How to avoid buying a house with costly heating problems

Buying a property with a sub-standard heating system could mean significant costs after you move in. Here's what to check before buying a house to help avoid any unforeseen expense.

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Gas boiler

What heating checks should you make as a potential buyer?

An efficient heating system is an essential component of a modern home, so it is important to check that it is functioning correctly and efficiently.

The seller of a property will be required to complete a TA6 Property Information Form. This lengthy form includes questions about the property and how it has been used. The TA6 form asks questions about the type of heating system, whether it is in working order and the type of fuel the system uses.

The seller will also be required to provide evidence that the system was installed in accordance with building regulations and an inspection report to show when it was last serviced.

However, just because a property has a working central heating system, it 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 type of fuel

The main fuels for central heating are gas and electricity. Where there is no gas supply (in remote rural areas for example) systems are generally powered by heating oil or liquid petroleum gas (LPG). Older systems may still use coal or wood.

There is also an increasing number of modern, eco-friendly heating options including biomass boilers and air-source heat pumps.

The cost of different fuels varies and fluctuates, so it is important to ask the seller about annual heating bills. The Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) will give you some idea of the efficiency and level of insulation at the property. But ask for copies of invoices if you are particularly concerned.

The boiler

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 at some point.

Is it a combination boiler?

Although combination boilers can be very efficient and offer unlimited hot water, they cannot provide the same water flow which could be an issue depending on the size of the property or the number of occupants. If your family all need to take a shower at the same time, it may be 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 in order to comply with building regulations. There are certain exemptions if an installation would be impractical or excessively costly and the seller will need to provide the supporting paperwork for this exemption.

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 power flush 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. 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 fueled by oil, check the condition and material of the oil tank.

More information about oil tank regulations can be found at - 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.

Your next step

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Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher