This week was one of the longest of my life so far. What started as a trip to check on the placements of my smoke and CO2 detectors turned into a week-long near-nervous breakdown and 12+ hours of driving to prevent the would-be disaster of a burst pipe in the Michigan Winter. In this post I’ll discuss the chaos that ensued when I showed up and found a broken furnace and a frozen house.
It has been a slow month for bookings in my two mid-Michigan short-term rental homes. Empty, really. Being right after the holidays, paired with COVID complications and fears, has made January a slow month for many Airbnb hosts. What I found out this week is that slow months aren’t just a time to sit and forget about your home until the next guest arrives.
The Frigid Discovery
When an improvement or safety precaution for my Airbnb operation enters my mind, I fixate on it until I can implement it. This was the case when I started wondering where I had installed my smoke and CO2 detectors in my homes. With so many of the devices installed in each house, and with them being a rather unexciting part of the furnishing experience, I had forgotten if I covered all my bases and met the requirements for installation locations. So, I purchased a handful of double-duty smoke/CO2 detectors and made the 1.5 hour trip up to visit my homes.
The first one went smoothly – I went in and found that I didn’t have a detector inside of one of the bedrooms or in the living room. I screwed them into the walls and was out of there in a half-hour with peace of mind that I had every room covered. Then I headed a mile away to my second Airbnb rental, prepared for the same simple procedure. What I found, however, was a shockingly cold house that clearly hadn’t been heated at least all day. The last visitor in the house was my cleaning partner a couple of weeks prior and so there was no telling when the heat stopped working.
After getting a hair dryer running under the kitchen sink to resolve the ticking time bomb that was the frozen water pipe, my next step was checking the thermostat, which read “LOW”, referring to the battery life. Replacing the batteries didn’t work and neither did the replacement thermostat I ran out and bought from Walmart. In a frenzy, I turned of the water main valve and drained the remaining water from all of the faucets in the house. After hours of YouTube furnace repair videos I then made the return trip home, defeated (well, after checking the smoke detectors…). Luckily, I was able to get a local furnace professional out to the house the next morning. He confirmed that the issue was in the furnace itself. It took him an hour and $400 to replace the inducer and get the house habitable again. A sigh of relief, indeed, but the work was far from over.
Two days later I was back up at the house, prepared to install the two Amazon smart thermostats I bought (one for each house). I was determined to gain control and visibility over the houses’ heat without having to be physically in the home. After turning off the heat, ripping off the old thermostat, and getting aaaalmost all the way through the installation process, it was made very clear that the house didn’t have the wiring required for a smart thermostat. I’ll spare you some of the details of my night, but know it included multiple trips to Home Depot to find a workaround, hours reading how others have handled this, and LOTS of cussing.
The options were clear – I either needed to rewire the house to have a “C-wire” run to the thermostat, which would allow me to have a smart thermostat…or I needed to figure out something else. Defeated again, I reinstalled the old, “dumb” thermostat and headed home.
The Next Best Thing
After taking a minute to think about what I really needed in this situation, my search turned from a smart thermostat solution to a device that would allow me to see the temperature in the house from anywhere. Because I kept the house around 62 degrees to be guest-ready (but not toasty) at all times, I only needed to know what the temperature was in the house, not control it. My need was to know if the temperature drops significantly again, which would alert me of another furnace issue before anything major could happen.
After a quick search for “remote temperature monitoring”, I came across this little beauty on Amazon. It was perfect; this little device would allow me to watch the temperature from my phone and even provided a nice clock and thermometer for the guest in the house. With the added bonus of being cheaper for two of these than it was for just one of the smart thermostats, I couldn’t have hit the check-out button any faster.
I had the devices, one for each house in the mid-Michigan city, sent up there to wait for me to arrive for one last trip for the week. The setup was extremely easy and I had it synced with the Smart Life app within minutes. Now I can check in anytime and see the temperature and humidity levels inside my homes.
The experience of finding frozen pipes, experimenting (failing) with smart thermostats, and finding another solution was as stressful as it sounds. But, with every new experience in this business comes another learning. Remote temperature monitoring adds another feature to the far-away management strategy I am hoping for with my portfolio. Every one of my properties will get one of these devices. Whether the weather is cold, warm, or tropical, it will be important to make sure guests are comfortable. Being able to find oddities from my phone will allow me to act fast in times of HVAC malfunction, quickly calling a professional to go over there and fix the problem…all without having to be there.