A First Time Home Buyer’s Guide to HVAC

A First Time Home Buyer’s Guide to HVAC

Posted by
Ed Miller on Wed, Jul 16, 2014

Buying a new home brings lots of happiness, but it also brings added responsibilities. If you’re a first time home buyer, there’s important information you should know about proper care and maintenance for your home’s HVAC systems.

As a first time buyer, you probably discussed many of your home’s features with your realtor. Chances are you talked about the beautiful hardwood floors or the large windows, but you probably didn’t adequately discuss your home’s HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) equipment.

Did you know that your home’s heating and cooling costs can account for up to half of your household energy expenses? According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling costs make up 56% of the average home’s energy use. As a first time home buyer, you need to understand how your HVAC equipment contributes to these costs.

Home Heating Systems

  • Furnaces: Natural gas furnaces, used in 57% of U.S. homes, are the most common type of home heating. They can be fueled by natural gas, propane, heating oil or electricity. Furnaces heat air and use a blower motor to distribute warm air into your home through a series of air ducts and vents. Most new furnaces are relatively inexpensive and have a general life expectancy of 15 to 30 years.

  • Boilers: Boilers heat water instead of air. They can be fueled by natural gas, propane, heating oil or electricity. Water is heated to create boiling water or steam heat that’s distributed into your home through a series of pipes. Boilers are expensive to install and require a minimum temperature setting to keep pipes from freezing. The general life expectancy of a new boiler is 15 to 30 years.

  • Heat Pumps: Heat pumps pull heat from outside air. They’re usually fueled by electricity or geothermal energy (ground temperatures). They distribute heat to your home through a series of air ducts. Heat pumps can be expensive to install for a first time home buyer, but initial costs can be offset with lower energy bills over time. Heat pumps have a general life expectancy of 15 years.

Measuring Your Home’s Heating Efficiency

  • Furnaces and Boilers: The heating efficiency of furnaces and boilers is measured by AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) which measures how efficiently the furnace or boiler converts energy into fuel. For example, an AFUE of 95% means that 95% of the fuel is converted into heat for your home and the other 5% escapes through the fuel. The Department of Energy requires all new furnaces and boilers to have a minimum AFUE of 78% to meet energy-efficiency regulations. Most mid-efficiency systems have AFUE ratings of 80% to 83%, but older systems can have ratings as low as 56% to 70%. Energy Star high-efficiency furnaces and boilers have AFUE ratings from 90% to 98.5%. As a first time home buyer, look for higher AFUE ratings for best energy-efficiency.

  • Heat Pumps: The heating efficiency of heat pumps is measured by HSPF (Heating Season Performance Factor) when it’s in heating mode. HSPF also calculates additional energy used for defrosting and back-up heat. HSPF ratings for heat pumps range from 6.8 to 10.

Heating Maintenance Tips

  • Clean or replace filters monthly

  • Make sure air ducts and heating pipes are properly sealed

  • Clean the heat exchanger to remove dirt, soot and corrosion

  • Keep all heating vents free from obstructions

Home Cooling Systems

  • Central Air Conditioners: Central air conditioners distribute cold air through your home through a series of air ducts and vents. Central air conditioning systems are quiet and energy-efficient and provide the most even distribution of cold air. Central air conditioning can be expensive to install, especially if you don’t have existing duct work. The general life expectancy for new systems is 15 to 20 years.

  • Central air split-systems are made up of an outdoor unit that contains the compressor, condenser and fan and an indoor unit that’s connected to the furnace or heat pump. As a first time home buyer, you probably saw a lot of split-systems in homes on the market.

  • In mild climates, heat pumps can be used for home heating and cooling needs.

  • Evaporative Coolers: Evaporative coolers (swamp coolers) use evaporated water to cool outside air that’s distributed throughout your home through duct work and vents. If you live in a mild climate, evaporative coolers can be a good alternative to central air conditioning. They’re relatively inexpensive to install and use about ¼ the energy of a central air system. They also add moisture to the air. The general life expectancy of new evaporative coolers is 15 to 20 years.

  • Room Air Conditioners: Central air conditioning systems are the most popular option for homeowners but room air conditioners are still frequently used.  Although they only provide spot cooling for specific areas, they are inexpensive, easy to install and use less power than central air systems. New room air conditioners have a general life expectancy of 12 to 15 years. The cheaper costs of room air conditioners can save money for a first time home buyer.

Measuring Your Home’s Cooling Efficiency

The cooling efficiency of central air conditioners is measured by SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). All new air conditioners are required to have a SEER rating of 13 or higher to meet Department of Energy regulations for energy-efficiency. To qualify for the Energy Star label, air conditioners must have a SEER rating of 14 or higher, making them at least 15% more energy-efficient than conventional models.

Air Conditioner Maintenance Tips

  • Replace dirty air filters monthly

  • Check the evaporator coil

  • Check drainage channels to prevent clogs

  • With split-systems, keep the outside compressor, condenser and fan free from debris

To keep your home’s HVAC equipment working properly, you should have it serviced at least once each year. Routine service and maintenance will save you money on unexpected, costly repairs and prolong the life of your equipment. It’s best to hire a reputable, qualified technician for needed repairs.

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