Central heating checklist for buying a property

One of the key (buy often overlooked) things to consider when purchasing a property is the heating system.

Decent heating is something most of us take for granted, but sellers’ will often have put off non-essential repairs and boiler maintenance in anticipation of selling. Instead, they will usually have focused on more visible sale-boosting improvements,  like a new coat of paint on the walls.

If you want to avoid the cost, discomfort and inconvenience of problems like broken-down boilers, it is important to know what type of heating exists and whether or not it functions efficiently and effectively.

Check the Property Information Form

Vendors are required to complete a Property Information Form (TA6) and state whether or not a home has central heating, the type of fuel it uses and whether it is in working order. There should also be a certificate of installation to prove building regulations were met and an inspection report showing details of the last service.

Check the system yourself (e.g. at a viewing)

Just because a working central heating system exists does not mean it is efficient, so it is vital to carry out checks of your own. Replacing an older or substandard system may be costly. A surveyor or friendly plumber should be able to assist.

Consider the following questions:

What type of boiler does the property have?

If the property has a floor-mounted boiler, this indicates it is more than 12 years old. As parts for this boiler type are now obsolete, a breakdown may mean a complete replacement with a wall-mounted boiler. Similarly, boilers with flue-pipes coming from the top of the casing are old, inefficient and in need of replacement.

Central heating boilers can feed either a hot water cylinder or provide unlimited instant hot water. Combination boilers such as these may provide a slower water flow and although great for singles and couples, may not be suitable in larger households when everyone is clamouring for hot water in the morning.

If the boiler is gas-fired and was installed after 1st April 2005, building regulations state it should be a condensing boiler, unless there are exceptional circumstances, so check for any documentation to support this.

Is the hot water cylinder sound?

If there is a hot water cylinder, check the insulation. A tank covered only by a red plastic jacket will lose heat. Consider the cost of replacing it with an efficient, foam-lagged, heat-saving modern version. It may save money in the longer term. Check that the tank has a thermostat on the side.

How old are the radiators?

If the radiators are in poor condition they will affect how well the system works, even if the boiler is working well.

While the heating is on check each radiator to make sure it is emitting heat and also look for signs of rust or any leaks. Cold spots on radiators may indicate a build-up of limescale or corrosion and may require a power-flush deep-clean using a chemical solution to break down any sludge. This would typically cost around £450 to treat 10 radiators.

Check if the radiators have thermostatic valves, which enable the temperature to be adjusted in each room. These may fail over time, but are inexpensive and simple to replace.

Check the oil tank

If the property is heated by oil you will need to check the material and condition of the storage tank. Plastic tanks generally only last 10-15 years and are prone to cracking if situated in full sunshine. It is essential that tanks are checked on a regular basis to ensure they are not about to fail.

Also consider where the tank is placed. In particular, plastic tanks need to be on a concrete or flag base to make sure they are fully supported. Timber is not a suitable base as rots over time (and when very dry it may also be a fire hazard).

Consider the cost of running the system

If you are moving to a rural area where there is no gas supply, central heating systems may be powered by LPG (liquid petroleum gas) or heating oil, instead of electricity or natural gas. More modern systems may use eco-friendly bio-mass boilers, whereas old systems may rely on coal.

All have different running costs, so ask the vendor for copies of annual heating bills to establish how expensive or otherwise, the system is.

Next steps -Talk to the seller

If you find your dream house has an out-dated central heating system try and obtain a quote for the cost of replacing it.

Discuss this with the vendor if the cost means exceeding your budget as he may be willing to consider either a reduced offer or sharing the cost of replacing, rather than lose the sale.