When you’re in the market for a home, there are a lot of boxes to check off. Right neighborhood? School district? Good yard? Somewhere near the top of your list should be the quality of the home’s HVAC system. Read on for tips on what to look for when evaluating the furnace, AC unit and more while you’re house-hunting.

Cost Benefit Analysis

Unless you have money specifically set aside for it, the last thing you want to do is have to buy new heating and cooling equipment after making a down payment on the house itself. Furnaces and central air conditioners cost thousands of dollars each, so this is no incidental cost.

On the other hand, if you are getting a great deal on an older home, it might be worthwhile to take on the cost of replacing the HVAC system equipment. You can find Energy Star-compliant furnaces, boilers and AC units that are far more efficient and advanced than their predecessors. While the up-front investment might be significant, the savings on your energy bills could be worth it over time.

Evaluating the Equipment

Look for rust, cracks, dents, water stains or any other type of damage on the HVAC equipment. Also keep your ears open for any strange noises that might indicate some type of internal problem.

Make sure you get a copy of maintenance records from the owners, if they kept any. If there are obvious problems, or the units are more than 10-15 years old, it may be time for an upgrade; if so you might be able to negotiate a discount on the selling price of the home.

Don’t Forget Ducts and Insulation

While the furnace and AC are the big ticket items, in a forced-air system the duct work is just as important. The ducts carry the hot and cold air through the house, so it’s critical that they be free of leaks. Look for condensation, loose connections and gaps on any visible ductwork. You will also want to check to see that they are clean and not full of several years’ worth of dust, mold and furnace particles, which can degrade your indoor air quality.

Another crucial factor to your HVAC efficiency is insulation. Ask the homeowners what type of insulation the home has, and take a look in the attic yourself if it’s accessible. When you’re touring the house, be aware of any drafts or rooms that feel hotter or cooler than the rest of the home.

Let the Experts Lend a Hand

Old HVAC equipment, bad insulation or leaky ducts don’t have to be deal-breakers, but you should be aware of them before you buy so you can make a fully-informed decision. Have a qualified HVAC technician check out your heating and cooling system before you buy so you don’t fall prey to outdated equipment and unforeseen costs.