Heating and Cooling Systems: A Home Buyer’s Guide

If I told you that the cost of a new furnace, including ductwork, can run between $5,000 and $7,000, would you pay more attention to the furnace in the house you are considering purchasing? Hopefully, those numbers will cause you to consider having a professional inspect the heating and cooling system before signing the purchase agreement.

Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems have evolved over the years. The more complicated or outdated the system, the more expensive it is to maintain and repair. So, before signing on the dotted line for that adorable 1920s bungalow or the ultra-hip modern house, pay close attention to the house’s heating and cooling system.

Central Heating and Cooling Systems

Central heating and cooling systems are the most common home heating systems in the U.S. Air is heated in a furnace and distributed through the home by a system of ducts and heat registers.

Central heating is inexpensive and one of the few home heating systems that can be combined with central air-conditioning. The same ducts used for heating are used by the cooling system.

Central heating does have some drawbacks. Leaky and improperly insulated duct systems waste energy. The ducts are typically large, taking up valuable space. They also tend to gather dust, which may be blown into living areas.

Heating With Hot Water

The old-fashioned radiator, which heats the home with hot water, distributed through a series of pipes, is the second most common type of home heating system, according to experts at North Carolina State University. The pipes require insulation in order to be at their most efficient, and it is recommended that the entire length of the pipe be covered.

Radiant floor heating systems use this same idea, with the pipes, or tubes, taking hot water from a boiler and distributing it under the floor. Some radiant heat systems employ electric cables instead of the hot water tubes. On the down side, radiant floor heating takes longer to heat homes than central heating, and cannot be combined with cooling systems which require their own ductwork. Radiant floor heating can also be difficult to access for repair work.

Geothermal Heating and Cooling

Geothermal heating and cooling systems are one of the most recent developments in home heating and cooling. Using a geothermal heat pump, geothermal systems cool and heat homes by depositing and removing heat from the earth.

A geothermal heating and cooling system can reduce home heating costs by up to 70 percent, and cools homes for up to 50 percent less cost than central air-conditioning. The technology is relatively new, however, and installation for geothermal heating and cooling systems can be pricey.

Ductless Cooling Systems

Ductless air-cooling systems, called mini-split systems, are a lot like the ducted air-conditioning systems, but smaller. The refrigerant lines are small and run from the outdoor compressor to the indoor unit. Ductless systems are ideal for cooling small areas, such as one room.

When viewing a home with an eye toward purchasing it, ensure that you know which type of heating and cooling system it contains, when it was last serviced and any problems the seller has experienced with the system. For peace of mind, have the system inspected by an HVAC professional.


Louis Folco - March 7, 2013 at 3:14 am

Not much help ..

air conditioning north shore - June 6, 2012 at 5:23 am

Give the reason about why Leaky and improperly insulated duct systems waste energy in details.

The RealEstate.com Team - March 7, 2013 at 11:34 am

We have an article on insulating ducts that provides more detail on how leaky ducts can waste energy: realestate.com/advice/a-diy-guide-to-sealing-and-insulating-your-ductwork-61567/

Hope that helps!