Heating Inspection – Prepare for Heating Season

heating inspectionIt’s that time of year when the temperatures start to drop but not to the point you need to turn your heat on just yet.  However, colder evenings are ahead.  This is the perfect time to get your heating system ready for start up with a thorough cleaning by a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) company.  This is also an optimal time to learn about the heating inspection to help you better understand the components of your heating system.

It is optimal to work with a company who offers a service contract.  The service contract often provides services such as changing over from cooling to heating in the fall and back from heating to cooling in the spring.

The Heating Inspection

Let’s first discuss the heating inspection component to the home inspection provided by Ed Lawton of B to B Home Inspections.  Ed follows the International Standards of Practice for Performing a General Home Inspection set by the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.  In doing so, Ed shall inspect the heating system, using normal operating controls.  In your report, Ed will describe the location(s) of the thermostat(s) for the heating system, the energy source and the heating method.

In your Home Inspection Report, Ed will report on anything that is in need of correction, specifically noting any heating system that did not operate properly.  There are times when the heating system is deemed inaccessible and this will be noted on the report.

Let’s discuss the various heating systems most commonly seen in our region’s homes.

Gas Heating

In gas heating systems, there are filters that will need to be changed at least once a year.  Ed suggests that you remove your old filter, jot down any numbers describing the filter and pick up new filters at any box stores such as Home Depot.  Changing the filters is quite simple and most homeowners can do this independently.

However, Ed highly recommends that the heating system is serviced at least annually by an HVAC company.  They will not only change your filters, they will clean your system and check the heat exchanger for cracks.  The heat exchanger is the device transferring heat from one medium to another.  Visual example of heat exchanger.

When Ed performs a heating inspection on a gas heater, he looks for the blue flame.  For example, if the heating system has a four burner unit, he will look for four blue flames.

If the flames are orange or yellow, this indicates that there is some sort of problem.  It could be as simple as dirt or it could be a crack in the heat exhanger.  This is the reason why Ed always recommends contacting an HVAC company to service the heating system before the heating season actually starts.

Propane Heating is very similar to gas heating, it’s just a different fuel source.

Oil Heating

Oil heaters usually supply heat by heating water for hot water baseboard heating or radiators.  Before the start of the heating season, have an HVAC company service your oil heating system.  They will change the oil filter.  Oil filters are not an easy swap like the gas air filters.  An HVAC company will also clean inside the fire box, inspect the flue pipe for creosote or soot, check oil lines for any obstructions, check the circulator pump for adequate function and bleed any radiators as needed.

For new homeowners with no experience with oil heat, you may one day discover black smoke coming from your chimney.  This is a sign of problem with your heating system.  Turn off your heat and contact your HVAC company.  It could be that the nozzle on the fire box is dirty and needs to be cleaned, the nozzle is defective or something else.

To many, radiators are not a pretty sight.  Many people like to build or purchase radiator covers.  Be sure to look for a cover that allows for optimal heat release on all sides of the radiator, otherwise you can lose up to 40% of your potential heat!  Ouch!

Electric Heating

Electric heating is usually supplied via baseboard heating with a room specific thermostat on the wall of each room.  Ed advises that the baseboard heating elements be vaccummed before turning the heat on for the first time to prevent dust burn off which could potentially ignite and cause a fire.

Drapery should never be in contact with electric baseboard heating units.

Some electric heating systems supply heat with forced hot air.  Whenever there is forced hot air, there will be a filter.  This filter should be changed at least once a year.

Now that we have discussed the various heating systems, let’s move on to the heating system inspection.  The purpose of this is to demonstrate what Ed is looking for during the home inspection.

Steps Involved in the Heating Inspection

When Ed inspects the heating system, he removes the heating system’s cover.

He checks the flame on gas heating systems.  However, there are some high efficiency units where the flame from the burners is not visible and this will be noted on the home inspection report.

He will ensure that a filter is present and clean.

The Heating Source

Ed will visit each register within the home and check for the optimal temperature.

For forced hot air, he is looking for a temperature reading of 100 to 120 degrees.

For hot water baseboard heating or radiators, he is looking for a temperature of 100 to 135 degrees within 15 minutes.

For an electric baseboard heat source, he is looking for a temperature in the mid 90’s.

Anything less the numbers presented above, indicates that there is a problem – somewhere.  Ed will state his findings on the inspection report and recommend that the system be checked by a qualified HVAC company.

For example, let’s visualize a recent home heating inspection. Ed inspects a gas forced hot air source.  He inspects the blower fan and filters and notices that there is no filter installed.  Ed notes this on his report.

He moves on to inspect the registers.  When inspecting the temperature readings at the registers, the temperature at each register within the home varied from 65 to 69 degrees.  This is considered ambient or room temperature as it was a summer time inspection.  These numbers  indicate that the HVAC unit needs to be serviced.  Ed advises within his report that the heating system be serviced by a qualified HVAC service company for further evaluation and service.

The Thermostat

Although not required, Ed with his desire to be thorough, will inspect the thermostat to ensure that it is functioning properly.

For example, let’s visualize a recent home heating inspection.  The source of the heat is electric baseboard heat.

Ed turns on each thermostat within each room.  He inspects the heating source for optimal temperature.  Remember, electric baseboard should present a temperature in the mid 90’s.  As he moves along, each room is presenting the appropriate temperature.

Then, Ed comes upon a room presenting with the ambient or room temperature.  He reinspects the thermostat and determines the adjustment knob on the thermostat is loose.  He uses his voltage tester and determines that there is no electricity to the thermostat.  In this case, Ed will again recommend service by a qualified HVAC company.

The Chimney

The chimney is part of the heating system.  Ed inspects the structural integrity of the chimney by examining the mortar and looking for signs of cracking or crumbling.  On the roof, Ed will ensure that there is proper pitch for adequate drainage.  On top of the chimney, there is a chimney cap.  He inspects for the presence and integrity of the cap.

B Vents to the Chimney

Ed inspects the B Vents to ensure there are no signs of rusting or leakage.  A B vent is located in the mechanical room.  It runs from the heater, up through the ceiling and connects with the flue.  The flue is a pipe within the chimney that vents to the outside.  B vents are used in both gas and oil heating systems.

Atop the Chimney

In addition to the chimney cap, there is a flue with it’s cap.  Remember, the B vent runs into the flue.  This flue may have a caged cap.  Ed inspects the flue cap to ensure that it is not exposed.  If the flue is not capped, animals can get inside and cause havoc with the heating system.  Ed favors the highly recommended stainless caps.

Tips for Sellers

If you are selling your home at this time of year, it is highly recommended that you have your heating system serviced and prepped for the heating season.

Save all paid invoices to present to prospective buyers.  This will demonstrate that you have been adequately caring for the heating system of the home.  In doing so also offers the buyers the name of the company you have been using.  This is most optimal as that particular company knows the history of the heating system the best.