Heating and air questions to ask before you buy that house

Aside from the roof over your head, the heating and air conditioning (HVAC) system(s) in a home are likely your largest potential investments in any home you’re considering purchasing.

Much like roofs, HVAC systems have limited lifespans and will typically have to be replaced at some point after the home is purchased.

Unlike a roof replacement, though, there are very few situations where an HVAC system would be replaced by your insurance company.

Of course, there are exceptions to that rule of thumb, but it’s rare for an insurance company to replace an HVAC system even in the event of hail damage to the external unit.

Now, that’s probably not on your mind when you’re going to open houses and looking for a home to purchase, but a new HVAC system can cost on average between $7,000 and $12,000, so it’s important to know the state of a home’s HVAC system(s) before you purchase it.

Here are some questions you can ask to find that out.

1. Is your HVAC equipment still under warranty? Do you still have the warranty information?

If the seller isn’t sure, there’s a good chance there may not be a warranty. Most of the newer equipment we install in Edmond and Oklahoma City area homes carry warranties on various components anywhere from 5 years to 25 years.

2. What type of equipment do you have, and how old is it?

The age of the equipment is even more important than the type. Most systems, depending on how well they are maintained, last between ten and fifteen years. Well-maintained systems can sometimes last longer than fifteen years, but we’ve also seen poorly-maintained systems fail before ten years.

3. Do you happen to have a copy of the repair and maintenance records?

If you wouldn’t simply take someone’s word on vehicle maintenance for a vehicle you want to purchase, don’t just take someone at their word on HVAC maintenance, either. If there’re no way to verify that the system has been well-maintained, you could be taking on some risk with that home.

Prevent unexpected expenses with due diligence

When it comes time to have a home inspected, we always recommend having a trained HVAC professional inspect the heating and cooling equipment (not a home inspector). Why is that? Here’s an explanation of our stance on this subject.

If you find out that the HVAC system will need to be replaced sooner rather than later, you can either walk away or negotiate a better price. We’ve seen purchases backfire with new homeowners having to replace their HVAC systems months after buying their homes, and nobody wants to be in that situation.

One homeowner we’ve recently visited with discovered that the two HVAC systems in their new home were patched and pieced together, leading to several performance issues. They didn’t tour the home on a particularly hot or cold day, so the HVAC system wasn’t really running when they were in the home. The home inspector wasn’t trained to look for issues with the heating and cooling equipment, and on the surface, everything checked out.

This homeowner is now investing $17,000 in an unexpected expense to replace the equipment and correct air duct issues.

I’m no real estate expert by any means, but it’s a good idea to tour a home during the heat of summer if you can manage it—that’s when the inefficiencies or lack of comfort in a home really stand out. If you can’t be comfortable in the home, do you really want to buy it? Would you still buy it at asking price?

When you’re asking questions about the home’s HVAC system, don’t forget to check the furnace or heater, as well as the outside air conditioning unit. Look for manufacturer’s labels or plates with information on each of the units, and take a picture of them. I’d recommend doing a little internet research on the units. The serial numbers will often indicate the true age of the equipment.

If you’re considering purchasing a home and would like an honest, unbiased assessment of the HVAC system(s), we are happy to help.

How does my home’s electrical system work?

A lot of homeowners—even people who have lived in their homes for quite a while—aren’t completely certain about the jobs of every element of their home’s electrical system.

While that’s perfectly okay, it’s normal for homeowners to want to know about the different parts of their system if it’s being worked on. Here’s an overview of the elements that make up the electrical systems in most homes.

Service entrance

All electrical power will come into your home either through an overhead or underground electrical service.

  • Overhead service: This is the type you can see, with visible overhead power lines. It’s less common in urban and suburban areas because it’s prone to damage from wind and ice storms.
  • Underground service: This is more common in the Edmond and Oklahoma City areas we service. The electrical service runs underground from a transformer to your electrical meter.

Electrical meter

This is the device your utility company uses to measure how much electricity you consume. Whether it’s a Smart meter or a manual one that someone reads each month, this device is responsible for the electric bill you receive every month.

Breaker box

The heart of your home’s electrical system resides in a seemingly innocuous metal box, likely somewhere in your garage or the exterior wall of your home near the electrical meter. Whether you call it a breaker box, electrical panel, service panel, or some other name–this metal box is ultimately responsible for getting power to your home.

What you typically see from your breaker box is the outer cover and circuit breakers themselves. Hopefully yours is labeled as well, indicating what each circuit actually powers within the home.

Electrical circuits

If the breaker box is the heart of the electrical system, the electrical circuits serve as the veins
that carry the electricity throughout your home. These circuits run in two main varieties: lighting and power outlets.

Electrical circuits all have a set capacity of how much power they can deliver. If this capacity is exceeded, the circuit breaker will trip, cutting off the flow of electricity. This is a safety device to prevent fires from overloaded circuits.

The power supply for your home comes into your breaker box from the electrical meter, which is often close to the breaker box, especially on the newer homes we service. The breaker box is where the power supply is distributed throughout the home. Electrical circuits make sure that the energy gets to where it needs to go, and the breaker box cuts off electricity, if needed, to prevent a fire.

If you have more questions about your home’s electrical system, or are worried that it isn’t functioning properly, let’s have a conversation.

Frustrated by an air conditioner that won’t start?

There’s not much that’s worse than when you need to use your air conditioner and it won’t start.

Whether it’s the first time you’ve used it all year, or you just know you’ll need it more and more as the temperatures rise, it’s frustrating to find that your air conditioning system isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do.

There are four main things you can check yourself (if you’re comfortable doing so!) before calling anyone out and paying a service fee.

These are relatively common reasons for air conditioning issues, and you can save yourself time and money if you’re able to identify and resolve the issue in your home.

1. Is your thermostat set to cool?

I know it sounds silly, but if you have anyone at all living with you, it’s worth checking. Particularly when the weather is very temperate, it’s common for people to simply turn their AC off entirely to enjoy the nice weather. This is one of the first things we look into when we receive calls for air conditioning issues.

2. Do you have a tripped circuit breaker?

Now of course, it’s possible this was simply turned off for some reason (maybe you had someone out to do work on your home or your property). But if you notice that your circuit breaker is tripping repeatedly, there may be an underlying problem.

You should definitely check the main circuit breaker for your home, but there should also be a breaker box by your condenser (the outside part of your air conditioning system) according to building code. That’s usually helpful when you’re getting your HVAC system serviced, but as the home owner, you’re certainly free to check and see if it’s tripped.

3. Is your indoor unit draining properly?

The indoor part of your HVAC system is often in a closet or in your attic. There’s an evaporator coil that collects condensation, and a drain pan underneath it that should have a safety precaution to shut off the unit when the system isn’t draining properly.

If your air conditioner isn’t working, it may be shut off for safety purposes for something like this (to prevent water damage from leaks). Notice a clog? If you can get it safely unclogged, your system should begin draining properly, the safety feature will turn off, and your air conditioner will get back to work!

4. What’s the blower doing?

If the outside part of your unit appears to be working properly, but the inside isn’t getting any airflow, it’s possible that there’s an issue with your blower. Typically, your blower is near your furnace.

You can check for a tripped circuit, and if that’s the issue, flipping the switch back to “on” should help. It’s also possible that the blower motor isn’t functioning properly. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to call in a professional.

One cause I didn’t include: a broken thermostat. It’s entirely possible that your thermostat is broken if you aren’t getting any cool air, but our technicians have found that to be the issue on very few of their site visits.

If you aren’t comfortable checking for one of these four reasons—or the issue is something other than these four—or you’re just tired of sweating and want someone to fix it, give us a call. We’d be happy to help.

Composting basics (no acreage required!)

Over the past several years, we’ve noticed many of our colleagues in Edmond and Oklahoma City have started composting some of their food waste.

Originally, we all assumed this was because they just happened to be avid gardeners! But from asking about and listening to their reasons, I’ve learned there are many other reasons composting is seeing a surge in popularity.

In addition to the benefit to your soil, composting can reduce landfill waste and greenhouse emissions and deter pests in your garden. It can also help you build up and replace lost topsoil, which we typically lose every year due to erosion and agriculture.

Composting is fairly simple, too—but it does require more than just throwing all your food waste into a box in your backyard. Here are some things you should compost (and some things you should definitely just leave in the trash).

Compostable garbage

  • Dead plants and flowers, including grass clippings, dead leaves, and even wood ashes
  • Paper products, like shredded bills and used paper towels and napkins
  • Feathers or hair from your pets
  • Most nuts and their shells (but not walnuts—they have a chemical that is toxic to certain plants)
  • Coffee grounds and paper coffee filters
  • Stale or moldy bread
  • White glue (like Elmer’s) and masking tape—yes, really!
  • Natural wine corks
  • 100% cotton balls and swabs

Just leave it in the trash

  • Soaps or shampoos
  • Meat, animal bones, or eggs (you’ll attract unwanted critters)
  • Dairy products
  • Oils, grease, or salad dressings
  • Diapers or feminine products
  • Pet waste or cat litter (there may be parasites)
  • Dryer lint
  • Glossy magazines or wrapping paper
  • Charcoal ashes (contain toxins)
  • Cooked rice and pasta
  • Cigarrette butts
  • Peanut butter

A lot of people find that it’s helpful to have one trash can for compostable material and another for things that aren’t. Even if you have a small garden, composting can be a simple way to reduce your food waste and provide the kind of soil that your plants will love.

Do you compost? What has been helpful to you in the process? What mistakes do you wish you had avoided?

What is (and isn’t) okay to put in the garbage disposal

Most homes in Edmond and Oklahoma City have garbage disposals, but there’s a surprising amount of controversy about what you can and can’t put down your garbage disposal.

When we had a plumbing department, I would constantly hear horror stories from our plumbing technicians about what they encountered in the field!

Food that shouldn’t go down your garbage disposal can gunk up the disposal and dull the blades, making it less effective. And of course, over time that can cause them to break! I recall breaking one or two garbage disposals as a child, which my parents were not happy about…

Based on what our plumbers shared and some online research, I’ve compiled a list of what’s generally okay and what’s not okay to put down your garbage disposal. I was surprised to find so much controversy online over what you can and can’t put in the disposal, so I would just say to err on the side of caution if you’re concerned about damaging your disposal.

Okay:

  • Small citrus peels (admittedly one of the more controversial items)
  • Liquids
  • Soft foods
  • Small amounts of cooked vegetables or meat (like leftovers)

Not okay:

  • Grease, fats, and oils (These will coat the blades of your disposal, making it work harder.)
  • Eggshells (Ground-up eggshells mixed with grease can really gunk up your drain lines!)
  • Vegetable peels
  • Actual garbage (Paper, rubber bands, plastic, etc.)
  • Rice and pasta (They expand when exposed to water, even after being cooked. Yikes!)
  • Bones

Or, think of it this way: If you could feed it to an infant, then it will probably be okay to go down your drain.

You should also run your garbage disposal with cold water when you’re grinding up food particles—that way the natural oils and fats in some foods won’t get stuck in your disposal blades. After running the disposal, though, it’s perfectly okay to run hot water down the drain.

I know we like to think of our garbage disposal as something that simply gets rid of the things we don’t want to scrape into the trash can (and to an extent that’s true) but it might help to also think about it like an appliance, too. Being careful about what you put down the disposal can help you maintain that appliance over the years.

Home maintenance checklist for Oklahoma

You’re probably pretty busy, right? Most people are, and one of the things that tends to fall by the wayside when we’re busy is home maintenance.

Home maintenance, just like car maintenance, can help prolong the life and enjoyment of a substantial investment. But it can be intimidating to try to find time to do all the maintenance tasks you can possibly find online.

Here’s a brief list of some of the most important ones for Oklahomans. For me, I find it’s really helpful to schedule out when I’m going to do these tasks well in advance, so I’m not wondering when it’s time (and stressing if I’ve forgotten).

Fireplace

Real fireplaces should be cleaned at least once a year. Creosote forms over time, lining the flue, and as little as 1/8th of an inch can lead to a chimney fire.

Water heater

Drain your water heater once a year to remove sediment from the tank. Sediment forms from hard water, and if you aren’t draining the tank, those particles will build up over time and reduce the capacity to store water.

Gutters

Your gutters help prevent the ground immediately around your home for getting waterlogged and risking foundation damage. Removing leaves, twigs, and other debris when they build up helps your gutters do their job.

Air filters

Replacing air filters helps prolong the life of your HVAC unit and prevent premature compressor failure (which can cost you up to $10,000!). At minimum, these should be replaced every quarter, although most homes benefit from more frequent replacement.

Smoke detectors

Check the batteries at least once a quarter to make sure they’re working properly—do the same for carbon monoxide detectors if you have them. It’s a good idea to replace the batteries once a year.

Fire extinguishers

If you don’t have a couple of these in your home, what are you waiting for? Check the expiration dates and replace when necessary (they typically expire five to ten years after they were manufactured). Check for signs of any visible damage or corrosion every month.

Washing machine

Detergent residue, dirt, and even sand can build up in your washer, making it dirty and even sometimes smelly. Run your washer once a month with hot water and bleach (with no clothes) to disinfect and remove odors. Wipe off any dirt or sand with a wet rag.

To make sure these home maintenance items get finished when they need to, I recommend using a calendar app—Google, Outlook, whatever you’re most comfortable with—and setting reminders.

This is especially helpful for those tasks that have to be done periodically, like changing your air filters. You won’t have to spend energy trying to remember the last time you did a certain home maintenance task, and you’ll be able to rest assured that your home is in good condition.

Why we value our initial visit to your home

If you call us for a new electrical project or to repair something that isn’t working properly, you may be frustrated to find that we will want to come out to your home and inspect the potential project before we give you a hard-and-fast quote.

Now, we don’t do that in order to frustrate our customers, but we know that it can sometimes be a cause of frustration. After all, if you’re trying to estimate a budget for a project, why should you have to pay a service fee to have a technician come out to your home?

We do things this way in order to make sure that we’re serving you, our client, as well as we possibly can. It can help to think of things in medical terms: You wouldn’t be able to simply call a surgeon and request a procedure out of the blue, would you?

If your doctor didn’t call for the surgery, the surgeon is going to require you to have a medical exam before you go under the knife. Otherwise, they would be engaging in medical malpractice.

We don’t want to commit malpractice in our jobs either, although it looks different in our world than in the medical world!

Sometimes the problem that we receive a call for isn’t really the root of the problem—or we find something dangerous to your family. You might call because the breaker for your bathroom keeps tripping, but when our technician arrives, they discover that your breaker box is one of the types that is prone to combustion, and it therefore needs to be replaced before anything else can happen.

Or maybe you call because you want to wire some new lighting to your living room, but your technician discovers that the previous owner of your home must have hired someone unlicensed to handle the current wiring, because it isn’t up to code.

We don’t want to give you an estimate over the phone that we won’t be able to uphold! But if our technician notices issues that threaten your family’s safety, or finds that there’s a better solution to your issue than the one you’d requested, we want to leave room to offer what’s the most effective for your family.

While you will pay a service fee for our technician to come out and assess the situation, that does not mean that you need to have the service done that day—or even have a decision made yet!

We know that it’s common for people to want to discuss with their spouse or other family members about significant decisions on their homes, and we will not charge a second service fee to come out and complete the service. We’ll provide an definite quote for the project at the end of the initial service call, and you can choose to go forward at that point or at any point in the future (or not at all).

Miscommunication happens all the time, so we want to make sure that everyone’s on the same page about what needs to be done before we quote you for a project, and certainly before we start work.

Investing in a new HVAC system?

A new heating and air system isn’t a small investment for most people. And nobody wants to be blindsided with a surprise expense in the middle of summer or the dead of winter with a busted HVAC system.

It can be difficult to figure out how much a new HVAC unit will cost, though. Prices listed online might not be accurate for our Oklahoma market, and you run the risk of being chased down by salespeople if you call companies to try to price it out.

Obviously, there are lots of variables involved, and that’s part of the difficulty as well. Depending on how large your home is, the state of your ductwork, and the end result you’re looking for, there’s a wide range of possible investments you could be looking at.

Currently, in our Oklahoma City and Edmond markets, we find that people pay, on average, between $7,000 and $10,000 for a complete installation. You can stop reading now, sure—but if you’re curious about where in that range you might fall, these considerations can help you gauge what kind of investment you should prepare for.

Current state

Is your HVAC system completely broken, or is it simply working at sub-optimal levels? Is it December, or July, and you’re feeling some urgency, or it it a relatively mild time of the year like April, and you can wait a little to make your decision?

What’s the age of your home? Has it been recently renovated? Is your ductwork older? Will you be needing to replace the entire system, or just one part?

Desired state

Just like with cars, you can get normal, functioning models and you can also get luxury models. And trust me, there are luxury HVAC systems. Think about if that’s something that’s important to you.

If you just want something that works, that’s okay. Not everyone needs or wants the extra bells and whistles. We’re not going to push the units that are over $10,000 onto anyone, but if that’s something you’re interested in, that is an option.

Budget

What’s your budget? I’ve seen online estimates of anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 dollars for replacing a HVAC system, but I think that range is really too big to be useful. Typically in our market, people invest between $7,000 and $10,000 for a new HVAC system.

Ultimately, even an experienced HVAC professional won’t be able to give you a hard and fast estimate until they’ve come out to your home, because your home and your family’s needs are unique. But most people, in most circumstances, will find that a completely new HVAC system will require that size of investment.

Have further questions about HVAC installation, or the state of your HVAC system? Give us a call, and let’s have a conversation about your situation.

Don’t gamble with your home

Let’s say you know a really great general contractor who has offered to help you with an electrical project you’ve been wanting to get done. Or maybe you have someone in your family who’s dabbled in electrical engineering, and they’re sure they can help you finish that incomplete project for cheap.

Is there any reason you shouldn’t go with those options? A circuit’s a circuit, right? Surely there are tutorials online they can follow.

Obviously, I’m going to take some kind of issue with that, simply because of the work we do at Baxter. But regardless of that, I would still counsel a friend against cutting corners in that way, and there are several reasons for that.

For one, it’s dangerous. Electricity, managed improperly, can harm you or your contractor, and could create a fire in your home that your homeowners insurance won’t cover (more on that in a bit).

In addition to the fact that they simply haven’t gone through the work to become licensed—and therefore are probably not as skilled in electrical work as they are in their chosen field—there are some significant (and costly) considerations for you as a homeowner.

Often, someone who isn’t a licensed electrician will choose to do your project for a significantly lower quote than a licensed electrician. But if something goes wrong, the cost of that project could increase exponentially.

Homeowners insurance won’t cover damage

Having a contractor who doesn’t have an electrician’s license work on your electrical project requires you to take a risk. If there’s a fire caused by their project, your homeowners insurance won’t cover the damage.

Not only is a fire a significant hazard to your home and your family, but saving a few thousand dollars by having an unlicensed contractor execute your project could end up costing you far more than that financially if things don’t go exactly right.

What happens if they’re injured while working on your project?

If you hire someone who isn’t a licensed electrician to do electrical work on your home, you’ll want to consider who will cover their workman’s comp. If they’re uninsured for electrical work, you’ll be responsible for paying if they end up hurting themselves on your project.

Ultimately, it’s up to you how you spend your budget for home improvement projects. But hiring someone who isn’t a licensed electrician to do your electrical work could end up costing you more money than you save—and could even be dangerous for your family.

Indoor and outdoor spring home maintenance

As the weather gets warmer, we find that our Edmond and Oklahoma City neighbors are ready to give their homes a little TLC.

Whether you love spring cleaning or prefer a more gradual cleaning approach, there are some tasks inside and outside your home that are ideal to tackle in the spring.

Your home’s interior

Look in your attic for signs of mold and evidence of critters. Check the drain pan for your air conditioner (it might be in your attic or in a closet) to ensure it’s draining properly. Change out your air filters if you haven’t recently. It’s also a good idea to call for spring maintenance on your entire HVAC system to make sure it serves you well as the weather gets warmer.

Check for signs of moisture underneath sinks and near your washing machine, your dishwasher, and your hot water heater—if you find any signs of leakage, you’ll be able to address it before it become a larger problem.

Your home’s exterior

Clean out your gutters and look for any shingles that look out of place, or other signs of damage on your roof. Trim any branches that hang over your roof to keep them from falling during spring storms.

Take a walk around your property, looking for any places where dirt has accumulated. Give your windows a nice cleaning, and spray down siding or brick to remove any accumulation of dirt or grime.

Your yard

Now’s the time to clear your beds for spring planting and add fresh mulch. You can plant summer-blooming bulbs, and you can even start some cool-weather plants from seeds:

  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Lettuce

Giving your home a little care early in the season will give you time to relax and enjoy the results of your efforts well into the summer!