This home inspection tip about air conditioners is pretty critical in south Florida where survival is dependent on having an effective air conditioner! Here we need to run our air conditioner about 50 weeks a year! So what should you look for when you are buying a new home?
1. Firstly, you want to make sure that the air conditioner is cooling correctly and this can be done by measuring the difference in temperature between the air going into the unit (the return) and the air coming out (supply). A 15-20 degree difference is generally considered normal. An infra-red thermometer is very helpful for this.
2. Secondly, it’s a good idea to know how old the air conditioner is. In Florida, the life expectancy is generally considered to be anything from 10 to 17 years (less if you live close to the beach). Sometimes the year of manufacture is on the data plate, or you may be able to work it from the serial number (usually in the first 2 to 4 digits). Check both the condenser (the outside unit) and the air handler which will be inside somewhere.
3.The third thing to check is how well has it been looked after. Sometimes a service history is stuck to the air handler. Hopefully, it has had a service at least once a year. This is a good sign, but most homeowners do not have this, so you need to take a look at the air filter and coils. If the filter has been changed regularly, the coils should be pretty clean. Hopefully, the coils are relatively clean and not clogged up.
4. Check to see if it has a float switch that turns off the unit if the condensate drain gets blocked. This stops the unit from pouring water on the floor and creating damage. You will generally see this on newer units.
There are other things to look for as well, but these are the most important. So should you buy a house with an old or poorly working air conditioner? That is a decision for you to make, but the good news is, new air conditioners are far more efficient than they used to be. The savings in electric bills may pay for the cost of a new unit within 2 or 3 years. The number of seers is the efficiency rating. Older air conditioners may be only 7 -10 seer whereas 16 seer is quite standard today.
A licensed home inspector will do these checks for you when they do your home inspection. A good inspector will also check the coils and the filter. If the filter has not been changed regularly or not put in properly, then the coils can get dirty. Occasionally we have even seen mold growing on the coils. Dirty filters and coils can make the unit less effective and put a strain on the compressor.
Phil Wise is a Certified Master Inspector serving the Fort a Lauderdale and the surrounding areas. As a seasoned home inspector, he enjoys working with clients on the most important purchase they’ll ever make, their new home. He uses his knowledge and expertise to do property inspections for home buyers and investors.