How to convince our landlord to install ductless AC?
March 12, 2013 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Heat and AC barely reach the 2nd floor of our old apartment. Ductless AC seems like the way to do. Tips for getting a landlord on-side (at least) and footing the bill (at best)?

We're in a situation much like this; i.e., our 2nd floor 1 bedroom apartment that's nominally "air conditioned" via forced air is super hot in the summer (and barely over 17 degrees C in the winter, come to think of it) because the insulation is poor and the thermostat is in the 1st floor apartment.

The windows slide horizontally and open in a very small way, such that you have to remove both panels... the result being that it's very difficult to fit a window unit. We've currently got a window AC unit for our bedroom (I think the last tenants left it behind) and have heated our south-facing living room with an electric radiator but I'm really not looking forward to another of our increasingly sweltering, humid Toronto summers with what amounts to no air conditioning outside our bedroom.

After some research I've determined that ductless (i.e. "mini-split") air conditioners with heat pumps can solve both the poor AC and the poor heat problems in one fell swoop, although the layout of our apartment might mean we need to get a two-zone installation. It might cost several thousand dollars to get this installed, so it's not something we could just do on our own with the landlord's blessing to leave behind... at best, we could offer to pay for a portion of it.

Currently the landlord pays for the (gas) heat and central air, and we pay for electricity. Our electric bills have been rising steadily as we have had to rely more on our own AC and space heaters with the poor central heating and AC. My understanding is that the heat pump should be a pretty efficient way to heat and cool our small apartment, but I'm not sure how the costs would stack up compared to the "free" (built into our rent) cost of our half of the existing, but insufficient, forced air solution plus our electric supplementary heat and AC if, say, the ducts from downstairs were blocked and we switched over to the ductless heat pump completely.

I don't have any experience asking for anything from landlords beyond necessary repairs. I've seen advice from time to time in newspapers and magazines discussing strategies for getting upgrades (or at least permission to do them yourself). What's the best way to approach this? We are probably looking at staying put for a couple more years while we get our student loans squared away and save for a down payment. But the discomfort from heat and cold might push us out. I understand that keeping good tenants - which we are - is a priority for landlords, but I don't want to come off as making a threat.

This landlord has been very good when maintenance issues have come up in the past (we discovered an improperly grounded outlet that was probably wired incorrectly since before he bought the place, and it was immediately fixed via some extensive detective work by his "guys"); his other units are fairly well equipped (we saw a couple of them - all had portable dishwashers, which is a significant upgrade in this market); our downstairs neighbour got him to replace the deck in the backyard when she moved in.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.
posted by onshi to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
Response by poster: I should add that I'm serious enough about proposing this to have contacted a couple of contractors to look at the place and give us a quote this weekend. That should give me a sense of the BTUs required and if two zones - bedroom and living room - are really necessary.
posted by onshi at 11:49 AM on March 12, 2013

Before you go down that path, have you considered booster fans in the ductwork to the top floors? Or even these? They worked well for us in a 4 storey town house with similar heat distribution issues.

I wonder if there is some middle ground between what you have now and what you are suggesting. You can get in-duct boosters and ones on the outlet so perhaps the full-on approach you are leaning towards could at the least be one option you are suggesting with a smaller, cheaper alternative being much more likely to look attractive?
posted by Brockles at 12:15 PM on March 12, 2013

Response by poster: That may be the case, Brockles. One of the contractors I will get a quote from specializes in ductless, and the other does HVAC generally and I'll be looking at various options.

One of the attractive features of the ductless route would be separating temperature control between the two units, as the lack of insulation upstairs and thermostat downstairs seems to mean that even with booster fans we are bound to lag behind the lower unit either way (but less so if more of the warm or cool air actually reaches us before it shuts off, to be sure).
posted by onshi at 12:24 PM on March 12, 2013

When you bring it up, I'd suggest focusing on your problem (i.e., unsatisfactory heating and cooling) rather than a particular proposed solution. A mini-split sounds like it would fit the bill, but if this is an issue for other tenants in the building, another solution (like a high-velocity AC retrofit) might better suit the landlord's needs. If they're not up to that, maybe they'd at least spring for a second window unit and/or reimburse you for the increased electricity cost.
posted by ndg at 12:28 PM on March 12, 2013

Response by poster: I think from the landlord's perspective, the place "already has" AC - heck, that's one of the reasons we picked the place - so I guess we need to positively communicate that this isn't really the case. That was my rationale for getting the quotes so we could show him some solutions that won't break the bank. I'll talk to the downstairs tennant (the only other one) and see, but I think it's working well for her.

On the day after Christmas it briefly seemed like the furnace died, but apparently a breaker just needed to be flipped and our downstairs neighbour didn't know what to do (so we were without heat for several hours while we waited for a service call). We were actually kind of hopeful that a new furnace would be more powerful and might solve our problem, but no such luck.

I'll stop babysitting the thread, but I just wanted to clarify.
posted by onshi at 12:31 PM on March 12, 2013

Son of landlords, and someone who's dealt with a lot of landlords over the years,

There's three things i'd want to check in to here.

First of all, where are you located? Is it in an area that requires the landlord to provide AC like a lot of the southwest/southern united states? If not, you might have a tough row to hoe here on the AC front.

Second, where i'm located this type of "one thermostat for both units" thing would be at best in a grey area, if not just against code/the rules for getting a place officially signed off on as a rental/etc.

Third, i think the way to attack this might be the improper heat. Obviously the very first thing i'd do after i answered the first two questions to myself is just ask the landlord, framing it as "hey, the temperature is consistently off up here". Assuming this fails and he just kinda mumbles at you and doesn't do anything, then i'd go to the city(council up there in Canada?) and pretty much say "hey, i'm not getting real heat in my apartment" which is, everywhere I've ever heard of, a big deal legally. it's one of those basic things like a working fridge and toilet that they're legally obligated to provide. This is also when i'd bring up item #2.

In fact yep, Check out this link, it's some lines pulled from your landlord tenant act. It says that it's the landlords responsibility to keep the place 21 degrees C all winter. Obviously be nice at first and ask him, have a conversation about it, etc. But if he ignores you know that you are wielding the stick here, and have the leverage of the law on your side. I also really hope that he doesn't just install booster fans, as i really think that won't do crap(having lived in several poorly insulated places). You really just need your own heat, with it's own thermostat, which you might even be legally entitled to. I don't have time to read the entire Toronto landlord tenant act, but you should.

Whatever you do, don't ever offer to invest money in to a rental unit you don't own any share of unless you're getting a break on your rent, that's basically throwing money away(i have friends who have paid to have carpets they wanted or other improvements made to rentals. how is this not a crap investment?). In fact where i am, if the landlord signs off on you contributing to repairs or improvements they are required to give you a break on rent for the value of them.
posted by emptythought at 2:17 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a landlord, what would matter most to me would be your willingness to sign a multiyear lease, especially if the cost of the repairs is going to be less than a month's rent (or the time I estimate I may have to leave the unit vacant looking for a new tenant). If you were to sign for 3 years at market rates, it would be a big plus in your favor.

The other action I would appreciate would be detailed info on the economics of the utility bills and references to back-up the numbers. It's not necessary but it would be a nice touch. Any cash you put up also obviously helps, but I wouldn't go that route.

In terms of approach, there's not too much you can do--it's going to boil down to the numbers. Certainly, be polite and if it were me, I'd appreciate a call to give me a heads-up followed by an email with details of exactly what you're requesting (email/letter on its own could seem legalistic and a call can't have all the numbers in it).

Good luck.
posted by limagringo at 2:21 PM on March 12, 2013

It's entirely possible that there's leaks somewhere along the duct lines or where they connect to the AC unit. That could cause a severe drop in airflow reaching your floor.

I'm basing this somewhat on what I've learned from watching Holmes on Homes and Holmes Inspection where it seems to be a common issue they run into.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:24 PM on March 12, 2013

(Basically what I'm trying to say is that the existing system may just be broken and fixing it might be cheaper than replacing it with something else. At which point getting a separate thermostat may be the only true plus for the replacement approach.)
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:26 PM on March 12, 2013

« Older My Baby is Turning 21 and I Want to Give Her the...   |   Trying to transfer sequencer files from... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.