No Central Air in Units

9 Replies

Hi BP Community!

I’m closing on a 3 unit in a few weeks and the property doesn’t have central air. I’m wondering what’s the easiest and most cost effective way to keep the units cool? My initial thought is to install ceiling fans and maybe window units into a few of the bedrooms? I’m also wondering if wall units work better than window units? And do most landlords make the tenants bring their own A/C units?

Looking forward to everyone’s feedback.


I've added ceiling fans, but usually the tenants around here do bring (or buy) their own window ACs.  That let's them decide how cool they want it, and they can deal with installing and removing them... and dealing with them when they break.  

In a few properties, I have installed mini-split heat/AC units.  They aren't cheap, but they work great and handle heat/cool for each tenant individually.

I assume from your question that you don't plan to install a permanent system of some sort (like mini-splits), which do work great, but as @Mike McCarthy stated, they are not cheap.  Here are a couple questions:  1-can you charge more if you provide the AC units and then list the places as having AC?  2-do you care if tenants precariously dangle AC units out multiple windows, running extension cords throughout the unit trying to reach outlets?

Personally, if having the units would allow you to charge more rent, I would provide the units, install them correctly and safely in the windows of your choosing, and put language in the lease that says that the AC units are not to be moved or removed. In the winters you can either remove them or insulate them.

If you don't want to provide the AC units, I would have clear language in my lease about which windows they can be installed in, that they must be installed safely, can/can't be screwed into window panes, etc. etc.

Ceiling fans are unnecessary effort in my opinion.  Tenants can use box fans.

One last thought, since I don't know if these are apartments or a conversion: what is the capacity of the circuits in the property?  If all the tenants install their own units however and wherever they want, will you be popping breakers left and right?

There are landlords in my area that provide AC units to the tenant. I currently do not. But if I have thought about doing it at an additional cost to the tenant. A $50 a month increase could recover the cost of one or two AC's within a year.

The cheapest option is to let tenants provide their own window units. If you add split a/c systems, that could potentially increase the rental value of the property but it depend on the class of neighborhood/property, your climate, the competition, and other factors.

Assuming the property is in Chicago and not in a very exclusive neighborhood, I do not think tenants renting in a 3-family home expect central air. The most common solution is for them to provide their own window units if they choose to. I would not add ceiling fans if they aren't already there, just another thing that can break that you will have to repair/replace.

As others have said, probably window units will be the most effective.  

From what I've seen, a single window unit works pretty well on smaller units, like studio or 1-bedroom apartments. Once the units get bigger, you may need something like one window unit per bedroom; people don't always want to leave all the inside doors open so one unit can cool the whole place.

If there is more than one window unit per unit, and one of them craps out, you usually have the option of shuffling a working one into the bedroom(s) and then getting a new window unit tomorrow. In the summer, Wal-Mart (24 hours a day) usually has some in stock; I'm not sure if they stock them all year, though.  (This assumes you provide the window units.)

You do have to clean the filters on them. Often this isn't a paper throwaway filter like a central A/C has, but a section of wire or plastic mesh in the front grille that you can pull out and wash. You might consider buying spare filters, so when you go for a maintenance visit, you can just swap in a clean one and take the old one back with you to wash later.

They should tilt towards the outside of the house a little bit, so the condensation drips out the back. Normally this happens "automatically" when they are mounted in the window, but it's a good thing to check every couple of years, so they don't start dripping inside the house.

If the unit ends up dripping somewhere you don't want it to, some units have a place you can connect a drain pipe/hose and move the drip over a few feet. You don't usually plumb this into a drain; you just use a few feet of pipe or hose to get the drip away from the doorway or whatever.

If the unit has more than one bedroom, it's kind of common for the outlets in two of the bedrooms to be on the same circuit. Two window units on one circuit will usually be OK, but it doesn't leave a lot of room for the tenants' stuff. You can usually run a few lamps, alarm clocks, phone chargers, etc no problem, but if the tenant wants to (say) use a hair dryer in the bedroom, they might end up popping a breaker.

If you have to run a new circuit just for the window unit(s), consider putting a single outlet next to each unit, instead of the common duplex outlet.  If you think you need a really big window unit for some reason, running a new circuit usually lets you use a 240 V window unit if you want.

One disadvantage to a window unit, especially if it's on the first floor in a less-than-great neighborhood, is that it's relatively easy for the bad guys to push it into the house from the outside, and then climb in through the resulting hole. Most bad guys aren't bold enough to try this when someone is home, but I've heard of it happening when the tenants were away, or when the unit was vacant between tenants.

If you have a bedroom with only one window, and that window serves as an egress window (second exit in case of fire), check with the local building-code people to see if you're allowed to put a window unit in that bedroom.  Sometimes you can and sometimes you can't.

  I think it depends on your market.  Is Central air expected?  Are window units expected?  Can you charge more for providing or attract a higher clientele?

I’m in SE Iowa.   Central air and ceiling fans are definitely a perk and I have found I can charge a little more and the houses are much easier to rent.   If a house or apartment doesn’t have a central system than it’s expected that tenants provide their own window units or floor fans. But those units generally rent for less and are harder to fill.  

We install CA if reasonable and possible.  I also like that it provides better moisture control which is good for my investment, it’s very humid here, walls will literally drip. 

Have you asked the seller how they kept cool?  That might be your answer.  The seller probably did one of those things themselves.

I provide central air in my properties that have existing ducts. It costs me $2,600 and gives me a marketing advantage over properties that do not have it. It's hard to tell if I can earmark a specific rent value, maybe $50/month. It also becomes part of the property's equity.