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House Hunting? Here’s What to Look for in HVAC Energy Efficiency

House with an open house sign outside on it's lawnSpring is a prime time to start looking for a new home. What will be at the top of your list when you start your search for the perfect home? Are the number of bedrooms or the number of bathrooms most important? Maybe it’s the amount of acreage or the location? Will you buy a two-story or a ranch-style home?

All of these questions are important, but when it comes to making out a checklist, don’t forget to add the type of heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system you want your next home to have. This can determine your family’s comfort level and could affect your budget in the form of higher (or lower) energy bills.

A home’s HVAC system is one of the most-missed issues when it comes to home inspection and purchasing a new home. Upon inspecting a home, don’t just look at the aesthetics – be sure to check out the mechanics, as well.

Here are several things to consider when it comes to your dream home’s HVAC system and its efficiency:

  • Always have a home inspection done before signing on the dotted line and make sure the inspection includes the HVAC system. Ask your HVAC professional to come along with you on the home inspection. Inspections can reveal any real issues with the home. Then you can ask the seller to take care of any problems before purchasing the home or to discount the sale price to accommodate potential repairs.
  • What type of system does the home have? There are several different types, and certain ones run more efficiently than others. There are forced-air furnaces, boiler systems, heat pumps, and geothermal heat. Older systems may have a furnace without central air. Newer homes usually have better HVAC features. Make sure you know what system the home has, and do your research before making a purchase.
  • Consider the HVAC system’s fuel source. Here in Ohio, winters can be brutal, which will send heating costs skyrocketing. Older, oil-fueled furnaces tend to have a much higher price tag in both fuel and maintenance. Propane will cost more than natural gas, and electric furnace costs will vary wildly, depending on current rates. If you’re accustomed to energy costs of one type of fuel, switching to a different fuel source could have a significant impact on your budget over the course of a year.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask the seller, realtor or inspector questions about the HVAC system. Buying a home is a major purchase, and you don’t want to be faced with replacing everything right after you move in.
  • Where is the home’s system located? Is it going to heat your entire home or just a portion of it? Be sure to check the size of the system to make sure it’s large enough to keep the entire home comfortable during every season.
  • Was the system properly installed and who installed it? Was it a company with a good reputation? Improper installation can be causing leaks and future problems. It’s important to know the history of the home you are moving into.
  • Find out the lifespan of the system. How old is the system and how much use does the system have left in it?
  • Was there regular maintenance on the system? Ask the owner for the paperwork or any other documentation on the system. Is the system still under warranty? If so, does it transfer to a new owner, and if it does, you will need this important paperwork as well.
  • How much did the current owner pay on their utility bills? Ask for copies of past bills, or contact the utility company. The bills will not only allow you to do a budget, but they can also provide clues to whether the system has been running properly. Ask questions about the energy efficiency of a home to avoid additional costs.
  • Does the home have proper insulation and ventilation throughout? This is also important to check during the home inspection. Insulation helps keep your HVAC system running more efficiently. Check the home for drafts or cold and warm spots. Make sure windows and doors aren’t leaking air. When there are leaks throughout, a system has to work harder to maintain temperatures.

If you are concerned about a home’s energy efficiency, do a home energy assessment before purchasing, or ask the seller to submit one for you. This will allow you to look at other areas of the home, including appliances, windows, doors, lighting and more. Call in a professional – or an energy auditor – to conduct the energy assessment. Energy Star offers an online audit called the Energy Yardstick, but it will require at least a 12-month summary of the home’s energy bills.

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