Residential Heating and Air Conditioning: Inspection, Repairs and Replacement

When considering a purchase of a previously owned home, you will likely have the air conditioning and heating system inspected as part of an overall home buyer’s inspection. If that inspection raises questions about the integrity of the system, you will likely want to get the opinion of a licensed HVAC company to help you decide how to proceed.

Get an expert opinion on operating costs, repairs or replacement early In your buying process
With rising energy prices and utility bills for cooling and heating, energy efficiency becomes more important each month. In addition to electricity, does the property have natural gas or a similar fuel source for the furnace? If not, ask if you can see the utility bills from the previous twelve months. Why? The utility bills could be high enough to affect your other monthly obligations. No matter what type of heat source runs to the home, if the air conditioning and heating system in the home you are considering buying is more than 10 years old, you may want to call a local HVAC contractor for an estimate to replace the equipment no matter how it heats and cools. The same concept goes for energy efficiency aspects of the structure.

Service calls for repair –including estimates–almost always have a cost attached. Telephone estimates for repairs are practically impossible to do accurately. Some companies will quote a specific price for finite product or amount of work, such as the trip charge or price per pound for refrigerant, but as a practical matter they need to physically inspect the equipment to estimate all the work a system needs. In contrast, on-site price quotes for the installation of a new HVAC system or energy conservation work are often free of charge.

Solving the prospective owner’s possible dilemma
The fact that you do not yet own the home sometimes causes a dilemma regarding getting price quotes to repair or replace the air conditioning and heating system. How? Since you do not yet own the home, some HVAC contractors may be hesitant to give a free on-site cost estimate for replacing the system. However, you may require the detailed information on the status of the heating and air conditioning system or the structure before you can proceed with the purchase. Generally, due to the number variables possible in a HVAC system and the “envelope” of the home, you should avoid “ball park” estimates done without seeing the property and system.

If you cannot get a free on-site estimate, consider offering to pay the HVAC contractor for a written combination on-site estimate for repairs and on a new system, provided the company will take some or all the cost of the estimate off any new system you purchase from them within a reasonable length of time. To prevent confusion later, ask to have this arrangement written on your receipt when you pay for the estimate. Alternatively, if the seller of the property still lives there, you might coordinate with the real estate agent(s) to get the current owner to request a replacement bid from a local HVAC company that you have chosen. In many areas of the country, this will be free of charge.

Take a “whole house” approach
When considering air conditioning, heating and energy efficiency, take a “whole house” approach. Your comfort and satisfaction on an existing system will depend on two factors: the design, age, and condition of the equipment in place and the energy efficiency of the structure (known in the HVAC industry as the “envelope”). Features that make up the envelope include insulation in ceiling, walls, and under floors (where applicable); the number of panes and condition of the windows; the amount of heat the roof absorbs or reflects, proper attic ventilation; weather stripping; solar screens; radiant barriers; caulking and more.

As you assess any expenses you will incur to get the comfort and efficiency up to date, be sure to look at both aspects- the equipment and the envelope. Why? Any structure will gain lower bills and more comfort from a new energy efficient air conditioning and heating system, but these can be significantly enhanced through improvements to the envelope. In some cities you can find companies that do both air conditioning and heating equipment repair and installation, and conservation work on the structure. While working with one provider is more convenient for you, it is not critical for getting the job done. Don’t forget to ask if your local utility company or others are offering rebates, incentives, or financing for either type of work.