Talk with any builder, home contractor, or home inspector for long and you’ll likely hear the term HVAC come up. HVAC is an abbreviation for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. An HVAC system is the integrated ecosystem of a home’s heating and air conditioning equipment connected through a complex network of pipes, ducts, and electrical components and usually operated through a central thermostat. And it’s one of the most important systems in any home: It keeps the home warm in the winter and cool in the Texas summer heat. It also maintains indoor air quality and removes excess moisture by circulating air within the home and exchanging it with the air outside. Ideally, this all takes place with high energy efficiency to reduce cost and environmental impact.
HVAC systems are complex. Repairs and replacements can be costly. So obviously, when you’re considering making an offer on a new home, it’s essential to understand how well its HVAC system performs. Evaluating it is a major element of every home inspection, but you should be aware that there are limits to what a home inspector can evaluate and what they’re required to inspect by the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC). Here are three important things to understand.
1. Home inspectors are generalists.
The systems and components in even the smallest of homes are complex. Home inspectors must know a lot about how each works, but they’re not expected to be an expert in any one system or component. They are trained to evaluate the overall condition of a home through a “limited visual survey and basic performance evaluation” as described in TREC’s Standards of Practice.
An experienced home inspector with a proven track record, however, brings to the table a depth of knowledge learned in the field, enabling him to identify more defects and provide you with more information than most new inspectors will. He will also be clear about what he can and can’t evaluate in detail, so you can seek additional information if needed before making an offer. This is invaluable when it comes to inspecting something as complex and expensive as an HVAC system.
2. They can’t inspect what they can’t see.
TREC requires home inspectors to visually inspect “accessible” systems or components. This includes elements that are accessible from the attic or crawl spaces — for example, ducts and vents. Some elements of an HVAC system, however, are hidden under floors or inside walls — for example, pipes and electrical components. An inspector can’t visually evaluate their condition and thus are not required to inspect or comment on them.
An experienced inspector will go above and beyond. He knows how to read signs that may indicate potential defects in hidden or inaccessible components. And he’ll use a professional-level thermal imaging camera to detect hidden electrical or moisture issues which may be related to the HVAC system. This can give you peace of mind when you are contemplating this important investment.
3. A “basic performance evaluation” can be just that — basic.
At a high level, TREC requires inspectors to operate equipment and appliances in “at least one mode with ordinary controls at typical settings.” TREC does provide a more detailed list of the minimum inspection requirements for specific systems, including the HVAC system. Keep in mind, however, that these are the minimum requirements. The best home inspectors go above and beyond those requirements. They perform more tests, report on more defects, and provide more information in their reports.
The Bottom Line
As a potential home buyer, you should be aware that a home inspector — even one that is highly experienced — likely won’t be an HVAC expert. There are companies that focus on that alone. But he will make sure you have the information you need to understand how well the HVAC system performs, and he’ll recommend further inspections if needed to give you the highest level of confidence in your home-buying decision.
Also, keep in mind that your HVAC system requires regular maintenance just like any other equipment. Here’s a month-by-month guide that will help you stay on top of what you need to do. We hope you find it useful.
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