The Unfiltered Blog

April 17, 2017

Buying a house? You need to ask these questions about its HVAC system

By Jason Gassmann, Vice President of Residential Sales
 
There are few processes more confusing and stressful than those involved in buying a house. Balancing loan applications, appraisals and home inspections is enough to make anyone consider renting forever. According to a recent study, first-time buyers made up 35 percent of all home buyers, and 66 percent of buyers 36 years and younger were first-time buyers. 
 
During your first house hunt, it’s tempting to focus on finding a place in your dream location that has the perfect flow and right number of bedrooms. But don’t forget to look past the wood floors and granite countertops to ask the right questions about the home’s heating and air conditioning system. Not doing so could cost you thousands if it needs replacing after you purchase the home. We did some of the work for you and listed questions to ask before signing on the dotted line. 
 
 
1. How old is the system?
A system that’s 5 years old is going to function much differently than one that was installed 15 years ago. Generally, if a furnace is 15 to 20 years old, it’s likely approaching replacement time. Find out the age of the system, and from there decide if it should be inspected separately by a heating and cooling specialist. Of course, the lifespan of an HVAC system is greatly determined by how it’s been maintained over the years — which brings us to our next question. 
 
2. Can I see the unit’s inspection history?
There should be records of the furnace and air conditioner’s maintenance and/or service history. Requesting information from recent inspections is a good way to gain an understanding of how the system has been functioning, if it’s had any major issues and if those issues have been addressed. 
 
3. Where’s the thermostat? 
Don’t assume that just because a home has an HVAC system that it’s working correctly. Ask your inspector to test the thermostat and to turn the system on. Note if you feel a difference in airflow and temperature. This is also a good opportunity for the inspector to observe any strange sounds or smells coming from the unit that could indicate a larger issue. 
 
4. Is the system energy-efficient?
Even if a system doesn’t need replacing right away, there could be hidden costs if the unit isn’t energy-efficient. When doing a walk-through at the house, note the brand and model of furnace and check its ENERGY STAR® ratings online. You can also ask the current homeowner or contact the utility company to inquire about average monthly heating and cooling costs for the home to gauge the unit’s efficiency. 
 
5. Does the system have a warranty? 
Ask if the HVAC system currently has a warranty attached to it and if that warranty will transfer if the home is sold to a new owner. If there is a warranty, ask to see documentation to determine what is covered. A transfer will often affect the terms of the warranty agreement, so make sure you have a clear understanding of what those changes would be. 
 
BONUS QUESTION: How’s the home’s insulation?
Poor insulation can have a huge impact on your energy bills and on how hard your heating and cooling system has to work, which can impact its lifespan. Make sure the insulation in the home meets the industry-standard R-value for your area and that the windows and doors are properly sealed. 
 
Many utility providers offer free home energy audits. The audits are conducted by specialists who identify opportunities to save energy in a home. Often times, the report will also help determine if you qualify for rebates to update features of the home that could help lower your energy usage. 
 
If you decide to purchase the house, we recommend signing up for one of our annual maintenance programs as soon as possible. Regular preventive maintenance on your home’s heating and cooling systems is the best way to guarantee peak performance — and protect against potentially dangerous and expensive issues down the road.  Under an annual maintenance program, your system will receive a complete inspection by a trained Bell Brothers professional twice a year to ensure it is running at optimal safety and efficiency.
 
For more information, visit our website or give us a call with any questions at 
515-244-8911.