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How to Check an HVAC System When Buying a Home

Whether purchasing a home, making sure you understand your HVAC system from the start will go a long way toward insuring your comfort and safety in your new place. For an older home purchase, getting an HVAC inspection and scheduling maintenance is especially important.

While checking out the bedrooms and the kitchen appliances, be sure to look at the HVAC equipment too. For starters, review the stat sheet on the house you are interested in for a list of the types of HVAC equipment, as well as the fuel used to power them. If that information is missing, be sure to ask.

Here are some additional tips for evaluating the HVAC equipment in a potential home.

1. Understand all the equipment that your HVAC system includes.

In addition to the furnace, air conditioner and water heater, the HVAC system might include a programmable thermostat, filtration system(s), humidification system(s), and ductwork.

2. Visually inspect the equipment.

Does the equipment appear to be in good condition? Does it make any noises that are out of the ordinary? Make a note of anything that seems unusual and be sure to have your home inspector check it out. You can also hire an HVAC professional to do an inspection.

3. Ask about the system’s age.

Most HVAC equipment typically lasts 10 to 15 years. If the equipment in the home you’re purchasing is in that range, you may want to ask for it to be replaced, even if it has been well-maintained. New equipment will have far greater energy efficiency and reliability, making it much more cost efficient to operate. 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 30 percent!

4. Look for the energy label.

Even if the equipment is newer, look for the yellow energy label for the energy efficiency rating and the estimated operating costs compared to similar equipment. The Energy Star logo indicates greater efficiency than standard equipment. Check the annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) for boilers and furnaces and the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) rating for air conditioners. When judging these ratings, keep in mind the overall maintenance the equipment has received.

5. Understand the warranty.

Ask about the warranty and any maintenance agreements. Find out if the warranties transfer to the new owners.

6. Ask about past maintenance and repairs.

HVAC technicians sometimes leave behind a dated job ticket when they service an air conditioner, boiler, furnace or heat pump either attached to the unit or posted nearby. This type of information is a record of what has been done to the system. Check for frequent repairs, especially big-ticket items like blower motors or compressors. These could signal trouble that the equipment may need to be replaced soon.

7. Pay attention to the comfort levels in different rooms.

Cold, drafty spots or hot, stuffy spots could indicate a problem such as leaks or poor insulation.

8. Schedule a professional inspection and preventative maintenance.

Have the HVAC system inspected before you close on the house. At the very least, have a certified HVAC technician come out and do a thorough cleaning and maintenance before you move in.

A certified HVAC technician is an invaluable resource when you purchase a home. He or she will explain the system to you, provide recommendations for what you need to do to keep the system running as efficiently as possible, answer any additional questions you have and give you a good idea of how much life is left in the system. Keep in mind, an older system doesn’t necessarily need to be replaced. A well-maintained gas furnace or boiler can last between 15-20 years, while a heat pump or central air conditioner can last 10-15 years.

Bill East