HVAC Considerations When House Hunting

So you’re in the market for a new house? That’s an exciting place to be in, exciting but also potentially nerve-wracking. One of the most stressful things about buying a house, not to mention the amount of money that’s on the line and the weight that the choices you make now will carry throughout the future, is simply the fact that there is so much to consider. You’ve got to think about where you need to be, neighborhood considerations, commute times, school systems, house size, house age, and so many other things.

One aspect of buying a home that many people neglect to give as much attention to as they should is the HVAC system, how the house will be cooled and heated. Air conditioning in Austin is a necessity, and it isn’t exactly pleasant to be without a good heating system in the winter either. If you’re buying a new house or an old one, you need to think about what kind of HVAC system you’re going to get for it or whether you want to keep the system that is currently in place. That’s why this tip of the day is dedicated to giving you a rundown of considerations to take in mind when you’re looking for a house when it comes to the HVAC system.

Older Home: To Keep or Replace

When you’re shopping for homes, unless you’re building one from scratch, you’re eventually going to reach the point when you have to come to answer on this crucial question, should the HVAC system be replaced or not. Depending on where you plan to buy property, you could be shopping for homes that are 50 or even 100 years old. And while some of these homes' HVAC systems will have been upgraded, many will have older furnaces or air conditioning systems. Here are a few things to consider when buying an older home, or a home with an old HVAC system.

First things first, perform a spot-inspection of the heating and cooling units in the home.

If you see rust, watermarks or any other types of decay, or if you hear loud, strange noises, the systems may be too old. If the AC or heat pump equipment was installed more than 10 years ago or the furnace is more than 15 years old, it may need replacement, especially if it has not been maintained well. Ask the owner for any maintenance records and review any notes the technician may have made to learn more about the system.

If the units are old or in disrepair, discuss replacement options with your realtor. It may be possible to negotiate a lower selling price or even have the seller replace the unit before purchasing. If you decide that you do in fact need to replace your HVAC system, think about replacing it sooner rather than later. Not only will it save money on costly repairs, but since your HVAC system is responsible for almost 50 percent of your utility bill, a newer, more efficient unit can lower your utility bills and save you money long-term. In the long run, your home inspector will look at the units and discuss any technical problems with you, but spending the time to recognize obvious problems on your own may save you from spending money on a home that is not right for you.

The Ductwork Question

The HVAC system as a whole is more than just the air conditioner and furnace. Without a proper ductwork system in place, it doesn’t matter how advanced of an air conditioner and heater you get. The problem is some older homes either have ductwork with serious problems or none at all. This is because sometimes older homes weren’t originally designed and built with any air conditioning system in place!

In such a case, you’ll have to decide whether it is worth it to install a ductwork system into this older home. Austin air conditioning is something we take for granted now but it wasn’t always so ubiquitous. While this can be an invasive and expensive option, you can work with your contractor to minimize the ductwork's visibility, while still efficiently moving air to all parts of the house. You may also opt for a ductless cooling system. As the name suggests, these systems do not require ducts, but rather run small refrigerant and drainage lines from an outdoor unit to one or more indoor units. It’s another option with both ups and downs. Some of the downsides include the fact that such systems aren’t the best solutions for heating or cooling a whole house, as typically a different ductless heat pump will be needed for each room you want to cool.

But ductless heat pumps are fairly energy efficient and they allow you to focus on cooling or heating only the rooms that you need at the time. So you’ve got some things to consider when it comes to deciding between installing ductwork and a whole HVAC system or opting for a different option.

Even if the home does have ductwork, that doesn’t mean considerations should end there, especially if it is an older house. While you probably aren’t a certified HVAC technician, you can still recognize inefficient ductwork. Make a conscious effort to stop and look at the visible ducts in the basement or attic and those that run into the HVAC unit. If you see what many technicians in the HVAC industry have dubbed a “Ductopus,” then odds are the house’s ductwork may be improperly sized, leaky, or just old. Keep an eye out for rust, loose connections, condensation on the ducts, and gaps where ducts connect to one another.

Issues like these can make your HVAC unit work harder than it needs to, costing you more on your energy bills and shortening the life of your unit. Repairing ductwork problems, especially air leaks, is a low-cost initiative that can make a big impact on reducing utility bills.

Essential HVAC Questions When Buying a Home

So, what exactly should you be on the lookout for when you’re buying a home? You may be on board now with the idea that taking a close look at the HVAC system of an existing home you’re looking to buy is a good idea but you may be at a loss when it comes to exactly what you should think about. There are certain things that are just essential questions, whose answers are going to give you a starting point when it comes to deciding what to do moving forward.

The most important question is that of the HVAC system’s age. Like all mechanical systems, HVAC systems age over time. As you inspect the home, write down the brand and model number if the homeowner can’t tell you its age. Any system that’s over 12 years old may need replacing sooner rather than later. While many air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, and boilers can work well longer than 15 years, especially if they are well maintained, energy regulations and advances in technology make newer equipment much more energy-efficient, and therefore cost-efficient, than older models. The Department of Energy estimates that a 12-year-old central air conditioner that is replaced with a new Energy Star model, which will be more energy-efficient than standard models, can reduce your air conditioning bill by 30 percent.

You’ll also want to ask the seller more specific detailed questions about the state of the equipment they have installed. What’s the make, model, and type? Are the heater and air conditioner roughly the same age? Are they still under warranty? What are the efficiency ratings and fuel types? See if they have records of the maintenance history of the HVAC system. That would be a good thing to have to verify the health of the system.

Unless you specifically have money set aside to pay for HVAC upgrades, the last thing you want is to foot the bill for repairs and replacements right after making a down payment. Regardless of the home’s age or the condition of the HVAC equipment, you should insist that the seller provide a home warranty to cover unforeseen issues over the next year.

If you notice any problems with the HVAC system layout or the equipment itself as you tour the home, bring up your concerns with the seller.

Assessing the Equipment

Asking questions is a great way to start but it can only get you so far on its own when it comes to understanding the HVAC system of this house you’re looking to buy. If you really want to know what you’re dealing with you need to assess the HVAC system yourself, or perhaps even hire a professional to aid you in this process.

For starters, look for the label that gives you basic information about the equipment. All heating and cooling equipment should have a yellow energy label. The label lists the energy efficiency of the unit and its operating costs relative to similar equipment. Pay attention to how comfortable you are as you tour the house. There’s a problem if the house is hot and stuffy when the AC is cranking or if it feels drafty when the heat is on. If only certain rooms are uncomfortable, it could mean there is something wrong with the delivery system, such as leaking or uninsulated ducts.

Look for rust, cracks, dents, water stains or any other type of damage on the HVAC equipment. Also, keep your ears open for any strange noises that might indicate some type of internal problem. Insulation is another big component that needs to be analyzed. While it’s difficult to check insulation levels in the walls without professional equipment, you can peek into the attic as you tour the home. You’re looking for a thick blanket of insulation covering the attic floor. Any ductwork running through space should also be insulated. Request that the seller remedies any lacking insulation or lower the asking price so you can pay for it yourself. Of course, there’s only so much you’re going to be able to notice and recognize on your own. Old HVAC equipment, bad insulation or leaky ducts don't have to be deal-breakers, but you should be aware of them before you buy so you can make a fully-informed decision. Have a qualified HVAC technician check out your heating and cooling system before you buy so you don't fall prey to outdated equipment and unforeseen costs.

Old Homes, HVAC, and Air Conditioning Repair in Austin

Buying a home is an exciting venture that can sometimes seem a little overwhelming. With the help of professionals and a little bit of planning, it doesn’t have to be. The HVAC system and its state will determine a large part of your satisfaction with your home into the future. That’s why it is a good idea to pay special attention to what the house you’re buying has got going on.

If you ever need AC repair in Austin, consider AC Express. AC Express is an Austin AC repair company that provides a wide range of services for those in the Austin area, from Buda and Pflugerville to Lago Vista and Round Rock. For top-notch air conditioning service in Austin, call today!