DIY HVAC Inspection Tips for Home Buyers

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If you’re about to buy a home, you’ll want to make sure the furnace, air conditioner and other HVAC equipment look good before taking possession. Heating and cooling systems can be expensive, so it’s in your best interest to know in advance whether everything is in peak condition — or if something has to be repaired or replaced before you move in. A DIY HVAC inspection can help inform your decision.

How to Inspect Your New Home’s HVAC Equipment

Follow these tips to inspect a home’s heating and cooling equipment. If you see any problems, you may be able to use your findings to have the seller fix the issue or negotiate a new price. 

Locate and Assess

First, confirm the locations of the indoor and outdoor HVAC units. Check that the indoor air handling unit is not in the attic. If it is, water leaks could cause costly damage to your ceilings. That’s why indoor HVAC units should be located in the basement. The location of the outdoor condenser unit matters, too. It can get noisy, so having it right next to a bedroom window is not recommended. If the area where the home is located is prone to floods, the unit should also be elevated off the ground. 

After you’ve found the units, check them for:

  • Physical condition. Look for cracks, dents, rust and other signs of damage. Maybe the damage is superficial — or maybe it’s an indicator that the unit needs repairs. 
  • Duct design. Are the ducts round or rectangular? Round ducts are typically quieter and more energy efficient. Also make sure the ducts are insulated and air isn’t leaking through cracks or seams.
  • Gutters. Are there gutters above the outdoor condenser to steer water away from the unit? If not, runoff from the roof could cause serious damage. 
  • Air filters. HVAC air filters need to be changed or cleaned every 30 to 90 days. Ask how easy it is to access and replace them.

Test the Cooling and Heating

It’s important that the HVAC system heats and cools the home evenly and quietly. Don’t be afraid to ask to try out the furnace or air conditioner to see how well the equipment works. If there’s any hissing or clanging, it could mean repairs or replacement will be needed. 

Review Maintenance Records and Utility Bills

The costs of HVAC service and repairs can quickly add up. That’s why you’ll want to ask about:

  • Age of the equipment. Usually, an air conditioner or furnace that’s more than 10 years old should be replaced. Any equipment more than 15 years old definitely needs to be swapped out for a newer energy-efficient model. 
  • Maintenance and repair history. Regular maintenance helps keep HVAC equipment running efficiently and reduces the need for unexpected repairs. Ask about the maintenance history of the furnace and AC unit. Ideally, it will have been inspected annually by a licensed HVAC technician. If there have been lots of repairs, it could mean the unit is on its last legs and needs to be replaced. 
  • Monthly energy costs. Heating and cooling accounts for a big share of any home’s utility costs. To know what to expect once you move in, ask to see a copy of the seller’s recent utility bills. If their bills have been getting steadily higher, the HVAC system likely needs a tune-up. 

Check the Refrigerant

Most people don’t know what type of refrigerant is in their air conditioner — but it could have a big impact on your wallet down the road. One of the most popular refrigerants is R-22, also known as HCFC-22. Because of its harmful effects on the ozone layer, producing or importing R-22 into Canada and the U.S. was banned in 2020. 

If the home’s AC unit uses R-22 refrigerant, you can still use that AC without any problems. But because no more new R-22 is being made, supplies are limited — so replacing the refrigerant will get more expensive as time goes on. Once the supply runs out, you’ll have no choice but to retrofit or replace the air conditioner. 

When to Hire a Licensed HVAC Inspector 

While these DIY tips will give you a general idea about the condition of a home’s HVAC system, consider hiring a licensed HVAC inspector. With their trained eye, they can spot issues you might miss, including problems inside the equipment itself. They can also examine the ductwork and ventilation (including whether it is sized properly for the home), evaluate indoor air quality, and more. 

Should I Keep or Replace My HVAC Unit? 

Based on your DIY HVAC inspection and the observations of the licensed inspector, you’ll need to make the decision to keep the home’s existing heating and cooling units or replace them with new ones: 

When to Replace Your HVAC

You may want to install an all-new HVAC system if:

  • The unit is more than 10 years old
  • The unit is showing signs of major damage
  • Frequent maintenance is required to keep the unit running 
  • The previous owner’s energy bills were unusually high
  • The unit delivers uneven cooling or heating
  • The unit was not properly sized for the home

When to Keep Your HVAC

You may want to keep the home’s HVAC equipment if: 

  • There is only minor damage to the unit
  • The unit just needs to be cleaned
  • The unit is experiencing some issues but is less than 10 years old

In many cases, an AC repair or furnace repair service can help make the HVAC equipment run like new. We also recommend signing up for an HVAC protection or maintenance plan to cover the costs of unexpected repairs.