Shopping for a new home is a long, sometimes stressful process. Sometimes you are confident that you have found “the one,” only to learn about a laundry list of problems a mile long. Don’t be discouraged, though – being extra careful about where you spend your money up front can save you a lot of headache down the road.
While you are inspecting possible new homes, keep in mind that home inspectors usually don’t do a thorough check of HVAC systems. It is up to you, the buyer, to do a little initial research to ensure that the climate control system is in good running order. Remember, if the HVAC is on its last leg, you could be facing some major repair or replacement bills in the near future.
Here’s what to ask about when you are getting serious about buying a new home:
Ask About the Age of the System
The general rule for HVAC systems is that the components last for around 10-15 years, although well-maintained equipment can last much longer. Asking about the age of the HVAC equipment will give you a sense of how much longer that equipment will be in good repair. Age will also give you some idea of how efficient the equipment may be, especially considering the continued advancement of HVAC technologies.
Ask About Maintenance Records
As mentioned above, a well-maintained HVAC system can substantially outlast a 10-15 lifecycle, so request that the seller provides maintenance records for all HVAC equipment. If they don’t have written records, ask for a brief run-down of how the system has been maintained. If they understand that routine checks and filter changes are required, and know how to clean components of their A/C and ductwork, that’s a sign that the system had been treated properly over the years.
Ask for the HVAC System to Be Turned On
Check for yourself that the HVAC system seems to be working. When visiting the home, request that both the air conditioning and the heating system be turned on. Experiencing the running system allows you to verify that it is blowing hot or cold air as necessary. It will also give you a chance to listen and smell – if you notice anything that sounds or smells “off,” it’s a sign that there could be a problem.
Ask If It Can Be Inspected Prior to Purchase
Typical home inspectors don’t do a thorough check of a home’s HVAC system – that’s left up to the buyer. If possible, have an HVAC professional come to the house and check everything out. They’ll be able to immediately identify potential problems and alert you to issues that could cost big bucks down the line.
Check the Ductwork
As you are walking through the home, do a quick visual inspection of the vents. Are they clean? Can you see any signs of rust stains, gaps, or water damage? If so, chances are there is an issue that needs to be taken care of. Also, inspect exposed ductwork for signs of damage such as dents, scratches, or punctures, as this could also indicate a problem.
Check the Indoor and Outdoor Components
You will want to take a good look at the indoor and outdoor components of the HVAC system. The indoor portion should be relatively clean (let’s face it, we’re not all great about cleaning our heat pumps or furnaces) and free of signs of age or leaks such as rust. The outdoor portion should be relatively clean as well, and free from overgrowth from nearby plants. See if the homeowner will allow you to see inside the outside part of the heat pump or A/C unit – the coils should be clean and free of rust.
Ask About the Insulation
A great HVAC system is nothing without proper insulation. Make sure to ask the homeowner about the age of the windows, about rooms that are colder/warmer than others, and if there have been any insulation upgrades made in the home since it was built.
Check for Signs of Mold or Mildew
As you are walking through the home, pay attention to areas close to vents, near the ceiling, around floorboards, and under cabinets. If you see any signs of mold or mildew damage, it’s an indication that there is a humidity issue in the home (or a water leak). Mold especially is not fun to deal with, so you want a home inspector to make sure there is no existing problem before you buy.
Ask for Utility Bills
Utility bills can also be a sign of a healthy HVAC system. If the price of the bills has steadily increased over the years, it is possible that the cause is equipment that may not be the most energy efficient.
Make A Note of Possible Upgrades
As you are completing your home walk-through, make a mental note of potential upgrades, such as adding a programmable thermostat or incorporating zoning for more efficient heating and cooling. Upgrades should factor into your planning for the future, as you may have to make some investments to make the current equipment as energy efficient as possible.
Need an HVAC inspection before purchasing a home? Give us a call at (205) 871-8111!