Home Heating Systems in Seattle: What Home Buyers Need to Know

Brrrr!! It is a cold one out there. This morning I am thankful for an advanced heating system that keeps me toasty. Do you know about all the different types of heating systems we have in Seattle? As a home buyer, it is important to learn more about your system and have a good understanding of how it works, what maintenance is involved, and what to watch out for to keep your system in top shape. According to Seattle City Light, “space heating represents the single largest energy consumer in the typical Seattle home.” This can get expensive! Below is a summary of what we might see out on the market:

Furnaces – Furnaces with forced air are the most common type of heat system used in our area. These utilize natural gas or electricity (most commonly) but some systems still utilize oil.

Heat Pumps – Although heat pumps are run on electricity, according to Seattle City Light they can be 200% efficient because they draw heat from the air outside. Unless the temperature gets down very low (in the 30’s or below generally speaking), the heat pump can still draw heat out of the air and move it into the house.

Boilers – Boilers heat water and pump it through the house through pipes – some of which may be located underneath the floor while others have baseboard pipe systems (which look like baseboard heaters, but actually are radiators). Boilers can utilize natural gas, oil, and electricity.

The above systems are usually designed to heat entire homes. There are also systems that heat room by room such as:

  • Electric baseboard heaters: These produce a good amount of heat, but distributing it through the room can be tough. Furniture placement can also be a challenge.
  • Electric recessed wall heaters: These, like baseboard heating, can produce a good amount of heat with distribution challenges. However, some contain a blower which helps.
  • Electric radiant heat: There are whole-home systems and systems that can be installed in individual rooms such as under tile (where heat is then stored).
  • Fireplaces (gas, electric, or even wood-burning): These not only provide nice ambiance, but they are a great option to heat individual rooms. Unfortunately, they are not a very efficient option due to the heat loss up the chimney.
  • Pellet or wood burning stoves:  Pellet stoves work similarly to fireplaces in that they primarily heat the room they are in. However, blowers can help distribute the heat into different rooms in the house.
  • Ductless heat pumps: These are beginning to climb in popularity because they are even more efficient than a ducted heat pump (as there is heat loss within the duct system) and they only heat the room you need to have heated (or have different rooms heated to different temperatures). Furthermore, in the summer, they can cool!

When buying a home, I recommend having the heating system inspected and learning what you need to do in terms of maintenance. This might include duct cleaning, filter replacement, or an annual tune up including topping off fluids. Some older systems may be so inefficient that replacement actually makes better financial and environmental sense. In some cases, rebates from the Department of Energy, Cascade Natural Gas, Puget Sound Energy, or Seattle City Light (or another local gas or electricity provider) may be available. And a new system will improve your home value!

Don’t be left in the cold this winter. I can put you in touch with someone who can help you determine how to keep your system in tip-top shape and add dollars to your bottom line. Give me a call at (206) 226-5300 or send an email to sold@windermere.com.

Furnace? Who Needs a Furnace?

Our fortunate weather patterns have given us a gorgeous Seattle summer! We Seattleites tend to have a short memory when we are basking in the late-setting Northwest sun and inevitably, when we are having a summer like this, asking sellers about their winter utility bills slips as a home buying priority. This is likely also a factor of our very fast market, but buyers, I urge you to do your homework and find out more about your potential investment.

Luckily most inspectors will do a cursory investigation of the heating system if the buyer has ordered an inspection. The inspector will report back on the age and condition of the system and make recommendations. Occasionally, they will recommend the system is serviced which can then be an item that the buyer and seller negotiate on regarding post-inspection repairs. However, in a market like this, buyers are opting to forgo asking for work like this to be done and often, it isn’t until that first cold snap and the subsequent huge bill arrives for the issue to be thought of again.

Buyers, here is a checklist of home heating items to find out from the seller. Remember, especially in older homes, you may have more than one system that you need to be aware of. There may have been an add-on that uses electric baseboard heating whereas the rest of the home is on propane or a heat pump.

  • What are the different ways this home is heated?
  • How does each system work? (wall-mount gauges, automatic temperature control, etc)
  • Is there something I have to do when it gets cold? (switch the system on, light the pilot light, etc)
  • When were the different systems installed?
  • When was the last time they were serviced?
  • Where do I get the filters? (or other items that the homeowner is responsible for replacing)
  • Who provides the fuel? (Puget Sound Energy, Seattle City Light, Cascade Natural Gas, etc)
  • What were your utility bills for the last 12 months? (ask for the total of each fuel – electric, gas, oil, propane, wood, etc – by month)
  • Where is the warranty information and operations manual?

Sellers, I recommend getting your heating system serviced before putting the home on the market and changing out the filter. The summer is a great time to ask your repair company for a tune-up special which is just one less thing for an inspector to have a challenge with.

You can bask in the sun, but don’t forget to plan for the frigid months ahead, especially if you will be wintering in a new home. Please contact me to learn more: (206) 226-5300 or sold@windermere.com.