Heating System and
Pre-Purchase Home Inspections
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All homes, buildings, condo, and co-op in the Metro New York area that are used year-round have a heating system. The heating system keeps the building comfortably warm during the cold winter months. The most common heating systems in this area are forced hot air heat, hot water (or hydronic) heat, steam heat, and heat pumps. Fireplaces, coal-burning stoves, and wood-burning stoves provide supplemental heat in some buildings. The source of fuel for the heating system can be oil, gas, or electricity.
You need to know whether the heating system will adequately heat the home or building on cold days. Our Engineers assess the sufficiency of the heating system. Other things the Engineers assess include the age of the heating system, whether the heating system will need replacement soon, whether there are hazardous conditions, if the heating system is outdated, etc. An expense analysis is provided in the engineering report to help you understand the cost of correcting any problems that are found.
The cost of heating a home or building has increased over the years. An outdated heating system may be costly to operate. Replacement of an inefficient heating system may be considered to reduce heating costs. Replacing old windows also reduces the expense of heating a building. Of course, upgrading the insulation reduces heating expenses. Our Engineers advise you of steps you can take to reduce heating expenses.
Forced Hot Air Heat
In a forced hot air heating system, the heat exchanger in a furnace is warmed by burning fuel. In some homes and buildings, a boiler heats water, which is circulated through a fan-coil unit to warm the heat exchanger. A fan circulates air from inside the building over the warm heat exchanger. This warmed air is then circulated throughout the building, heating the building.
In some homes and buildings, forced hot air heating ducts are also used for cooling. Since heating ducts are best placed at floor level, and cooling ducts are best placed at ceiling level, the situation is far from optimal.
Hot Water Heat
Water is heated in boiler, usually to between 160 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Pumps circulate the hot water through pipes in the building. This heated water warms radiators placed in the rooms, which heats the room. In some homes, pipes are buried in the concrete slab or are located under tiles. This is called radiant heat.
Many people prefer (hydronic) hot water heat, because the radiators are small, the system typically quiet, and it can be easily divided into multiple zones.
Hot water heat has made steam heat obsolete in homes and smaller buildings, although many older homes and buildings still use seam heat. If the building has steam heat, it is often difficult to convert to hot water heat.
Newer homes and buildings often use fan-coil units. A boiler heats the water, which is circulated to one or more coils. A fan circulates air over the coils, heating the air. This warmed air is then circulated through the building. The fan coil unit can also be used to cool the air as part of an air-conditioning system.
Steam heat is an older heating system, typically installed in homes and buildings constructed before the 1950s. Water is heated in a boiler until it becomes steam. Steam, which is a gas, rises through the pipes into radiators. The steam causes these radiators to become hot, which warms the building.
Steam heat is often noisy, and buildings with steam heat often warm unevenly. Some rooms may be cold or hot, depending on the outdoor conditions. The pipes used with steam heat have a long life expectancy. Steam systems are typically is not readily converted to hot water heating systems.
Although steam heat is rarely installed in new homes or buildings, it may be the heating system of choice in a high-rise building. This is because of the difficulty in pumping hot water to the upper levels of a high-rise building.
Radiators associated with steam heat may have problems with the valves. Often, this results in uneven heating and/or cold rooms. Unfortunately, this problem is often not detectable until after you move in.
Essentially, a heat pump is an air-conditioner working in reverse. In the summer, a heat pump functions like a normal air-conditioner. In the cooler months, the heat pump can be operated in a reverse mode. In this mode, the heat pump heats a building by extracting the available heat energy from outside air or underground water.
When the outside temperature falls below freezing, the heat pump can no longer effectively extract heat from the air. Below freezing, the heat pump relies on an internal electric heating coil, which is very expensive to operate.
In the Metro New York area, the heating season usually runs from October through April, and the cost of electricity is relatively high. For these reasons, heat pumps may not be the most economical way to heat a building. However some homes have no oil or gas available, as is the case in some condominium developments.
PTAC units (Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner) are found in hotel and motel rooms, and in new or renovated condo and co-op apartments. They are similar to through-the-wall room air-conditioners, except that they typically provide both heating and cooling. PTAC units are generally quieter than room air-conditioners. PTAC units could have compressors for cooling, or there could be an external cooling tower circulating chilled water. The PTAC unit's heat can come from an internal heat pump, an internal gas burner, or circulated water from an external boiler.
Wood and Coal
Some homes have wood-burning stoves, coal-burning stoves, or fireplaces. While a stove or fireplace can warm a building, it cannot provide continuous heat. These systems require that the fuel be replenished on an ongoing basis.
While a wood-burning or coal-burning stove may suit a quiet getaway weekend, it is seldom a match with modern lifestyles. Depend upon a wood-burning stove, coal-burning stove, or fireplace only as a supplemental source of heat.
Make sure that a there is a working carbon-monoxide detector in any home, building condo or co-op where you operate a wood-burning stove, coal-burning stove, or fireplace.
Old Heating Systems
The design of some heating systems is so outdated that an upgrade should be considered. Examples include convection hot water and gravity hot air. Some old apartments depend on a kitchen stove for heat.
Depend upon the Licensed Engineers of Heimer Engineering to advise you if the heating system in the home, building, condo, or co-op you are considering purchasing is outdated.
Oil, Gas, and
Regardless of the type of heating system, some form of energy is required. The most common energy sources in the Metro New York area are oil, gas, and electricity. Wood and coal are sometimes used as a source of fuel, usually in a supplemental role. Solar heat is occasionally seen, although there is not enough solar energy collected during the cold winter months to heat a typical home.
During the inspection, the Heimer Engineering℠ examines, analyzes, and/or reports on (as appropriate based on the building):
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Heimer Engineering℠ Standards of PracticeThe Licensed Engineers of Heimer Engineering℠ substantially adhere to the InterNACHI® Code of Ethics, to Subpart 197-4 of the State of New York Code of Ethics and Regulations for Home Inspectors, and to the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE®) Code of Ethics. All State of New York Licensed Engineers are also bound by New York State Education Law Article 145.
Heimer Engineering℠ Code of Ethics
The Licensed Engineers of Heimer Engineering℠ substantially adhere to the InterNACHI® Standards of Practice and the ASHI® Standards of Practice. In the event of a conflict, the Licensed Engineers of Heimer Engineering℠ use Engineering judgment to decide what standard or Engineering principle takes precedence.
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Heimer Engineering℠ performs home inspections, building inspections, condominium inspections, and co-op inspections in the State of New York. We do not perform inspections or recommend Inspectors or Engineers outside of the State of New York. We provide Licensed Professional Engineer consultation services including hurricane and storm damage and damage from adjoining construction. Expert witness services are provided regarding playground injuries, parking lot, walkway, and stairway slip, trip, and fall.
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