The Home Buyer’s Guide to Evaluating HVAC Systems

If you’re planning on buying a new home, don’t forget to check the condition of its HVAC system. So how can you tell if an HVAC system is still in good working condition, and what are the HVAC features you should look for? 


Cafco Services, one of the most trusted heating and air conditioning maintenance companies, shares some tips in this guide. 

Factors That Can Affect HVAC Efficiency 


  • Age – Age—and by extension wear and tear—can lower an HVAC system’s efficiency. As the system ages, expect a 5% to 10% drop in efficiency. In general, an HVAC unit—which has an average lifespan of 15 years—is considered old if it’s more than 10 years old. And if it’s older than 15, you’ll likely need to get an HVAC replacement soon.  

  • Capacity – Have you ever noticed that some rooms feel warmer and stickier than other parts of the house? This could be a sign that the HVAC system is too big for the house. If your HVAC system has more capacity than your home needs, it will cool or heat it in a short amount of time. The problem with this is that the moisture in the air isn’t removed if the HVAC unit shuts down too quickly, resulting in higher indoor humidity levels and uneven indoor temperatures. Remember: when it comes to HVAC efficiency, bigger isn’t always better.  

  • Energy efficiency – Heating and cooling costs comprise a large chunk of a household’s electricity bills, so it’d be a good idea to check the HVAC unit’s seasonal energy efficiency ratios (SEER). The higher the SEER rating, the more energy efficient an HVAC unit is. Alternatively, you can check if the model has an ENERGY STAR® label. Only HVAC systems that have passed the EPA’s stringent performance standards have this label. 


Assessing the Condition of an HVAC System 


How can you tell if an HVAC system is still in good working condition? Here are some tips: 


  • Look at the maintenance records – An HVAC system can last up to 15 years, provided it has received routine maintenance. As a rule, an HVAC system should be inspected by a professional technician from one of your local heating and air conditioning maintenance companies at least twice a year, ideally before winter and summer. To see if the HVAC system has been maintained properly, check its maintenance records. 

Here’s a tip: you might want to check how many repairs the HVAC system has undergone in recent years. As the HVAC system ages, it tends to suffer more breakdowns and require more repairs due to increased wear and tear, corrosion on sensitive components or the build-up of dirt inside. Frequent repairs could be a sign the HVAC system is nearing the end of its lifespan. 

  • Check the HVAC system’s warranty – Check if the HVAC system is still under warranty and whether the warranty is transferable. Keep in mind that manufacturer warranties are separate from labor warranties offered by HVAC contractors, so you should check the conditions of the labor warranty as well. 

Important note: Don’t forget that a lack of HVAC maintenance and any unauthorized repairs or modifications made by unqualified contractors can void the warranty, so you need to check in the maintenance records to see if maintenance was done by qualified HVAC installation companies

  • Ask for copies of utility bills – It’s not uncommon for electricity consumption to spike in the summer and winter. However, if there’s a spike in the electricity bill even during milder seasons, this may be a sign that the HVAC system isn’t as efficient as it used to be. As mentioned earlier, an HVAC system’s efficiency decreases as it ages. To compensate for the loss of efficiency, an HVAC system will need to work harder, and in the process consume more electricity to keep temperatures at a comfortable level.  


A Checklist for Checking HVAC Components 


Checking maintenance records and utility bills can give you an idea of the HVAC system’s current condition, but if you want a more accurate assessment, you need to inspect some of the HVAC system’s components. 


Here’s a checklist to help you assess the HVAC system’s condition and efficiency: 


  • The type of ductwork – Externally insulated round ducts are the most efficient type, while flexible ducts are the worst in terms of efficiency.

  • Location of the indoor unit – If the HVAC system’s indoor unit is found in the attic, it has a secondary condensate pan and drain line to the exterior. Attic-mounted furnaces tend to be leak-prone, so you need to make sure extra precautions have been put in place. The best place to install a furnace is in floor-level closets, which are less leak-prone and easier to service. 

  • Location of the outdoor unit – Outdoor units shouldn’t be placed in areas with no cover or protection against the elements, e.g. outside a bedroom window or under a section of the roof with no gutters. Otherwise, the outdoor unit could suffer damage stemming from wear and tear. 

  • Condenser coils – Condenser coils manufactured using just one kind of metal (usually copper or aluminum) last longer.  


Alternatively, there’s the option of having a professional technician from one of your local HVAC installation company inspect your HVAC system. Most home inspectors aren’t licensed or qualified to inspect HVAC systems, so to get an accurate assessment of its condition, you’ll need to hire an HVAC contractor. 


Tips for Choosing an HVAC Replacement 


If you decide to purchase a home and upgrade its HVAC system for better indoor comfort, here are some tips on choosing an HVAC replacement: 


  • Determine how big your new HVAC system needs to be – As mentioned earlier, bigger isn’t always better. If your HVAC system has too much capacity, short-cycling will be a problem. 

  • Choose an HVAC system with strong air filtration capabilities – An HVAC system with strong air filtration capabilities is a must for families with pets or kids that have allergies. 

  • Stick to reputable brands – National brands can offer new features at a lower price point than smaller competitors, so they offer more value for your money. 


Features to Look for in a Modern HVAC System 


Heating and cooling costs comprise a large chunk of a household’s total electricity bill. As such, if you want to maximize your ROI on a new HVAC replacement, you might want to consider installing energy-efficient features such as a smart thermostat. Smart thermostats can be set to automatically adjust the temperature at certain times, optimizing energy use and maximizing indoor comfort. 


Vetting Tips 


To protect your ROI, it’s important to vet a prospective contractor before hiring them. Here are some vetting tips to help you find a qualified contractor: 


  • Hire local – To narrow down your options quickly, focus your search on HVAC repair and installation contractors near you. Hiring local contractors also has its advantages. For starters, local companies are known for their personalized service. After all, they have a reputation to uphold in their community.  

  • Ask local references – Ask your friends and neighbors if they’ve ever hired a local contractor. 

  • Check online reviews –  Online reviews should give you an idea of the level of customer service you can expect from a contractor. Keep in mind a few negative reviews aren’t necessarily a red flag. In these cases, what you need to focus on is the contractor’s response to customer complaints. 

  • Find out how long they’ve been in business – The number of years a contractor has been working in the industry should give you a good idea of their level of expertise. 


Are you looking for experienced HVAC technicians near you? 


Cafco Services has been providing professional HVAC repair and installation services to local residents since 1945. To schedule an appointment, call us at (513) 242-3400 or fill out this form.