What to Look For In a New Home

By Liz Scanlon,Marketing Intern


Single Family Home

“Big single-family home 2” by SanjibLemar – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

When buying a new house, homeowners generally know what they are looking for. Most people have an idea of where they’d like to live, how much space they want, how many rooms they’d like, and so on. While potential buyers may know the obvious things to look for in a home, many people forget to check crucial components hidden behind the residence’s walls.

Often times the most overlooked aspects of a house are the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (or HVAC) systems. These concealed components frequently fall to the waysides because they aren’t prominently featured. Nevertheless, it’s important to carefully look into a prospective home’s HVAC system to save yourself a lot of time, money, and energy (in all meanings of the word) down the road.

Unfortunately, though, HVAC systems can be tricky to evaluate when you don’t know what you’re looking for. Additionally, there are many important components to each system and it can be hard to tell what might be problematic two, five, or ten years into the future. The employees of Elysian Energy know that HVAC systems can be a lot to take in, and we wanted to help out. We’ve asked one of our auditors, Tim, to make a list of important things to look for in a potential home. Here’s what Tim had to say (Author’s note: We also understand that HVAC lingo can be just as confusing as the systems themselves, so I’ve added some commentary to hopefully clear up questions you might have):

– It is important to be aware of what kind of heating fuel the system is using; electricity, natural gas, propane, etc. Ideally the home will have a natural gas furnace paired with a central A/C unit. If the home is heated with electricity then you want to make sure the heat pump is newer–no older than 10 years.  If the home is heated by oil, home performance measures (e.g. air sealing, insulation, etc.) are vital.

Gas furnaces are best because they’re the cheapest and most efficient source of heat.

– How old is the heating system? Over ten years old and I would probably want it replaced before buying, depending on its efficiency.

You can figure out the age of your HVAC units by checking the serial code on the appliance and then going here

– On that note, efficiency is more important than age. What is the HVAC system’s rated efficiency? Look for at least 16 SEER for A/C and heat pumps, over 90 AFUE for combustion furnaces, at least 10 HSPF for heat pumps.

The world of energy efficiency essentially has its own language because of how many acronyms are used. I’ve created an HVAC-to-English translator for some easier reading:

  • SEER– Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The SEER scale rates how efficient central air conditioners are during one cooling season. The rating signifies how much energy is required by the system to reach a certain cooling output.The higher the number, the more efficient the model is.
  • AFUE– Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. This AFUE scale is used for measuring how efficiently furnaces and boilers convert energy to heat over the course of 12 months. The rating is indicative of  the percentage of  fuel that is being directly converted to heat (as opposed to exhaust)– so a higher percentile is optimal. It is important to note that this rating does not account for heat lost as air is transported throughout the house (see next tip).
  • HSPF– Heat Seasonal Performance Factor. This is a system to rate the efficiency of a heating pump during a heating season. Like a SEER system, it’s the relative amount of energy needed to reach a desired output. Again, the higher the number, the more efficient the system.
  • All of these ratings should be displayed on the label on the unit. You should ask to see all HVAC components when looking at a house.

– How much of the ductwork is running through unconditioned space? Ductwork running through unconditioned space can be costly if it is not insulated and sealed properly.

Unconditioned means the ducts are completely exposed. This generally happens most in basements, attics, laundry rooms and utility closets.

– Get a Manual J calculation for the home. A Manual J calculation is a heat load calculation and it is used to properly size heating and cooling systems.

I had to look up more terminology for myself:

  • Manual J is a software program that takes many measurements of your home and the conditions it faces to figure out the best sized HVAC systems for maximum efficiency.
  • The heat load is essentially the heat loss and heat gain a home may experience during extreme temperature peaks
  • An HVAC system that’s too small for your house can be ineffective for temperature regulation, while an HVAC system that’s too big can be wasteful because it uses more energy than you actually need (and it still might be ineffective at controlling the temperature). HVAC sizing is actually pretty important.
  • The Manual J calculation is performed by an HVAC auditor. Need one? That’s what Elysian Energy is here for!

We hope these tips help to make the buying process a little easier. Happy hunting!