Furnace and Air Conditioner Issues we find During the Home Inspection
AC and Furnace Issues Are All Too Common
One of the key systems our inspectors check during the home inspection is the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system, or HVAC. In the Midwest, most homes are equipped with a forced air heating system fueled by natural gas, propane, or electricity. Though not as common, radiant heating systems, geo-thermal systems, and wood furnaces are also found in this area. The majority of homes in Missouri and Illinois also have central air conditioning.
The home inspection will include a detailed examination of this equipment. The inspector will look at both the installation of the system components and any notable wear. The inspector will use a variety of tools, like digital thermometers and infrared cameras to examine the system, then note simple maintenance items and any potentially serious issues uncovered.
We’ve compiled a list of the most common problems home inspectors encounter when checking the HVAC system in an effort to help you know what to look for before you buy or sell a home.
Here are eight common issues we find in homes with forced air heating systems and central air conditioners:
- Dirty Air Filters. It’s one of the simplest and least expensive home maintenance issues to correct, and it’s often the most neglected. A clogged or dirty air filter can seriously hamper the ability of your furnace or air conditioner to heat or cool your home. If the air can’t flow freely through the HVAC system, conditioned air doesn’t circulate into your home efficiently. This can cause the furnace to short cycle. The result may have chilly homeowners turning up the heat in an attempt to keep their homes comfortable in winter or keep the air conditioner unit running non-stop in summer. This puts unnecessary strain on the furnace and AC units and can really skyrocket utility bills. The lifespan of a furnace filter varies depending on filter type and the indoor air quality. Since the filter captures dust particles, pet dander, smoke, pollen, and other indoor air pollutants, factors like having pets and smoking indoors can shorten the filter’s service life. Most disposable filter manufacturers recommend changing them after one to three months.
- Duct Work Issues: The ducts are the conduits that channel the conditioned air from your furnace, heat pump, or air conditioner into the rooms of your home. If the duct or register it leads to is installed improperly or becomes damaged, it can seriously impact your HVAC system’s efficiency. Cracked duct work and broken connections can leak heated or cooled air into the spaces inside your walls, or into unused attics and crawl spaces, making it harder for your system to deliver the right comfort level to interior rooms. And when your furnace or air conditioner has to work harder to keep your rooms comfortable, it costs you more. Ductwork leaks can also create moisture issues in your basement or crawlspace. According to educators at the University of Minnesota Extension, excess moisture can lead to all sorts of air quality issues—everything from growing mold to exploding the dust mite population inside your home. Making sure your conditioned air goes only where you want it to go can make a big difference.
- Ventilation Issues. All furnaces that burn
fossil fuels to operate must have adequate ventilation. This is true for forced air systems and radiant heating systems with boilers; if it uses natural gas, propane, heating oil, or solid fuel to operate, the exhaust must be vented outside. That’s because combustion exhaust contains noxious compounds like carbon monoxide (CO), which are hazardous to breath. Vent pipes take this exhaust to the flue or chimney which vents the gasses outside and away from your living space. This vent pipe and flue need to be properly supported, slope upward toward the outdoor vent or chimney, and free of cracks or holes, so exhaust can’t escape indoors. It should also be kept away from any flammable materials.
- Heat Exchanger Problems. The heat exchanger is a coil of metal tubing that carries hot combustion fumes to the exhaust system while allowing the heat from those gases to transfer into the duct system where they can be distributed throughout the home. This critically important device keeps the noxious furnace fumes out of your home. A crack in the heat exchanger can cause those gasses, including carbon monoxide, to escape into the air you breathe. This is a potentially life-threatening issue, and an expensive repair.
- Dirty or Clogged Condenser Coils. This is of the most common issues causing air conditioners to struggle to cool the home and one of the easiest to fix. Dirty coils Restrict air flow to the outdoor condenser unit leading to poor heat transfer. That means the air conditioner must work harder (and consume more energy) to cool the home. The simplest solution is to keep plants, solid fencing, dog houses, and all other objects at least one foot away from the unit. The surface should be cleaned occasionally with a vacuum or brush.
- Uneven Condenser Unit Pad or Brackets. Whether the outdoor air conditioning condenser unit sits on a concrete pad or is mounted to the home with brackets, it needs to be level (within 10 degrees). That’s because the condenser unit relies on lubrication in the tubing to function properly. If it’s sitting too crooked, the lubrication becomes less effective and the refrigerant (coolant) lines are subjected to additional stress. This is one of the fastest ways to wear out your AC condenser prematurely.
- Missing Insulation. Your air conditioner has two pipes that carry the refrigerant between the evaporator (inside) and condenser coils (outside). The larger line carries the cooled gas and should be insulated. This keeps the line cool longer, improving efficiency. It also helps keeps the line from sweating indoors which could cause significant water damage and invite mold growth.
- Clogged or Damaged Drain Hose. The indoor portion of an air conditioner uses a drain hose to remove the condensation (moisture) that collects during the cooling process. If the drain hose becomes clogged the water can’t escape and will eventually spill out onto the floor. If the hose is damaged, moisture can leak and pool wherever the damage is, even inside a wall or ceiling. Unchecked moisture inside the home is never a healthy development, as it can lead to fungal growth and rot.
This list of potential issues is in no way exhaustive. That’s why it pays to have a professional home inspector evaluate the HVAC system in the home you are buying or selling.
Make sure your home inspector is a certified professional with the skills you need. All our home inspectors are Certified Master Inspectors. That means they have the training and expertise you need to make sure your home inspection is done right. To learn more about Hawley Home Inspections’ skilled team of professional home inspectors, call or email us today at:
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