Home improvement shows all more or less follow the same formula: a young, attractive couple -- he’s an investment banker, she’s a fashion blogger -- are looking for the perfect place to raise a family and entertain friends. A pair of charismatic TV personalities find them a fixer-upper. There’s the walkthrough, the discussion on how to make the space more “open concept,” the heated arguments over the backsplash, and finally the dramatic reveal.
What these shows seem to never address, however, is the HVAC system. We get that central heating and air conditioning isn’t as exciting as discovering hardwood floors under the carpet, but real house flippers know that updating or replacing the HVAC unit is one of the most important parts of the renovation process.
If you’re in the business of investing in properties, or if you’re looking to update your own fixer-upper, here’s everything you need to know about modernizing the home comfort system.
Repair or Replace?
The good news is that your property has an HVAC system. The bad news is that it was installed during the Bush administration.
Generally, even the most well-maintained central air system will only last about 15 years. So, in the case of an HVAC unit that’s reaching the end of its life, we recommend replacing it.
If the unit was installed in the past 10 years and appears to be in fairly good shape, have an HVAC technician ensure it’s operating efficiently and give it a tune-up. That way the realtor can demonstrate that the AC is functioning properly.
If Replacing, What Should You Replace it With?
There’s some debate among property investors about whether or not splurging on a high-end HVAC unit will increase the value. Some argue that homebuyers will appreciate a top-of-the-line system, but they won’t necessarily pay extra for it. Others contend that the latest and greatest in home comfort is a major selling point.
In truth, it depends on the market.
If you’re flipping a home in a more expensive neighborhood, you might consider upgrading the HVAC to a high-efficiency system, in which case you’ll need to pay careful attention to the AFUE, SEER and HSPF ratings.
Breaking Down the Ratings
AFUE: This is the annual fuel utilization efficiency. It pertains to a furnace’s heating capacity. Basically, the AFUE measures the amount of energy that’s converted into heat. A high-end furnace will boast an AFUE of around 95 percent, which means only 5 percent of the energy is wasted in the combustion process. A standard heating unit will have an AFUE of about 80.
SEER: The seasonal energy efficiency ratio rates the performance of an air conditioning system. The higher the SEER, the more efficient it is. Modern AC systems must meet a minimum of SEER 14, but today’s ultra-efficient systems boast SEER ratings as high as 26.
HSPF: The heating seasonal performance factor is basically the AFUE of heat pumps. The best-of-the-best heat pumps will have an HSPF of about 13. A heat pump also does double duty as an AC system, so pay attention to its SEER rating, as well.
What About the Ducts?
If the tired old HVAC unit calls for a replacement, then it’s likely the ducts need a thorough overhaul, as well. Even a premium heating and cooling system can’t overcome shoddy ductwork.
The EPA estimates that as much as 30 percent of conditioned air escapes through gaps and holes in ducts. Ducts should be resealed or replaced entirely if they’re old and inefficient.
What if the Home Never Had an HVAC System?
Depending on when the home was built, it’s possible a central heating or air system was never installed. That could be a real dealbreaker. Today’s homebuyers expect modern comfort.
The good news is that you don’t have to do a major retrofit to accommodate an HVAC system. A ductless mini-split provides all the comfort of a conventional central air unit without the need for costly ducts.
A mini-split system consists of a wall-mounted indoor air handler and an outdoor condensing unit. In fact, you can have multiple indoor units for zoned heating and cooling.
A ductless solution is especially ideal for a historic home that doesn’t have existing ductwork, such as a 100-year-old craftsman or a vintage Victorian. Installing ducts would be costly and disruptive, requiring significant alterations to the home’s interior. A ductless system would preserve the home’s historic charm while providing modern comfort.
Bottom line: Updating the HVAC system might not make great TV, but it’s a necessary investment in a flip. If you’re investing in a property and have HVAC concerns, don’t hesitate to contact Air Treatment Company. We have nearly 60 years of providing superior heating and cooling services in Fairfax and surrounding communities. To schedule your appointment, call (703) 270-0881.