Shopping for a new home can be overwhelming. While it can be exciting to go on walk-throughs and look at paint colors and open floor plans, the devil is in the details.
Paint is inexpensive—so are other cosmetic details. The main things you want to look out for are expensive components, such as plumbing, roofing, electrical, and HVAC systems. When you find potential problems, you can use that information to have the seller correct the issue(s) beforehand or negotiate the purchase price.
Don’t let staging and aesthetics distract from the important systems that you will rely on day in and day out. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), along with utility bills, maintenance and repair costs, are a huge part of the home buying equation.
What Home Buyers Should Consider for Their HVAC System
Use the following list to understand what you are getting so you can ask more informed HVAC questions when shopping for a new home.
Circular ducts tend to be quieter and more efficient than rectangular ones. While HVAC and duct design probably aren’t the first things you look at when shopping for a new home, the savvy home buyer will take them into consideration.
Ask the home inspector for specifics on the HVAC system and duct design. Ask about duct leaks and if the ducts are sized and designed correctly.
In addition to round ducts, look for external insulation. Duct insulation, however, can sometimes be on the inside. You will impress your home inspector and save time and money by asking for specific information on duct design, insulation, sizing, and leaks.
You may or may not know that R-22 (virgin hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22, also known as HCFC-22) has been banned by the EPA. Make sure you check if the HVAC system in the home uses R-22 refrigerant or not. If it does, you will still be able to use R-22 refrigerant, but supplies will be limited and replacing refrigerant will be more expensive. By 2020, R-22 refrigerant will no longer be legal to produce.
Basically, if the HVAC system still uses R-22 refrigerant, you will eventually have to retrofit or replace the system, which can get expensive. If you continue to use your R-22 HVAC system, expect to pay more for refrigerant service. You will have to rely on reclaimed or previously-produced supplies.
Age & Maintenance History
It’s important to know the age and maintenance history of the HVAC system of your new home. Air conditioners and heat pumps should be considered for replacement after around 10 years. Consider replacement for furnaces and boilers that are more than 15 years old. Regular maintenance (bi-annual) plays a major role in the life expectancy of your HVAC system.
(If you are a home seller and your HVAC system is more than 10 years old, consider replacing the outdated system. Buyers want high energy efficiency, low maintenance, and high reliability.)
Ask the seller for any information they have on maintenance and repairs performed. Annual preventative maintenance is essential for maintaining any manufacturer’s warranties the system may have, in addition to extending its lifespan, improving energy efficiency, and reducing the need for repairs.
Many times, HVAC technicians will leave job tickets on the unit itself. If not, the homeowner may have them somewhere. Ask to see them.
While the age and maintenance records for the system can tell you a lot, you also want to be sure to schedule a professional HVAC inspection to get the full story. If you do need to purchase a new HVAC system, learn what you need to know before making a decision.
Around half of your home’s total energy use goes toward heating and cooling (Energy Star). That’s why HVAC energy efficiency (combined with insulation levels) is so important. The more energy-efficient your HVAC system is, the less money you pay for your energy bill (totaling thousands of dollars over the years).
Air conditioner energy efficiency is measured by its SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating. The higher the SEER number, the more energy-efficient it is.
Furnace energy efficiency is measured by its AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating. The higher the AFUE rating, the more efficient it is. For example, 90% AFUE means that 90% of the fuel consumed is used for heating (the rest is lost to combustion).
Heat pump energy efficiency is measured by its HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) rating. Again, the higher the number, the more efficient the system.
Don’t simply trust the energy rating provided on the EnergyGuide label. This number is normally the best possible efficiency, normally during the first few years of service. As the HVAC system ages, its energy efficiency decreases. By scheduling a professional HVAC inspection, you will get a much better understanding of the system’s current energy efficiency.
Learn more industry terminology.
Related to energy efficiency, it’s important to know how much you will be paying in utility bills. Ask the seller for copies of their recent utility bills for the real numbers. Avoid utility bill shock (average monthly utility bills are around $240/month) by finding out the home’s total energy costs, including electrical, HVAC, and water or sewer bills.
One of the reasons why HVAC inspections are so important to the home buying process is because heating and cooling accounts for about half of the average home’s utility costs (U.S. Dept. of Energy).
Location of Indoor Unit
If your indoor air handling unit is in the attic, you run the risk of water leaking and causing expensive ceiling damage. HVAC units that are in the basement are much less likely to cause damage to the home.
Location of Outdoor Unit
Outdoor condenser unit location matters. If the unit is too close to bedrooms windows, the noise can be bothersome. Also, if the home is in a flood-prone area, make sure the unit is elevated or located on higher ground. One last thing to check is the gutters above the unit. If there are no gutters or if they are damaged, water runoff can cause damage to the unit (especially during cold winter weather).
Since air filters should be changed (or cleaned) every 30-90 days, it should be easy to do so. Check if your HVAC system requires cleaning or replacing the air filter and if it is easy to access.
HVAC Maintenance Plan
As a new homeowner (and HVAC owner), you are now responsible for routine heating and cooling maintenance. Sign up for a Home Maintenance Plan early to keep your warranties intact and your energy bills and repair and replacement costs down.
Always Hire a Separate, Licensed HVAC Inspector
Learn 3 reasons why you should always schedule a separate HVAC inspection before buying a home.
Bonus Home Buying Tips:
- Attend a home buying class.
- Get your inspections done before making an offer. If you do make an offer, make sure to include a home inspection contingency.
- Research home buyer programs and best mortgage lenders.
- Use resources from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
- Use resources from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- Budget for utility, maintenance, repair, and renovation costs.
- Don’t let your emotions run the show and take advantage of the internet.
If you are thinking about buying a new home anytime soon, contact Service Champions for your professional HVAC buyer’s inspection.
We will conduct a comprehensive examination of the entire HVAC system, including correct sizing, design, ventilation, cleanliness, indoor air quality concerns, structural integrity, moisture concerns, and much more. Trust us, you’ll want the opinion of a trained HVAC specialist.