One item that’s often overlooked by visitors to an open house
While many of us carefully check a home’s exterior and interior during an open house, there’s one area that can get overlooked: the utility system. These heating, cooling, water, and electrical units are the heart of any home, and it’s critical to ensure each is healthy and fully functioning.
Since most of us aren’t professionals with years of home inspection experience, it can be a little intimidating when checking out a home’s heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) units. That’s why it’s best to contact a licensed contractor who can conduct a comprehensive inspection of each system, looking for obstructions, excess moisture, and microbial contamination. Here are four common problem areas.1. Heating: Replacing a heating unit can be expensive, so it’s important to find out the age and efficiency level of the system. Older units — even if they were energy efficient in their day — may not measure up to current standards. 2. Hot-water heater: Be sure to find out the age of the water heater. While the average age of a water heater is 10-13 years, many homes have units approaching 20 years old. Also, check to see if the water heater is sufficient for the size of the home. On average, a 30-gallon heater is common for condos and smaller homes, a 40-gallon heater is appropriate for average-size homes, and a 50-gallon heater is best for a home with four or more bedrooms. 3. Air conditioning: View the screens around the outside of the unit for wear and tear, damage, or discoloration. This is critical because when an air conditioning unit fails, it will be entirely at your expense. One question to ask, even if slightly embarrassing, is whether a male dog has lived on the property. Why? Male dogs enjoy relieving themselves on air conditioning units and this can damage the compressor’s functionality. And since this is considered a pre-existing condition, any damage is not covered under home warranty policies. 4. Electrical: Viewing the electrical panel is especially important if the home has a pool or spa. If the panel wasn’t upgraded to accommodate the increased energy draw, an upgrade may be required to handle the incremental electrical needs, especially if you plan on having more people live in the home than the current owners.
Utility bills are often the second-largest expense of home ownership, following the mortgage payment. That’s why evaluating a home’s systems can help you compare the ongoing expense of multiple homes you’re considering.