Whether you are a first-time homebuyer or looking to move, purchasing a new home is an exciting time. Although you may fall in love with the layout and aesthetic of a home, a dream may quickly turn into a nightmare if you don’t know the history of the inner workings of the home before you sign the dotted line.
It is highly recommended to get an inspection done before buying a home, because many potential issues aren’t visible on the surface. Professional home inspectors will give you approximate timelines of if and when expensive home components will need to be repaired or replaced, such as the roof or heating and cooling system.
The heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system is an important part of keeping your home safe and comfortable. Bring this list of questions to ask the realtor, seller, and home inspector before you buy a new home.
1. What type of system does the home have?
The most common type of system uses a forced air furnace for heating and a central air conditioner for cooling. Many older homes have a forced air furnace but no central AC, while other homes use boilers and heat pumps. Some homes have combined heating and cooling equipment, while others have separate units. Understanding the type of system will help you determine the type of maintenance required to keep it running efficiently. A well-maintained system will keep you comfortable and safe, lower your energy use and costs, and protect your investment. Consult with a heating and cooling specialist if you’re unsure, or need more accurate information about the current system type.
2. What is the power source?
Consider the power source before buying your new home. Gas furnaces typically have lower fuel costs but are more expensive to install, while electric furnaces typically have easier and less expensive installation and maintenance but higher fuel costs. You can research the costs of the specific power source in your area to get an estimate.
3. Does the system work well?
This one may seem obvious, but ask the current owner if the equipment seems to work well. Talking to the person who uses it daily can give you an idea of what to expect. Ask how well it has worked for them and if the home tends to fluctuate in temperature between rooms.
4. How old is the system?
Heating and cooling units typically last between 10 and 15 years with proper maintenance, so knowing the age of the current equipment can tell you about how much life it has left. Newer units also tend to operate more efficiently, saving in energy costs and environmental impact. However, just because the system is considered old, it does not always mean it needs to be replaced, which leads to the next question:
5. What is the maintenance history of the system?
Regular maintenance over the years has a major impact on the longevity of the heating and cooling equipment. Consistent and professional maintenance can often outlast the 10- to 15-year life span. You can get an idea of how well the previous owner has cared for their unit by asking about the maintenance history. Infrequent care adds to the wear of the equipment and will allow small problems to grow into major issues. See if you can get documents from previous heating, ventilation, and cooling servicing to learn more about past issues. If you do purchase the home, having that documentation can also help with future repairs.
6. What are the average heating and cooling costs?
Be sure to ask about the average amount of utility bills so you can plan for future expenses. Note the change of prices during the season. Above-average utility bills for the size of the home and area may indicate efficiency issues or home insulation problems.
7. Is the system properly sized for the home?
Check to see if the heating and cooling systems are appropriately sized to the home. A unit that is too small won’t be able to keep up with the heating and cooling demands, while a unit that is too large is much less energy efficient, resulting in costlier bills.
8. Is the home well insulated?
While insulation is not a part of the HVAC system, it does play a role in how it operates. If a home lacks proper insulation, the unit will have to work harder to heat and cool the house, thus being less efficient. A professional home inspector should be able to give you information on the home’s insulation.
9. Are there physical signs?
Is there rust, decay, or watermarks on the units? Be sure to look yourself, and have the inspector look at the physical condition to see if the wear is normal or if it indicates potential problems.
10. Is their system covered by a warranty?
Check with the current owner if there is a warranty in place, and if it will remain once the house is sold to a new owner. Some units come with lifetime warranties, while others end as soon as the house sells. Finding out these details can help you determine if any future maintenance will be covered.
A little work now can save a lot of work (and money) later.
Answers to these questions provide important information to know before buying a home so that you are not blindsided by future financial headaches and stress. The budget you may have set aside for cosmetic changes or furniture may quickly dissolve if these major home components are not inspected first. This information will also allow you to negotiate on price, or request replacement systems before buying. If you’re a current or future homeowner, request an appointment with our Comfort Advisors to help with your heating and cooling equipment!