How to Maintain Site's A/C System, Avoid HUD Inspection Violations
Keeping your residents cool and comfortable in the summer will do much to keep your residents happy, reduce resident complaints, and avoid HUD scrutiny. If your site's air-conditioning system breaks down this summer, some residents may even try to deduct money from their rent for the time the air-conditioning system was broken.
One way to avoid these headaches is to inspect and maintain your site's air-conditioning system before residents start increasing its usage this summer. If your site's air-conditioning system has been neglected, it's important to implement a maintenance and inspection program right away because a broken or dangerous air-conditioning system is a red flag for HUD inspectors. Also, a proper inspection and maintenance program will uncover any potentially dangerous conditions, such as leaks, mold, or bad wiring.
To ensure that the summer heat and HUD inspectors don't catch you with a broken air-conditioning system, have your maintenance staff inspect and fix any problems with the system now. We'll tell you why this is important and how to make sure you get access to residents' units to complete your inspections. With help from air-conditioning maintenance experts, we'll also give you tips for inspecting your air-conditioning system. And we've prepared a Model Form: Use Checklists to Inspect Air-Conditioning System, to help guide your maintenance staff through their air-conditioning system inspection and maintenance.
Why Inspections Are Important
Proper inspection of your site's air-conditioning system should help you avoid the following problems:
Violations of HUD physical conditions standards. HUD inspectors inspect both individual air-conditioning systems in apartments and central air-conditioning systems that serve the entire site. They make sure that the air-conditioning systems don't violate any of HUD's physical condition standards and look for such problems as inoperable systems, rust or corrosion, abnormal noise or vibration, or leaks. By conducting your own inspection, you can catch these problems and repair them before HUD inspectors come to your site.
Problems evicting households for nonpayment. Broken air-conditioning systems also give households ammunition against you if you try to go to court to collect unpaid rent. A household may claim that you aren't entitled to rent because the broken air-conditioning system makes the unit uninhabitable and violates the lease.
Get Access to Inspect Individual A/C Units
If your air-conditioning system includes individual units in each apartment, you'll need to get access to inspect them. HUD's model lease requires you to give “reasonable advance notice” of your visit and get the household's consent to enter [HUD Model Lease, par. 20(a)]. But the lease also requires households to give you their consent to enter to make reasonable repairs [HUD Model Lease, par. 20(b)]. If a household refuses to let you in, you have grounds to evict [HUD Model Lease, par. 23(c)(1)].
To make sure inspections run smoothly and you get access to all the air-conditioning units, notify households that you must get into their apartments for air-conditioning maintenance and persuade them to give you access. To do this, take the following steps:
Step #1: Schedule visit. Schedule a visit by posting a notice giving the date and time you plan to do the inspections or call each household to set up a mutually convenient time. Be sure to ask households to arrange for someone to be home at the scheduled time or to give your maintenance staff permission to enter with a passkey.
Step #2: Send letter. If this doesn't work, send a letter to each resident who hasn't scheduled an appointment. In the letter, set a new appointment and remind the household that their lease requires them to give you access for the purpose of inspections and repairs.
Step #3: Send maintenance staff to unit. Send a maintenance staff member to the unit at the scheduled time—even if the household doesn't respond to the letter.
Step #4: Follow up with warning letter. If no one's home, or if the household refuses to let the staff member in, then follow up with a more forceful warning notice that makes clear to the household that they risk being the target of an eviction lawsuit if they don't cooperate.
TIPS FOR A/C SYSTEM INSPECTION
Here are some tips from the experts on what you should have your maintenance staff do to check each type of system. We've also prepared two Air-Conditioning Inspection Checklists that your maintenance staff can use to guide them through their air-conditioning system inspection and maintenance. One checklist is for sites that use individual systems in each apartment, and the other is for sites that use central air-conditioning that works off central chillers with cooling towers.
Tell maintenance staff to check off each box after they've completed each task and record what corrective measures were taken or still need to be taken to correct any problems. Then file the completed checklists in the management office.
There are two common types of individual air-conditioning systems that you may have in apartments. One, known as a “package” system, is a single unit installed in a window or wall, with part of the air-conditioning unit extending outdoors. The other, the so-called “split” system, has two components: a separate outdoor component and a connected indoor component. Both types of individual apartment air-conditioning systems require outdoor and indoor maintenance.
Maintenance of Individual A/C Units
To conduct outdoor maintenance for individual A/C units, do the following:
Conduct visual inspection. The first thing your maintenance staff should do is visually inspect the outdoor portion of the air-conditioning system for each apartment. According to Vann Flippen, training director for Chadwell Supply, you can discover and fix between 60 percent and 70 percent of all air-conditioning problems simply by doing a visual inspection of the system's components.
Your maintenance staff should check for leaves, bugs, bird nests, and anything else that may have accumulated since the last inspection. And they should locate the condenser, compressor, and evaporator, and check for any loose electrical connections, says Flippen. Also inspect the supply and return ducts for damage and be sure that all openings around the pipes and ducts are sealed properly.
Clean debris from condensers. Your maintenance staff should clear away any debris they notice around the system's condensers.
Clear condensate drains. It's important that your maintenance staff check the condensate drains. Over the winter, moisture that remained in the drains may have dried up, forming hard clogs, says Flippen. When you turn on the air-conditioner unit, these clogs may prevent condensate water from flowing into the drain. The result will be water backing up out of the drain pan and flooding your residents' apartments.
Clean outside condensing coils. Your maintenance staff can clean the outside condensing coils by spraying them with a coil cleaner and rinsing thoroughly. If using an acid-based cleaner, your maintenance staff should make sure the acid concentration doesn't cause corrosion in the condensing coils.
For indoor maintenance of individual A/C units, do the following:
Change filters. Your maintenance staff should change the filters in each individual air-conditioning unit, even if the filter doesn't look dirty. When doing so, they should make sure the new filter fits correctly.
Clean each unit's coils. Next, your maintenance staff should clean the coils in each individual air-conditioning unit. For minor dirt buildup, Flippen recommends using a nonacid, self-rinsing coil cleaner. For heavy buildup, a stronger, more thorough cleaning may be needed. Flippen suggests instructing your maintenance staff to fill out a maintenance request form on the spot if they need to return to remove heavy buildup.
Insert sludge tabs in condensate pans. Sludge tabs help melt the sludge and buildup that can accumulate in condensate pans. With sludge tabs in place, once the air-conditioning unit is turned on, the water will flow through the condensate coils over the sludge tabs and soften any sludge that may be blocking the flow of moisture.
Ask residents to test units. After your maintenance staff has done its inspections and maintenance, they should ask residents to turn on their air-conditioning units to see if they're working properly. That way, if there's a problem, your maintenance staff will be able to order any necessary parts and fix broken units.
Maintenance of Central A/C Systems
When inspecting and maintaining central air-conditioning systems, be mindful of safety. Use only trained staff to service your cooling tower. And make sure your staff follows safe work procedures, such as wearing protective clothing, installing protective guards around rotating pieces of equipment, and locking electrical disconnects in the off position.
Grease motor bearings. Your maintenance staff should grease the bearings, the parts that make the pumps and motors turn, and check them for wear and tear, says Jim Woods, vice president of John C. Cassidy Air Conditioning in West Palm Beach, Fla. He recommends having your maintenance staff check the bearings at least twice a year.
Tighten electrical connections. Tightening electrical connections is very important, says Woods. Loose connections will cause a voltage drop to the air-conditioning equipment. And decreased voltage will make the motors and relays run at a hotter temperature and reduce the life expectancy of your equipment. This is especially true during the peak of summer, says Woods, when increased demand often lowers the supply voltage anyway. The following are items that should be performed during inspection and maintenance procedures:
Grease pump bearings. Have your maintenance staff grease the pump bearings and check that they're operating smoothly, Woods advises.
Drain and clean cooling tower. Your maintenance staff should drain and clean the cooling tower. Then they should use a pressurized hose to wash the inside and outside of the cooling tower.
Check fan belt in cooling tower and replace if it shows wear and tear. Have maintenance staff make adjustments to the cooling tower belt as needed and replace the belt if there's any sign of wear and tear, says Woods.
Replace all filters. Also, have maintenance staff replace all filters, says Woods. Filters should be checked monthly and replaced as needed.
Clean evaporator coils. Evaporator coils should be freed of algae, dirt, bird droppings, and any other substances that may have accumulated since the last inspection.
Clean drain pans. Drain pans should be freed of any debris. Also, any standing water that may have accumulated in them should be vacuumed out.
Check calibrations on thermostats. You should have your maintenance staff check the calibration on the thermostats, advises Woods. If the controls are out of calibration, the air-conditioning system may be using too much energy by running too long and overcooling, he explains.
Vann Flippen: Training Director, Chadwell Supply, 4907 Joanne Kearney Blvd., Tampa, FL 33619; www.chadwellsupply.com.
Jim Woods: Vice President, John C. Cassidy Air Conditioning, 846 W. 13th Ct., Riviera Beach, FL 33404; www.cassidyac.com.
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