Steven L. Smith, Bellingham, WA Home Inspector (King of the House)


Heating Comfort (Bellingham WA Home Inspection)

Many of the homes that I inspect are insufficiently heated.  There are a few areas in the USA where you can probably get by with minimal heat, but that does not include the Pacific Northwest.  Heating guidelines, paraphrased for simplicity, specify:

In regions where winter temperatures drop below 60 degrees F, every habitable room in the dwelling shall be provided with a heating system capable of maintaining a minimum room temperature of 68 degrees F. Portable space heaters shall not be factored in when determining compliance with these guidelines. Hallways, closets, laundry areas and bathrooms (although unheated bathrooms can be unpleasant in cold weather) do not require heat and are not considered to be habitable space.

At old homes, as often as not, the inspector finds at least some unheated rooms. Those unheated rooms, frequently upstairs and so-called  "bedrooms," are not habitable because of the lack of heat. Sometimes, at really old houses, there might be a centrally located grill in the upstairs floor, an opening between the heated downstairs and the upstairs.

Insufficient heat, King of the House Home Inspection

The intent was noble, and it was probably state-of-the-art design 80 years ago, but, this arrangement is still defined as "insufficient heat." If closing a door cuts-off heat to a room, then the room is not habitable and it is insufficiently heated. 

Another common deficiency, usually seen at older homes or rental properties, is the dwelling equipped with a single space heater. That is a poor arrangement. In cold months, residents freeze in bedrooms and other private areas if doors are kept closed.

Insufficient heat, King of the House, Bellingham WA home inspector

Even at homes that are only 15 to 20 years of age, heating system problems are fairly common. Granted, with any luck, there will probably be heat to each room. However, the original forced-air furnace, usually gas-fired in Whatcom County, is often rundown and deteriorating fast. Estimates by manufacturers put the design life for a gas furnace at 15 to 20 years. When a 15-year-old furnace looks like the one below, heavily rusted inside, any remaining life is, at best, minimal.

Rusty furnace, King of the House, Bellingham WA home inspector

When the diagnosis is "insufficient heat," the solution is to add heat sources to, potentially, habitable rooms. That task might include upgrading to a central heating system with supply registers and ducts. Other possible remedies involve adding alternative, but permanent, sources of heat to each habitable room such as gas fireplaces/stoves, electric baseboard or electric in-wall heaters.

Insufficient heat, King of the House, Bellingham WA home inspector

Purchasers, buying newer homes, usually assume that they are free from worries. At a newer house, there might be fewer concerns most of the time, but the home inspector realizes that nothing should be taken for granted.  At brand new homes, I have found furnace flex ducts that were full of water and gas fireplaces that were only partially installed and fully inoperable. However, the most common deficiency I see at new houses consists of flex ducts, down in crawl spaces, that were never connected into the system, or they were poorly installed and the ducts came loose.

Disconnected duct, King of the House, Bellingham WA home inspector

To obtain a more complete overview of the heating system, in most instances, I check heat supply registers (with the furnace heating) while employing an infrared thermometer. The simple device provides useful insight into whether or not ducts are connected into the system, blocked or disconnected.

Insufficient heat, King of the House, Bellingham WA home inspector

Frequently, in performing a system check with the thermometer, problems will be discovered. For example, heat supply registers might read as cold and that indicates they are not connected to ducts, the ducts came loose or the homeowners have intentionally disabled the ducts or the supply registers.

Insufficient heat, King of the House, Bellingham WA home inspector

In the case of insufficient heat, or any obvious problem with the system, purchasers should always consult with an HVAC professional or, in the case of electric heat, a licensed electrician.

At the time of a real estate sale, with few exceptions, it makes sense to have an HVAC professional service, and review, the heating system. A home inspection is a simple visual inspection. A full heating contractor review of a forced-air system is more invasive and should include servicing and cleaning the heating appliance, verifying vent and heat exchanger condition, assessing ducts for airflow, balance, cleanliness, carbon monoxide testing and confirming the overall sufficiency of the heating system for the specific dwelling. A detailed contractor analysis may uncover additional issues that were not apparent at the time of the home inspection.

Steven L. Smith

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Comment balloon 15 commentsSteven L. Smith • November 25 2012 10:01PM


I almost always request to have the HVAC serviced in my contracts. And in my case I am certainly glad my bathrooms are considered habitable spaces and are heated!

Posted by Joel Weihe, Helping you to use your VA home loan benefits (Realty World Alliance) over 7 years ago

Great discussion Mason!  I am impressed that your area has the holes in the ceilings that the older homes here have too!  You do well with that thermal thermometer!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Adding additional electric baseboard to bedrooms with a thermostat for each zone is usually the most cost efficient way to solve the  heating problem.

Posted by Edward Gilmartin (CRE) over 7 years ago

Good to see you! Living in New England it is of primary importance you have a good heating system, so your post is relevant to any of us that live where we have winter weather.

And how is my little furry friend?

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 7 years ago

After reading your post I wonder if South Florida fall under those guideline since our weather will hit the high 30's every other year about but for sure in the 40's  for a few days each years?

Posted by Chuck Mixon, Cutler Bay Specialist, GRI, CDPE, BPOR (The Keyes Company) over 7 years ago

Steven, we just had our HVAC system checked for the Winter. Good points!

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 7 years ago

Hi Steven - great post and pretty surprising how common the problems are.  Hope you have a great week!

Posted by Courtney Cooper, 206-850-8841 (Ben Kinney Brokerages Leadership at our Keller Williams North Seattle Office) over 7 years ago

This is a very relevant subject. I once stayed in a place where it was so cold that even if you slept in front of the heater, you still needed covers. The hallway kitchen etc. were like being in deep Alaska. I found out the hard way...good post here

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 7 years ago

Excellent information I will forward it if that is ok? thank you!!!

Posted by Dave Sullivan, Michigan Realtor with an investor viewpoint (Real Estate One) over 7 years ago

Great advice for anyone that is buying a home (particularly an older home).  Older homes may have items that have been changed/modified by previous owners that would definitely impact your enjoyment of the home.

Posted by Jon Karlen, Louisville & Shelbyville Kentucky real estate (Finish Line Realty - Shelbyville & Louisville Ky Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Thanks for the comments, just got back home and good to see. Chuck, I do not know about Florida, you could contact locasl bldg authorities. I recently was in Hawaii and they had only AC everywhere I was. Another thought, do the new houses where you are have heat in every habitable room? If so, I would assume you need heat. If not, then maybe not.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 7 years ago

Steve, Welcome back. I run into this stuff often. Sometimes I pull the register and I see the duct laying in the crawlspace. I like conditioned crawlspaces but they should be planned for ; )

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago


It gets pretty cold over there in winter so heat would be important much of the year.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 7 years ago

I evaluate allot of homes and often find the heating systems or the delivery system in poor condition. All the parts have to work together including the insulation and air sealing. The most efficient heater can't make up for disconnected duct or a inefficient building envelope. 

Posted by Rob Ernst, Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor (Certified Structure Inspector) over 7 years ago


Everything you say there is so true.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 7 years ago