Buying your first home is an exciting process. When you find the perfect home, you can’t wait to nest and make it your own. But with all the excitement, one important asset can often get overlooked: the HVAC system.
Your HVAC system is the mechanical heart of your home. It keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer—and it accounts for nearly half of all your energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. HVAC systems can be an large investment for your home, so determining the condition it’s in before you purchase a home can help you negotiate the price or be more prepared for future maintenance requirements.
Here are a few ways first-time homebuyers can learn more about the HVAC system in the home they want to purchase:
- Find out how old the HVAC system is.
Knowing the age of an HVAC system can help you budget for maintenance, repairs or even a replacement. Typically, HVAC systems last anywhere between 15 and 25 years. If the system in the home you want to purchase is 10-12 years old, you’ll likely encounter some repair costs in the near future.
- Find out what type of HVAC system it is—and if there are any add-ons.
There are several different types of HVAC systems, including furnaces, boilers, split heating/cooling and ductless. In addition, systems can be fueled by electricity, natural gas, oil or another type of fuel. Typically sellers will specify the type of HVAC system included in the home. Do a little research to understand how it’s fueled, as well as how much your utility bills will cost. Utility companies will usually provide historic averages of bills for any given house if you call for that information.
As for add-ons, these may include a zoning system, humidifier, dehumidifier, ventilation system, WiFi thermostat or air-purification system. All of these additions can be a big win for you since they enhance the comfort of your home.
- Find out the system’s energy rating.
The higher the efficiency rating, the less energy the system will use to heat and cool your home, costing you less money in energy bills. For air conditioners, you’ll want to look at the seasonal energy efficiency ratio, or SEER rating, and the energy efficiency ratio (EER). For furnaces, look at the AFUE, which stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency rating.
- Check the warranty.
Make sure the warranty is transferrable and it hasn’t been voided out by improper maintenance. Get the model number and serial number, and contact the manufacturer for warranty information.
- Ask to see the report from the last maintenance inspection.
Proper maintenance is key to ensuring the functionality and longevity of an HVAC system. Take a look at the last inspection to learn if any maintenance issues were recently addressed or could become a problem later.
- Don’t forget about the ductwork.
Dirt, dust, debris, mold and mildew can all build up in your ductwork, which can cause poor air quality, damage to the ductwork, strain to your HVAC system and higher energy bills. Ask to see the last inspection report for ductwork, too.
- Get a copy of the home evaluation report.
Many certified home inspectors aren’t qualified to determine the condition of an HVAC system. Ask for a copy of the home evaluation report from the inspector and get a second opinion from your HVAC contractor.
- Do your own visual inspection.
Does it look like it’s running properly? Are the vents connected well? Is there any visible signs of leaks? You may not be an HVAC expert, but having a look and asking questions is a must.