What to check about the heating before buying a house
Buying a property with a sub-standard heating system could mean significant costs at a later date. Here's what to check before buying a house to avoid unforeseen expense.
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What heating checks should a buyer make?
A good heating system is essential to a property's comfort, so it is important to check that it is functioning correctly and efficiently.
The Property Information Form (TA6) completed by the vendor will state whether or not the property has central heating, if it is in working order and what type of fuel the system uses.
The vendor is also required to provide evidence to show that the system was installed in accordance with Building Regulations and an inspection report to demonstrate when it was last serviced.
However, just because a property has a working central heating system installed does not necessarily mean it is efficient or that the house is well-heated. Buying a property with a sub-standard heating system could mean incurring significant costs at a later date.
The fuel type
The main fuels for central heating are gas and electricity. Where there is no gas supply (in rural areas particularly) systems are generally powered by heating oil or liquid petroleum gas (LPG). Older systems may use coal and more modern, eco-friendly heating is achieved through biomass boilers.
Costs of fuels vary by type, so it is important to enquire about annual heating bills and ask for copies of invoices.
How old is the boiler? A good indicator of age is whether the boiler is floor standing or wall mounted. A floor standing boiler is at least 12 years old and is likely to need replacing if it breaks down, as the parts to fix it will be obsolete.
If the boiler has a flue pipe coming off the top of the casing it is an old, inefficient model and will need replacing.
Is it a combination boiler?
Although combination boilers can be very efficient and mean you can have unlimited hot water, they often provide a much slower water flow and only allow one tap to run at a time. If your family all need to take a shower at once you may find it preferable to have a system with a hot water storage tank.
Is it a condensing boiler?
Any replacement or new gas fired boiler fitted after 1st April 2005 must be a condensing type to meet the Building Regulations, unless there are exceptional circumstances (in which case there should be a form provided).
The hot water cylinder
Check the hot water cylinder in the property you are buying. If it is only insulated by a red plastic jacket you will need to consider the cost of replacing the tank for a more efficient, heat-saving, foam lagged modern hot water cylinder.
The hot water cylinder should have a thermostat on the side.
The radiators and pipework
Even if the boiler is working effectively the central heating system's efficiency can be reduced if the radiators are in poor condition, so it is important to check them thoroughly.
Are the radiators old? If they do not have metal fins along the back they are more than 20 years old and will need replacing.
Do they have thermostatic valves? These enable you to adjust the temperature in each room and are important for efficient operation.
Ask the vendor to switch the heating on and check that all radiators are emitting heat as they should be. At the same time check the radiators for signs of leakage or rust.
Old radiators and pipes may contain corrosion and limescale, which may be detected by cold spots on radiators. A powerflush deep-clean, involving pumping a chemical solution around the system to break down the build-up of sludge will cost around £425 for 10 radiators.
The oil storage tank
Modern oil storage tanks come in all shapes and sizes and can be made from plastic or steel, but plastic tanks are only designed with a 10-15 year lifespan.
In addition there have been problems with faulty polymers causing early failure of plastic tanks and therefore it is essential tanks are checked on a regular basis. Plastic tanks can start to crack (especially if in full sunshine) and will need urgent repair or replacement.
It is also critical that any plastic tank is fully supported with either a flag or concrete base and if the tank is not fully supported it will need to be rebased as soon as possible. Tanks should not be supported by timber as this will rot, or be a fire hazard.
If the property is heated by fuel oil check the condition and material of the oil tank.
More information about oil tank regulations can be found at Gov.uk - Storing oil at your home or business.
What to do next
An inefficient, out-dated heating system may not be a deal-breaker on a home purchase, but the cost of replacing it may mean exceeding your budget.
It may be useful to obtain a quotation for the work that needs to be done and discuss this with the vendor. He may be willing to accept a reduced offer or consider sharing the cost of the replacement.