Blocks & Lots

Building mechanicals: what you need to know before buying

The wow factor, as in “Oh wow, that’s beautiful,” is very rarely administered for heating or plumbing systems. Instead, it’s usually reserved for spectacular kitchen or bathrooms, for a slab of glinting granite or marvelous marble. A luxury range may also get it — but never a furnace or water heater. While a home’s cosmetics steal the show it’s the mechanical systems that keep the show on the road. They are the unsung heroes of a home and without them functioning well, everything quickly comes off the tracks. Here’s what you need to know about them before buying a new home.

Attorney General’s guidelines on condo appliances

With regard to a new condo in NYC, the Attorney General’s office has strict guidelines about a sponsor’s responsibilities about the appliances and amenities inside a unit. Their website states the following: 

“The Attorney General’s regulations require that the offering plan contain the brand name, the types and the model numbers of appliances to be installed, which gives the buyer information on the quality of those appliances, and whether the home will contain any other amenities such as a fireplace or jacuzzi.  Keep in mind that if the item is not promised in the offering plan, the sponsor is not obligated to provide it and probably will not, except at substantially higher prices. Offering plans frequently state that the sponsor can substitute equal or better appliances, but not appliances of lesser quality.”

The appliances in an offering plan refer not only to kitchen appliances but also water heaters and HVAC Units.

Hire a home inspector

Before buying a home in NYC you should always hire a home inspector who will give you a thorough appraisal on the condition of the mechanicals. They will rigorously test all the appliances, faucets, heating and cooling systems, central AC’s well as electrical systems. Replacing them can be costly, especially once you’ve renovated.

If your house or condo or co-op is not new, the most important thing to know about your heating and cooling and plumbing systems is the condition they are and when they will need to be replaced. If you are in a condo, you are responsible for everything in your unit and the maintenance will take care of mechanicals outside of it. In a co-op, it is likely that the heating and cooling systems outside of the individual units and the co-op’s management will be fully responsible for these.

Are they code?

The other important thing to know for homeowners, is if the systems adhere to the current code? Code in NYC is modified every few years and it’s highly likely that a system installed several years ago will be outdated. A home inspector will be able to give a homeowner that information. Before closing it’s customary for the buyer to request that any violations be corrected by the seller. This often involves changing some pipes or wiring. If a boiler or water heater is near the end of its life the buyer can request a credit to replace the appliance in a year or two. 

Are they flood-proof?

If the mechanical systems — the water heaters, furnace/boilers, and HVAC systems — are located in the basement (it is often a good idea to place HVAC equipment in the attic or an upper floor of a single-family home), it’s important they remain protected from water. The easiest way to ensure this happens is to build a concrete or masonry block flood wall around them and make sure they are raised from the basement slab. Code dictates that boilers and furnaces are placed in their fire-resistant enclosure, as well.

In some flood-prone areas, flooding can cause sewage from sanitary sewer lines to back up into homes through the drainpipes. These backups not only cause damage that’s difficult to repair but also create health hazards. A good way to protect a home and its mechanical systems from sewage backups are to install backflow valves, which are designed to temporarily block drainpipes and prevent flow into the home.

Basement sump pumps also clear prevent standing water from accumulating. A home inspector will check for all these.


The advent of technology is changing how mechanical systems work and when looking at older homes with aging boilers and furnaces it may be worthwhile estimating the cost to replace them with mini-split duct systems which can be run efficiently from your smartphone and without the threat of water damage, as in the case of plumbed systems.