Buying or Selling a Home? 10 Things to Check In the HVAC System

Buying or Selling a Home? 10 Things to Check In the HVAC System
Bryan Carnahan
Residential Sales Professional

I am a Residential Sales Professional for Fire & Ice. I meet with hundreds of homeowners a year to assist them in their HVAC comfort needs.

About This Article

Will you lose money because of an old air conditioner or furnace when you sell your home? And what should you be looking for in an HVAC system as you prepare to purchase a new home?

There’s a lot to consider when buying or selling a new home. While we’re not here to take you through the entire process, we are here to add one more important consideration.

Why consider HVAC when buying or selling a house? Think of it this way: the most important, long-term, and most expensive aspects of the home are usually these three things:

  1. Windows
  2. Roof
  3. HVAC, inclusive of air conditioning, heating, ductwork and ventilation

What we find is that, too often, new homeowners focus on things like the wallpaper/paint or carpeting. Comparatively, those are much easier and much cheaper to replace.

Why take chances with something that could cost you over $10,000 if you don’t carefully vet the system before selling or purchasing?

The good news is, there are easy steps you can take to learn a lot about an HVAC system to help you make a good decision when buying or selling.

We’re also going to give you more advanced considerations, for those of you who want to get every possible benefit out of the system and do it in a way that will save you time and money.

The bottom line is that you want to get the most out of your investment regardless of which side of the sale you’re on. We’re here to help you do just that.

Home HVAC inspection

The Basics: What To Look for in HVAC When Buying a Home

The only thing a seller has to disclose in regard to HVAC is whether or not the system is working. Beyond that, it’s the responsibility of the prospective buyer to figure out whether or not the heating and cooling system is an asset or a liability.

Let’s look at some easy ways you can do just that.

Home Inspections

A home inspection should occur with any new home purchase, but I’m actually here to tell you that this isn’t a good way to determine an HVAC system’s health.

Why not? Simply put, the inspector is likely a general contractor, not an HVAC specialist, and usually the only thing they’re looking for is whether or not the system turns on and runs.

This is the bare minimum, and isn’t enough to tell if a system is going to be costing you money soon or if it’s one that will help you live comfortably in your new home for years to come.

Find the System Age

The easiest thing to do is determine the age of the HVAC system. How? The serial number should always be on the side of both indoor and outdoor units. Importantly, the age might be different for air conditioner/heat pump and furnace, so make sure you’re checking both.

Serial numbers can be Googled in this day and age, so within minutes and with nothing but your smartphone, you can figure out how old your system is.

And how old is too old? That’s a personal decision, but anything at or above 15 years is likely going to need to be replaced within the next five years. Even before that, older systems can cost you money if they haven’t been properly maintained.

While it’s harder for you to determine its overall health, there are still ways to do just that. Which leads us to our next tactic...

Schedule a Professional Inspection

You’re well within your rights to have a system inspected by a professional HVAC contractor. They can provide a more detailed analysis of things like corrosion, leaks, and other problems that might cost you time and money.

At Fire & Ice, we’ve performed many inspections like this. And it’s usually at the request of prospective house buyers who are diligent about their research.

Does this cost money? Yes, usually. With some companies, it will depend on the time of year (during the HVAC busy season in late spring and early summer, it can be harder to schedule), but most will have a service charge for this inspection.

But if you’re about to drop tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new home, a charge that’s often less than $100 is a small price to pay for the assurance that the equipment is sound.

More Advanced Considerations for HVAC Systems

Everything above is what we’d consider to be the easiest steps to take. Below, we go one step further to talk about additional ways to maximize your home investment.

Ductwork Cleaning

It’s not really going to be possible to inspect the ductwork when you have a home inspection, but you can make some inferences. Do they have a lot of pets? When you move in, can you still detect pet odors? Was the previous owner an indoor smoker? These are signs that you’ll probably be better off with a full ductwork cleaning.

This isn’t so much of a red flag for potential home buyers, but is more of a best practice that you can do after you have purchased the home.

Full, professional ductwork cleanings can cost between $300-$500 for a standard process (prices can vary depending on the equipment used and specials that a company might be running). Next to the thousands you’ll be spending on the home itself, and years of use you likely want to get out of the home, this should be a no-brainer for most new homeowners.

Make and Model of Equipment

As long as you’re checking the age of the system, looking into the make and model of the equipment can be another way to learn about what you have.

For example, the difference between an entry-level unit and a top-of-the-line, variable-speed air conditioner or furnace is the difference between hundreds of dollars in savings per year and a much more comfortable home. Sometimes “new” isn’t the only thing to look for, and you can read product reviews and descriptions to see what you really have in the home.

New Home Mastery: Digging Deep Into HVAC Readiness

Ok, now we’re getting into the deeper woods. The suggestions below are for those who want to go the extra mile to ensure that they’re doing everything they can to maximize their investment. They’re not necessary, but can give you additional peace of mind.

Equipment Service History

When HVAC equipment is serviced, the company usually leaves a sticker on it with their name and the date. This means you know who to call for an equipment service history.

There’s no privacy law preventing you from requesting the service history of a unit, to gauge its overall health. Often, the company can provide you with a lot of details about how well it’s operating.

The downside is that not every company keeps great maintenance records, so you may not learn much. Additionally, in a home where the HVAC system has been serviced by numerous companies, it can be difficult to get a complete picture of system health. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t try.

Equipment Sizing

The ideal power (or “size”) for a furnace or air conditioner can vary wildly based on the size of your home and things like the quality and number of your windows, insulation, and doors.

We’ve talked on this site a lot about doing a load calculation for a home to determine the best size of HVAC system for a home. And while that process is a bit too involved for a homeowner to do on their own, you can do an approximate one that will let you see if the furnace, heat pump, or air conditioner is incorrectly sized (and thus very inefficient).

Here’s the process:

  1. First, you’ll have to be able to look up the serial number online, and see how many BTUs (British Thermal Units, a unit of measurement) it produces.
  2. Next, determine the square footage of the home, and Google how powerful an air conditioner, heat pump, or furnace should be for a home of that size.
  3. It will give you a range, since an exact calculation is more complicated. But you’ll be able to determine if the BTUs produced by the system fall within that range.

You’re probably thinking “why would an HVAC system be improperly sized for the home it’s in?” And the answer is that it shouldn’t be, but sloppy quality control on the part of some salespeople and installers means that it does happen.

Selling a Home: Risks & Opportunities in Your HVAC System

So you’re looking to sell your home sometime in the next 3-5 years. Maybe it’s even sooner than that. What should you be doing, and why? We run through some considerations below.

How Much Longer Will You Be In the Home?

We get a lot of calls from people who are looking to sell in the next five years, and are thinking about replacing their HVAC system now. Is this advisable?

If a sale is imminent - say, in the next year - you’re not going to get much personal benefit out of a new system. Usually, the only fear here is that a prospective house buyer comes in, sees an old system, and tries to negotiate for a lower price as a result. If it’s in good, working order, though, this may not happen.

When the sale is further into the future, that’s a different story. If you think it might be worth replacing a system now, and that it might lower the value of the home in 3-5 years, the price to replace your equipment is only going to go up as time passes. That’s 3-5 years of inflation, and just as long with you having an older, less efficient furnace or air conditioner.

Frankly, the case to replace your system is a lot stronger in these instances. Many of our customers got their systems 3-5 years away from a home sale, were able to enjoy the comforts of a brand new system for those years, and still had a young, efficient system in the home when it came time to sell. It’s a win-win.

Get a Tune-Up and HVAC System Cleaning

You want to put your best foot forward when selling a home, right? Of course you do.

Regular system maintenance is strongly recommended anyway, and putting your home on the market is a great time to make sure it’s running at peak efficiency.

Not only will this allow you to present a smoothly-running system to prospective buyers, you’ll be doing yourself the favor of creating a comfortable environment for as long as you continue to own the home.

Update Your Thermostat

Sometimes a system will work just fine, but it still uses one of those older dial thermostats. This can be a sign to a potential home buyer that the system needs to be replaced, which may not be the case.

Many older systems can easily support a more modern thermostat, which can replace the older dial thermostat. They also often come with more powerful control over your heating and cooling. This is a quality-of-life upgrade that could save you money in the long run while also providing a reasonably-priced upgrade for the HVAC system.

Nest thermostats and Ecobee thermostats are two brands that we occasionally install. These brands are designed to function with a wide variety of system brands and types. While they aren’t the only options available to you, they represent two solid choices if you’re looking to upgrade to a modern universal thermostat.

New home

Be Prepared to Buy or Sell Your Home With HVAC Best Practices

Regardless of which side of the sale you’re on, it pays to do your homework. We hope this article has given you a handful of steps that can lead to a healthier, happier home and potentially a lot of time and money saved.

No one wants to be at the receiving end of a bad deal. By following these steps, you can minimize your risk and maximize your investment for years to come!

If you’re ready to learn more about how to make your home as comfortable as possible, check out our resources below, or give us a call to schedule an estimate or service visit!

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