Buying a new home can be an exciting experience as it marks a new chapter in your life. However, it can often be stressful as tasks and projects build up. Keeping up with your day-to-day activities can be challenging, and sometimes, people neglect proper inspections of their new home.
Properly inspecting your new home is crucial in creating a safe and comfortable environment for your family. So, how do you know what to check?
We created this checklist of homeowner tips to help guide you through this often stressful time and help you create a safe environment in your new home.
Check the HVAC System
If you are unfamiliar with these systems, hire a technician to check the HVAC systems to ensure the functionality and efficiency of the systems are intact and determine if they need any tune-ups. It also would be helpful to get an estimate of the age of your furnace and air conditioner to determine if it is near the end of its lifespan and budget for any future breakdowns.
- Check both heat and air conditioning systems to ensure they function properly
- Understand the type of filter you need to use
- Learn the shut-off locations for gas and water (in the case of an emergency leak, you should familiarize yourself with the areas of your shut-off valves, so you can quickly respond to an emergency)
- Learn where your circuit breaker is for maintenance and repairs.
Test Your Thermostat
Your thermostat must be working correctly, so you can adjust the temperature of your home and live comfortably.
Inspect your AC Unit
There are a few steps to thoroughly inspecting your AC Unit.
Inspect the outside stuff
Start your inspection of the air conditioner by making sure that the exterior unit is clean and unobstructed. It dissipates heat by sucking in air on the sides; if it can’t do that, it won’t operate efficiently. This means no trellis attached to it, no ivy, no plants, etc. Condensing coils also need to be cleaned regularly. Airflow can be severely hampered when they’re covered with dirt, dust, grass clippings, dryer lint, and other outdoor stuff. Take the time to inspect all sides of the unit and clean the coils off if necessary. You can usually do this by spraying the unit down with a garden hose. If the unit has protective grills that prevent access to the coils, the grills will need to be removed first. At that point, you might have to do a little bit of dismantling, and some homeowners might prefer to contact an HVAC tech to do the work. While inspecting the exterior portion of the unit, make sure it’s sitting on a level surface and that the refrigerant lines aren’t being stressed (tugged or stretched).
Turn it on
Next, turn your air conditioner on by switching the thermostat to “cool” if it’s not already there and by setting the thermostat to a temperature about five degrees cooler than the current indoor temperature. This should get the air conditioner to kick on. To ensure the system is running, look outside and make sure the fan at the condenser unit is turning.
Warning: don’t do this test when it’s cold outside, or you could damage your air conditioner. To err on the side of caution, make sure the outdoor temperature has been at least 18° Celcius for the last 24 hours.
If the system doesn’t turn on, here are a few things to check:
- Check the service switch for the furnace to make sure it’s on. This is usually a switch that looks identical to a light switch, and it’s usually attached to the side of the furnace or very close to it. The air conditioner won’t run if this is off.
- Check the circuit breaker or fuse at the main panel.
- Test or replace the batteries in the thermostat.
- Make sure the blower fan cover is in place at the furnace.
Call a technician if you go through that whole troubleshooting list and still can’t get your air conditioner to kick on. Once your air conditioner does turn on, go back outside and listen to it. A properly operating air conditioner will make a steady noise. If it makes a surging noise or any noises that seem ‘funny,’ it could indicate a problem with the unit. That would be a good excuse to call a technician.
The filter for your air conditioner is the same as the filter for your furnace, and you need to change it during the summer and winter. A dirty filter restricts airflow, which reduces efficiency and increases the potential for problems.
After your air conditioner has been running for about 15 minutes, check the air temperature coming out to make sure the unit is cooling properly. The difference in temperature between the air going in and the air coming out should usually be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5 to 10 degrees. If it’s much higher or lower than that, it’s probably not cooling correctly, and it’s time to call in a pro.
Check Your Heating
While a thorough furnace inspection is best left to a pro, homeowners can inspect a few basic things to help prevent safety and operational problems.
To inspect your furnace, start by looking at the filter and replacing it if it’s dirty. Religiously replacing the furnace filter is one of the easiest and most important things you can do to help prevent problems with your furnace. The filter isn’t there to clean the air you breathe; it’s there to keep the stove clean. A dirty filter means restricted airflow, which means less heat being dissipated from the heat exchanger. This can cause the furnace to run hotter than it’s supposed to, leading to premature failure or complete shut-down of the stove. This is very important.
Next, check to see if your furnace is operational. Set your thermostat to heat mode and turn up the heat about five degrees warmer than what the thermostat thinks the temperature is. Now head to your furnace and make sure it fires up. If the furnace doesn’t fire up, here are a few more items to check:
- Check the service switch to make sure it’s on. This is typically a light switch either mounted to the furnace or located on a wall very close to the furnace. If this switch is off, the furnace won’t run.
- Check the circuit breaker or fuse at the main electric panel.
- Test or replace the batteries in the thermostat.
- Make sure the blower fan cover is in place. A safety switch on the blower compartment should prevent the furnace from turning on if the cover is removed.
Older furnaces will typically fire up instantly, while newer furnaces often go through a startup cycle, where the blower fan runs for a while, the draft fan runs, then the furnace fires. If the furnace is working correctly, the flames will fire up and stay ignited. If the flame ignites and then off again right away, there’s a problem with the furnace, and it’s time for a service call.
Once the furnace fires up normally, it should stay running without shutting off until the thermostat is satisfied. If the furnace runs for a few minutes and then shuts off before satisfying the thermostat, it’s short-cycling, which is a problem. This could be caused by an extensive system or a thermostat located in a poor location, like right above a heat register. A dirty furnace filter can also cause a furnace to short-cycle, but you already checked that, right?
Now go around your house and check to make sure the supply registers are open and unobstructed and make sure there is warm air coming out of them. If too many registers are closed off or obstructed, the furnace probably won’t operate properly.
After the furnace has been running for about fifteen minutes, put your hand on the ductwork above the furnace.
If everything is operating normally, the ductwork will be hot but not uncomfortably hot. You should be able to leave your hand on the ductwork without feeling any pain.
Those are the basics, but it’s still a good idea to have your furnace professionally inspected annually.
If it’s leaking, fix it. The end.
But seriously, today, we’ll share some home inspection tips and tricks that homeowners can use to identify plumbing problems. You’ll want to use a good flashlight for your plumbing inspection, as a lot of this work involves looking underneath sinks and tub drains.
Most homeowners already know about the more apparent leaks under bathroom sinks, but to really test these sinks for leaks, fill the sink with water and then let it drain all at once. This test will force a large slug of water through the drain and often identify leaks that wouldn’t otherwise be seen. Carefully watch the drain while performing this test. One of the most common leak locations at bathroom sinks is at the drain stopper; fixing this leak is usually as simple as tightening the nut.
Note: If your drain goes “glug glug glug” after the water has drained out, you’re hearing air getting siphoned through the trap, which indicates a problem with the venting.
If the bathroom sink drains slowly, it’s usually the result of hair in the drain. Fix this by pulling the hair out (unpleasant but necessary!).
Stand at the toilet with the front of the bowl between your legs, and give the toilet a little nudge with your shin to make sure it doesn’t rock or swivel. A loose toilet can lead to a leaking toilet.
Flush the toilet several times and check behind, around, and under the toilet (if possible) for any leaks.
If you have a toilet that frequently clogs, replace it.
If you have glass shower doors, carefully inspect the bottom corners of your walls where the shower doors meet. Small leaks in the corners of showers will cause paint to bubble and blister, and stain wood trim.
Check the escutcheon, aka trim ring, around your faucet in the shower. It’s not caulked at the wall; water can leak behind the shower wall and stain below.
To inspect bathtub drains, check to see if there is access to the drain. Sometimes this will be in the form of a large access panel in the room behind the tub, sometimes it will be an access panel at the ceiling below, and sometimes it will simply be a return register grill screwed to the wall that covers a hole in the wall.
Once you’ve established access to inspect the bathtub drain, fill the tub with water to the overflow, and watch the overflow from the backside to make sure that water doesn’t leak out. A leaking bathtub overflow can lead to a big mess, and this is one test that is expressly excluded by home inspection standards of practice. After you’ve made sure the overflow doesn’t leak, pull the drain at the tub and make sure the drain itself doesn’t leak. If there are any leaks at the faucet, you’ll probably find them while doing this test.
The other common issue with showers and tubs is a slow drain, usually because of hair.
If you’re planning to purchase a home or simply need to maintain your home systems, have a professional team of technicians inspect your home. Plumbing, heating, and AC issues are among the most common problems new homeowners face, and they are often difficult to detect from a casual inspection.