A landlord’s toolbox for appliance repair and maintenance

Written on September 5, 2017 by

landlord appliance repairIf you supply appliances in your rental, as many landlords do, you’re responsible for appliance repair.

Barring abusive use, which you can minimize by giving tenants guidelines on how to properly use appliances, your appliances should last 10 to 15 years, or even more. During their lives, they’ll need some TLC and the odd repair.

Appliance technicians charge, on average, $150 per service call, and that’s often before they even fix the problem. If you’re the DIY type, you can reduce your overhead by doing repairs and maintenance yourself. Are you clenching your jaw and feeling your upper lip twitch at the idea? Relax! Appliance repair is easier than you think, especially with YouTube.

The appliance repair toolbox

The list of tools you need for appliance repairs is short. You don’t need cutting or shaping tools, and you don’t need to paint anything. You do need to take measurements, disassemble metal parts, and make the odd electrical repair. Here’s what should be in your toolbox:

  • Multi-driver with a complete assortment of bits
  • Battery drill
  • Tape measure
  • Small pry bar
  • Pipe wrench
  • 16-ounce smooth face hammer
  • Multimeter
  • Pliers
  • Wire splicing tool

Have your laptop handy

Here’s one more item to add to the list: a laptop with a good internet connection. Short of having the actual shop manual in front of you, the internet is your best resource for instructions, tips, and specifications. It’s also a great source for replacement parts, which you can usually receive a day or two after ordering them. Repair Clinic and eReplacement Parts are two excellent sources for parts and instructional videos.

Approaching a repair

Whether it’s a dryer that won’t tumble, a refrigerator that doesn’t stay cool, or an air conditioner that drips water all over the floor, the first thing to do is to find the model number. It’s usually in a prominent place, but sometimes you have to move the appliance or look inside to find it. Once you have that, set up your laptop, and you’re ready to go. Then, follow these four steps:

  1. Google it. Open a browser, and type in the make and model along with the nature of the problem. Be as specific as possible, but omit unnecessary words, such as “how to.” Chances are someone has uploaded a YouTube video or how-to article that addresses your problem. For example, I found this helpful video that guided me through a recent belt replacement for a Maytag washer. If not, you can usually find the service manual by adding the word “manual” to the make and model of the appliance in the search field.
  2. Make space. Give yourself plenty of room to work by clearing the area around the appliance. Then disconnect the appliance, and move it as far from the wall as possible. Have rags and/or buckets available to catch spilled water from washers and other appliances that are connected to plumbing. For some repairs, you may need to leave the appliance plugged in. If so, have an extension cord handy, but keep the appliance unplugged until the repair calls for it to be plugged in.
  3. Take pictures. Before you disassemble anything, it’s a good idea to take pictures beforehand to help you remember how everything goes back together. Don’t be afraid to fill your mobile device with relevant pics. You can always delete them after completing the repair.
  4. Put screws in a safe place. I can’t stress this enough. Put screws in a small, clean container. If not, you face wasting an hour or two searching for a lost screw, or worse, losing a screw down a drain or between some floorboards.

Know what you can and can’t do

You probably won’t be able to make every repair yourself, and sometimes it’s not worth trying.

For example, if you isolate the problem on a refrigerator to a bad compressor, you can remove the compressor to service it, but in that case, it’s usually cheaper and easier to just replace the refrigerator.

And some repairs, such as fixing a refrigerant leak in a freezer or air conditioner, must be done by a licensed service technician. Moreover, you need a licensed tech to service a gas valve on a water or space heater.

But there are many jobs you can do yourself, which can potentially save you hundreds of dollars in labor fees. Here are some of them:

  • Service the thermocouple, and clean and adjust pilot tube and burners on a gas water heater or space heater.
  • Change the elements and thermostats on an electric water heater.
  • Repair or replace the door seals, clean or deice the coils, repair the water supply hoses and replace the control board on your refrigerator.
  • Service the belts and electric heating element on your dryer. You can also clean the vents.
  • Replace the belts, the drain pump, and the control panel on your washing machine.

The importance of preventive maintenance

If you perform routine maintenance tasks regularly, you may not need to make major repairs.

Here’s what you should do at least once a year:

  • Remove lint from the dryer vents. Be sure to service the ducts all the way to the vent outlet. You should also instruct your tenants to clean the lint trap before or after each use.
  • Clean dirt and ice from refrigeration coils on all appliances that have them.
  • Replace the filters in your refrigerator, dryer, washer, and air circulation system.

It’s also a good idea to keep a maintenance record for all your appliances. It will come in handy for making a quick diagnosis if something major goes wrong.

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