Heating considerations before buying a new home!

Buying a new home can be overwhelming with so many different things to consider and be aware of before committing to the purchase. A 2017 study by First Direct Bank found that failure to ask more questions about the service history of the heating system was the number one regret amongst buyers. This highlights the importance of checking the heating system before you purchase, failure to do so can be an expensive (and cold) mistake to make – this guide will walk you through the main heating considerations to check!

Heating System

The first thing to establish is the heating system in place at the property. If you haven’t noticed solar panels on the roof, and the estate agent hasn’t mentioned any renewable energy sources such as air and ground source heat pumps, then the chances are that you’ve got a boiler, but if you can’t find a boiler then return to these options! A boiler will usually be fitted in a utility cupboard, kitchen or bathroom, although they can even be found in basements or garages depending on the home layout.

 

Once you’ve established that the heating system is boiler based, the very first thing to do is get the gas safe certificate and boiler maintenance records from the previous homeowner covering the last 12 months. If they’re unable to provide this, then it’s worth getting an inspection booked by a qualified heating engineer. Depending on the state of the boiler, it could be on the verge of serious breakdown or it might be almost brand new – yet these might look very similar to the unqualified eye.

To identify the type of boiler you have, there’s a couple of things to check. If you’ve found a water tank around the house then you’ve got a heat-only or system boiler, whereas if you don’t have a water tank then you’ve definitely got a combi boiler. The majority of homes in the UK make use of a combi boiler (so don’t be concerned if you can’t find a hot water tank!).  Keep in mind that should the time come where you need to replace the boiler, it’s generally cheaper to replace a boiler with the same type rather than fit a different type of boiler. Once you’ve found the boiler and you have the maintenance records, you can carry out your own inspection to check for the following:

  • Unpleasant smells around the boiler – burnt plastic smells could be a sign of overheating whilst an eggy smell is a sign of a gas leak.
  • A puddle below the boiler or dripping water – a leaking boiler needs immediate attention.
  • Unusually high energy costs when the weather hasn’t gotten colder – if the boiler becomes less efficient, it’s usually sign that it needs urgent maintenance. Refer to the boiler energy label as this will give you an idea of the expected costs.
  • Unexpected noises around the boiler – whilst all boilers make a little noise, this should be a continuous hum instead of a knocking / whistling / banging sound, these should all be checked by an engineer as soon as possible.

 

Having checked the boiler itself, the next thing to check is the rest of the heating system – the radiators (and water tank if you have one).

Graphic of 4 boilers
Cat lying on radiator

Radiators

Naturally, the very first thing to check with the radiators is to ensure that they all work. By turning the boiler on and giving the radiators a chance to heat up, you’ll be able to see very quickly whether or not each of the radiators turn on. If the bottom of the radiator is warm but not the top, this isn’t a cause for concern because most likely you’ll just need to bleed it and let some trapped air out of the system. The elements to focus on are the age of the radiator itself but this can be hard to establish from an initial glance – generally a radiator will need to be replaced after 15 to 20 years as they will suffer from a build-up of corrosion and limescale which will reduce effectiveness. As long as you can’t see any signs of rust or leakage, and you can’t feel any cold patches (once you’ve bled the system) then the radiator should be good to go! Whilst not necessarily a deal-breaker, it’s worth looking for additional features such as thermostatic valves as they allow you to manually change the amount of heat produced by each radiator in the system.

 

These same considerations should be applied to the water tank (where applicable), if there is no signs of rust or leakage then there should be no reason for concern. As useful as a visual examination is, due to the nature of heating systems almost all of the system is out of sight so it’s always worth getting a heating engineer to give the system a thorough check unless the previous homeowner has an up-to-date service record!

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