Summer is peak buying time for the sale of both new and existing homes. However, when purchasing a home, prospective buyers often forget to ask about the home's heating and cooling (HVAC) system.

With heating and cooling costs accounting for nearly half of all home energy usage, it's important to do some research regarding a home's HVAC system before making an offer. Following are some tips that can help buyers of new and existing homes ensure that a home's heating and cooling system will perform efficiently.

HVAC System

- New home construction. Production home builders typically offer a few select brands of furnace and air conditioner systems. Ask the builder about the brand and model number that will be installed in your newly built home and its fuel efficiency.

It may be worth upgrading to a higher-efficiency system. A certified contractor can help you calculate the potential savings of a high-efficiency unit. For example, by selecting an Infinity 19 heat pump by Carrier, a homeowner can save up to 40 percent on annual heating and cooling costs.

Custom builders generally provide extensive flexibility when it comes to selecting a furnace or air conditioner. An especially popular trend is hybrid heat technology that allows the system to automatically choose the most efficient fuel source given certain conditions and alternate between fuel sources as conditions change. The Hybrid Heat Dual Fuel system by Carrier is so energy-efficient that the cost to heat is less than with any gas furnace.

- Existing homes. Don't rely on the home inspector to audit a home's HVAC system. A qualified contractor can inspect the home and identify areas that might not be energy-efficient. He or she also will be able to provide insight into the system's efficiency and whether you may want to consider negotiating a system upgrade in your purchase offer. For example, beginning in 2010, manufacturers will no longer be permitted to produce units that use R-22 (Freon) refrigerant; so, you should ask whether a system is Puron-refrigerant compatible.

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Ask the seller for copies of utility bills to estimate what energy costs might be. And finally, check with local utility companies to find out if they offer any energy-savings programs.