The Columbia area’s beautifully designed older homes make our city a more enjoyable place to live, but with our hot, humid summers, these un-air-conditioned homes aren’t always so enjoyable to live in. Adding HVAC to older homes makes it possible to combine timeless charm with modern comfort.
Contrary to what you may assume, it’s possible to install a HVAC system system while preserving an older home’s unique beauty. Doing this, however, requires the right system type and help from experienced professionals.
The biggest challenge in adding central air conditioning to older homes is posed by the duct system. In a home that already has a forced-air (ducted) furnace, adding an air conditioner isn’t difficult. The HVAC can use the same ducts as the furnace.
The problem is many older homes use boilers or baseboard heaters and weren’t architecturally designed with the space needed to accommodate air ducts. Even if your attic or basement has enough extra room for ducts, installing them there would mean removing parts of the floors and ceilings to place the air registers. Besides marrying the home’s classic appearance, this does permanent damage to highly valuable and possibly irreplaceable antique building material.
Sticking window units in a few of your rooms is a possible, but inefficient and unattractive option. Modern technology offers a better solutions. Two of the simplest and least destructive methods of adding HVAC to older homes are:
Ductless mini-splits – Also known as mini-split heat pumps, these systems involve an outdoor unit and one or more indoor air handlers connected by a narrow conduit line containing the refrigerant tubing and electrical wiring. The air handlers can be mounted on the wall or ceiling, or placed on the floor. They deliver cool or warm air directly into the room, so there’s no need for ducts or registers. Typically, a single outdoor unit can supply air for up to four indoor air handlers.
These systems offer some of the highest energy efficiency ratings, or SEER numbers, around. The option to switch off air handlers in unused rooms also helps you save money.
Small duct high-velocity systems – These systems consist of an outdoor unit, an indoor air handler designed to fit into a small space, and a system of 2-inch diameter flexible tubing that carries cool or warm air to the air outlets in your rooms. The narrow tubing can fit into spaces and around obstacles conventional air ducts can’t.
These systems often provide more even temperatures and better humidity control than systems using conventional ducts. That’s because the high-speed air released from carefully planned locations in the rooms promotes air circulation.
Sizing is one of the most important steps in adding central A/C to older homes. An undersized system can’t provide enough cool air to keep your comfortable and will run nearly non-stop, causing early wear. An oversized system will cycle on and off too much, pumping out large bursts of cool air, then shutting off completely. You’ll end up with temperature swings and poor humidity control.
If you’re installing a mini-split system, the size of outdoor compressor and number of air handlers you’ll need cannot be accurately estimated based on your home’s square footage alone. For an accurate calculation, your heating and cooling contractor will collect the detailed information needed to follow the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s Manual J for heating and cooling load calculation.
Older homes are often less energy efficient than new ones. Taking steps to improve your home’s energy efficiency, such as by installing Energy Star-qualified windows, helps reduce the size and therefore the cost of the system you’ll need.
For more information on adding HVAC to older homes, check out Cool Care’s air conditioner installation services or call at (803) 772-7715.