Home Buying Advice: Signs of a Faulty Air Conditioning System

New Homeowners: Never Purchase a Home without an Inspection!

new homeowners

New home buyers need to exercise caution about the condition of the appliances in any home that they are considering purchasing. Unless the buyer is exceptionally knowledgeable, arranging an inspection by a certified home inspector is advisable. It is a rude awakening when the buyers move into their new home and are faced with high appliance repair or replacement costs. Your realtor will be happy to assist in finding a qualified inspector.

Existing Maintenance & Repair Issues

The condition of the central air conditioning system is especially important. There are a few things that the buyer can do, but it takes an expert to accurately determine the condition. Air conditioner replacement can be as high as $5000; the cost could be $10,000 if duct replacement is needed.

The buyer should check for noisy operation. An air conditioner evaporator cooling coil is usually installed inside the furnace plenum. The furnace fan is then used to direct the cooled air through the duct work to all the rooms. The fan can be noisy, but that is fairly inexpensive to repair. If the coils are dirty, a simple coil cleaning may be all the A/C system needs to start cooling properly again.

A water leak around the furnace, while the air conditioner is operating, can be misleading. The air conditioner removes humidity from the home. The apparent leak may be caused by a plugged drain line and not be a sign of a larger problem. However, if the system continues to leak even while the air conditioner is off, than chances are the system needs to be seen and repaired by an A/C technician.

Because of improper installation of the duct work, a high percentage of homes do not receive the benefit of the ability of an air conditioner to provide high-efficiency cooling. Many contractors install sub-standard duct work to increase profits. This may result in uneven heating and cooling of rooms. Uninsulated duct work that passes though the attic or garage can cause condensation and loss of cooling efficiency.

A home inspection is needed to determine the condition of the duct work and issues that are beyond the skill range of the average home buyer. The following two videos show some example problems that can come up during a home inspection:

Energy Efficiency

Much efficiency can be lost by air leakage in the joints due to improper sealing. Ordinary duct tape can dry out and lose the seal. Resealing the joints can be extremely time-consuming. Ducts can be concealed under insulation and above false ceilings.

The seller should provide copies of electric bills for the months that the air conditioner was used. A transferable manufacturer’s air conditioner warranty is a tremendous asset.

energy star air conditionersAll air conditioners have a SEER rating, which means Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. A higher SEER rating means lower electric bills. Before 2006, the government required a minimum SEER rating of 10. Now the minimum requirement for a “high-efficiency” air conditioner is 16. Some high-efficiency units are rated as high as 20+.

Experts say that in warm climates that require a lot of air conditioning, the more expensive high-efficiency unit would probably be worth the extra cost. In cooler climates with minimal requirement for air conditioning, the savings on the electric statement may not justify the price difference. Sometimes there are power company rebates and federal tax credits that can reduce the price difference and change the benefit equation.

The proper size air conditioner unit is essential. A too-small unit will cause continuous operation on unusually hot days. A too-large unit will cycle on and off very often and not reach the point of maximum efficiency. Short periods of operation will not allow the home to reach a uniform temperature in all rooms. A reputable contractor will not try to sell a unit that is too large for the home.

Environmental Concerns

green eco-friendly air conditionerOlder units may contain refrigerants that cause degradation of the ozone layer of the atmosphere. Leakage of this gas is harmful. Newer units contain refrigerants that produce less ozone damage. The Carrier company is producing a unit containing the R134a refrigerant that does not damage the ozone. Other manufacturers are following suit.

The two most common reasons for replacing an air conditioning unit are a complete failure or maintenance has become too expensive. The information supplied by a qualified home inspector will help the buyer to make an informed decision about buying a home, by factoring in the cost of correcting any deficiencies in the air conditioning system.


EPA Ozone Layer Protection Homeowner FAQs


7 thoughts on “Home Buying Advice: Signs of a Faulty Air Conditioning System

  1. I am a native to the Chino Hills area in LA. I started my own carpet cleaning company to facilitate dream ends suitable during the ecomonic crisis. My business located in Chino Hills Calfornia provides the most qualified carpet cleaning in Chino Hills. We specialize in duct cleaning. Chino Hills carpet cleaners, the best carpet cleaners :) Professional and fast people. If you have any questions about how to do it yourself feel free and send me a pm and I can give you a wealth of tips and information. things Like how to remove the toughest stains I know it all

  2. A faulty or inefficient air conditioning system is a big concern of mine when looking at a home. The expense to fix it can be tremendous and it’s not something you can live without in a warm climate. Very helpful articles and videos. Thanks!

    • Great points. Although I wouldn’t touch with the freon line unless your certified, because that releases environmentally toxic stuff into the air. And your lungs are vulnerable, so be sure to wear a mask if your purging contaminants. Great job, and interesting post.

    • I don’t think I’ll ever have kids. I’d have a fatal stroke long before they made it out of childhood. I have enough sympathy symptoms already whenever Jenny’s sick (it’s weird, but it happens all the time).

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