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  • Writer's pictureRob Mitchell

Tips for checking the HVAC system when buying a house

When you’re shopping for a new home, there are so many factors to consider, from the neighborhood and school district all the way down to the age of the roof. If this is your first home purchase, it can be overwhelming! But while you’re counting bathrooms and checking out the kitchen appliances, be sure to look at the HVAC equipment too.


New home HVAC considerations

What type of HVAC system does the home have?

Most homes in the Denver area have a forced air heating and air conditioning system, but not all. Some homes rely on window AC units, while others have ductless mini-split systems or heat pumps. Is the furnace fuel source natural gas, propane or electricity? It could have a boiler system with multiple zones. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.


Look for rust, cracks, dents, water stains or other damage to the HVAC equipment. Turn the furnace on to be sure it works, and then do the same for the air conditioner. Listen closely for any sounds like banging, hissing, or grinding.


What age is the system?

You will generally be able to determine the age of the system by Googling the model and serial number. The age of the furnace might be different from the air conditioner/heat pump, so make sure you check both. Heating and cooling systems should last around 15 years before they will need to be replaced, although some last for 20 years or more if they’re given the proper maintenance.


A home with an older system doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, but having that knowledge may allow you to negotiate a lower price to allow for the cost of replacing the HVAC system in the near future if necessary.


Related to the age of the HVAC system is the question of whether or not it’s still under warranty. If it is still under warranty, you’ll want to know whether that warranty can be transferred to a new owner.


How efficient is the system?

While you are checking on the age of the system, try to determine its efficiency also. A top-of-the-line, variable-speed air conditioner or furnace may reduce your energy consumption significantly and provide a much more comfortable home compared to an entry-level unit.


Heating efficiency is measured using the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating system. AFUE is the ratio of the furnace's or boiler's heat output compared to its energy consumed. Higher efficiency furnaces will have an AFUE of at least 90%. The higher the percentage, the more efficient the unit is, resulting in greater savings on your energy bills.


Cooling efficiency is measured using Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating. Like AFUE, a higher SEER rating indicates a more efficient unit. Higher efficiency AC/heat pump systems will have a SEER of 16 or higher. The Department of Energy estimates that a 12-year-old central air conditioner that is replaced with a new Energy Star model can reduce air conditioning energy costs by up to 30 percent.


You may want to request to review recent energy bills from the seller. They may provide you an idea of what you’ll be paying on a monthly basis. Exceptionally high energy bills could be a sign that the home is not well insulated, or that the HVAC system does not work efficiently, or a combination of both.


Is the home insulated adequately?

It’s difficult to check insulation levels in the walls without professional equipment, but you can peek into the attic. You’re looking for a thick blanket of insulation covering the attic floor. Any ductwork running through the space should also be insulated.


What is the condition of the ductwork?

In a forced-air system the ductwork is very important. Leaky ductwork wastes precious heated and cooled air, so it's critical that it be free of leaks. Look for loose connections, visible gaps, torn sections, or other problems. You should also check to see that they are clean and not full of several years’ worth of dust, mold and other debris.


When you are walking through the house, assess how comfortable it feels. Do you notice any drafts when you walk past a window or near the doors? Does one room seem to be hotter or colder than another? Notice where any vents are located and evaluate them for intake as well as outflow. If you notice temperature differences, stuffiness, or drafts, there could be something wrong with the HVAC equipment, ductwork, or insulation levels.


Can you see a maintenance history?

The seller may be able to provide you a history of HVAC maintenance. Excessive maintenance calls can be a red flag. Has the system been receiving annual checkups? Having these additional records can provide you additional insight into the health of the system.


The only thing a seller has to disclose in regard to HVAC is whether or not the system is working. Beyond that, it’s the responsibility of the buyer to figure out whether or not the heating and cooling system is an asset or a liability.


You are most likely going to hire a home inspector. General home inspectors normally only check the basics of whether or not the system is functioning. They usually don’t have the equipment or the expertise to sufficiently evaluate the condition of a HVAC system. Having a specialist inspect your soon to be HVAC system may help insure your home purchase doesn’t come with any HVAC surprises.


Give us a call. We’ll be happy to set an appointment to inspect the HVAC system in the home you’re planning to purchase.


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