we don't necessarily know by how much either, but we do know there's a significant difference between running with clogged air filters continuously versus running with clean air filters continuously.

[00:03:02] Let's say that the differential is two to three years in the life, or the term of use, of an HVAC system. Two or three years extended.  If a single system is five to ten thousand dollars then you could compute that based on the number of units you have into what your savings are or what your extended life is from just using fresh new air filters on a consistent basis. Now this is the difference between a system that lasts basically 15 years versus a system that last 10 and that's kind of a barometer so don't quote me on five years extended use based on air filters but it is a substantial amount of time longer than if they are not changed regularly. That's all about air filters.

[00:03:52] Our next topic is water flow restricting devices. There's a lot of different terms for that; flow controls, water flow restrictor's, water flow regulators. But at the end of the day you just need to know what your GPM is; what are your gallons per minute based on the water flow that you have coming through faucets and of course toilets. Is it 2.2 gallons per minute? Is it one gallon per minute or is it five gallons per minute?

[00:04:20] In my long career I can tell you that I've chased many a toilet.  I know it doesn't sound all that glamorous but that's part of the job. When you see huge variances in water usage it's generally not from watering the grass or an underground leak. It's almost always from toilets that are running perpetually, consistently, forever without ever shutting down. A toilet that's used regularly may have, in a normal household, 75 gallons’ usage per day in a household of three or four people.

[00:04:57] But if it's running perpetually it may have 75 gallons per hour. Even if it's not that high, the number is large when its just running. We want to make sure that we have toilets that are in good  working order. But beyond that, where do we use water flow restricting devices? In the shower and also in every and all faucet heads, toilet tank kits of different sorts can reduce the water usage from toilets.

[00:05:31] There are many toilet makers or manufacturers that have low flow toilets. It's still an evolving process similar to what we're experiencing with solar panels these days. As much as they are good today, and five times better than they were five years ago, it's still an evolving process for getting a good quality product that can penetrate the market enmasse. We're not quite there yet on toilet's which is why we have toilet tank kits that can reduce water flow.  Read my article on why toilets are important at  Multifamily Insight.

[00:06:02] Sprinkler systems or irrigation systems. Make sure they are timed. Make sure that they're working properly. It's not uncommon for people to set and forget their sprinkler systems if they have them on a property but doing so can cost $100, $400 or $800 a month in wasted water usage as compared to having appropriate landscaping for that geographic area that can reduce or eliminate water usage.

[00:06:32] If you do have sprinkler systems they should be checked consistently to assure that there's not over-watering. When it comes to water flow restricting devices, or flow controls, you can install them in stages. Whether you have one unit or 21 units or 200, you can do one at a time of course, or you can implement such during turnover. I recommend you do one building at a time. Granted if you have a single 200 unit building no you're not going to do one building at one time unless you are redeveloping the entire structure. But in many garden apartments there's anywhere from four to 12 units per building. When you're installing water flow devices, try to do one building at a time so that your team, your maintenance team, can have a cadence to their work and can get them done in a timely fashion.

[00:07:29] Let's talk about drains and storm drains. Those are two separate items. When I'm referring to drains, drains are interior to the property and storm drains are any drain that's used to address runoff on the outside of the building or property. We want to keep all our drains clear of any debris. With respect to interior sink drains, we want to make sure that all our residents know that there are certain things that they should not put in their drains, like potato peels, which are a consistent issue with causing backups. Anything we can do to educate our residents about what not to put in the drains is a positive and may save several service calls during a year. So that is a positive.

[00:08:17] With respect to storm drains we always want to keep them clear of debris which means anything from leaves to trash should be picked up consistently. Basically, we want to assure that water is flowing off your property as rapidly as possible and making its way to the storm drains that are in place. If you see clogged grates or drains that should be a maintenance item that's on the grounds review checklist, the checklist for review whenever there's a maintenance person walking the property. Also, make sure that overgrown weeds and foliage are removed from the area so that they don't become a staple (assumed they belong0 and grow even larger. Tree roots also are something that can clog storm drains and you may have to involve the city or county to address that depending on how thick and how far in they are into the storm drains.

[00:09:18] If you have an inoperable storm drain, then that's something that should be reported to the local municipality as soon as possible even if it is not the rainy season so that they can address the issue before the next rainy season.

[00:09:33] The last item is outdoor lighting and cameras. The cost of these have come down dramatically not just in bulbs but in installation cost and in longevity. Part of having better outdoor lighting and cameras is that it may have a positive impact on your insurance costs. It is important to know why you're doing these things and not "just because". The overriding reason is to create greater safety. You're making the property more walkable at all hours and with all-weather by adding outdoor lighting in areas where perhaps it's lacking.

[00:10:14] And the same for cameras. With respect to cameras, cameras have two functional uses; one is safety and the other security and I segregate those two for a reason. Safety is ongoing security is usually when there's a heightened event or a heightened time when things occur. You have two options with respect to cameras if your camera use is limited. One is to put it in high traffic areas and the second is to put it in high potential crime areas whereas there may not be necessarily that much activity but when there is it's usually bad.

[00:10:50] The bad thing about cameras is they must be maintained. The good thing about cameras is that in addition to potentially lowering your insurance costs if there is an issue then there is a record. And God bless the property manager or owner that has a record of an event because the facts are a little bit easier to ascertain versus "He said she said." That's where cameras come in. They can potentially eliminate the unknown and give us a clearer picture (pun intended) of what's going on in a particular area over an extended period.

[00:11:30] And, cameras also can deter loitering. Along with greater outdoor lighting you basically have a better sense of the place when you can see a further distance. And if you're putting up cameras you're likely going to be putting up signs that say cameras are in use in the public areas and that too gives people a better sense of security and a little bit better ambience, to the location, to the place, that you're securing with better outdoor lighting and camera use.

[00:12:06] Consider also solar lighting options. These can be a little bit of a nuisance but they do have a much lower cost factor after installation. It's like putting in a new water heater. Is it going to save you a lot of money? No but it will save you a little bit of money for a long time. If you're using solar lighting options or solution.

[00:12:29] It's the same with outdoor lighting and cameras as we talked about earlier with water flow devices. You don't have to install them all at once or put everything in all at once and make it a huge cap ex item. These are items that can be installed over time or in phases.

[00:12:47] If there are certain areas of the property that are in dire need of more lighting or camera usage immediately then attack those areas first. Thereafter, you are basically you're doing triage whereas you identify the highest and best use for your dollars and your equipment initially and then you fold in behind that other areas that can benefit from the use of outdoor lighting and cameras.

[00:13:21] That's our program for today. We've covered four areas of preventive maintenance all which have a high impact dollar value on your property over time. You're not going to see savings in a day or week but you certainly will from year to year. And you can measure it quarter-to-quarter once these items are installed on a consistent basis across the property.

[00:13:43] Air filters, water flow restriction devices, Drains and storm drains and outdoor lighting and camera.

Thanks for listening today. This is John Wilhoit on Real Estate.

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