Is There a Practical Way To Add Central AC to an Older Home?

June 1, 2023
Central Air Conditioning Installation in Detroit, MI

Although Detroit’s not known for having blisteringly-hot summers, we see our share of the high 90s and even triple-digit days every year. A large number of older homes here weren’t built with central air conditioning and lacked the infrastructure to support it. That forces many homeowners to try and make do with window air conditioners, which don’t work very well and cost a small fortune to operate. But it is possible to retrofit an old home with air conditioning. Here’s everything you need to know about adding central air conditioning to an older home.

Central Air Challenges in Older Homes

There are good reasons that so many people think it’s not feasible to install central air conditioning in older homes. One of them is that most older homes lack built-in ductwork to support one. To add it, you may have to tear apart the finished walls in your home. This is easier if the walls are drywall and much harder if they are plaster.

There are some ways to add central air conditioning to an older home without adding extensive ductwork. One is to install more than one air conditioning system. For example, if you have a basement, you can install one system to cool your first floor there and simply cut the required supply and return ducts in the floor. And for your second floor, you could install a second system with its indoor unit in your attic. Then you’d cut through the ceiling to add the required vents.

There are some problems with that approach, though. One is its cost. It involves purchasing multiple central air conditioning systems, and that isn’t cheap. And it also means you don’t have fine control over where your vents get installed, which could result in uneven cooling in parts of your home. The good news is that traditional central air conditioners aren’t the only option for cooling older homes.

The Case for a Mini-Split in an Older Home

One of the best options for adding central air conditioning to an older home is to install a mini-split air conditioning system. A mini-split is like a hybrid of a central air conditioner and a window unit. With a mini-split system, you have to install an air handler in each room you wish to cool. However, multiple indoor air handlers connect to and share a single outdoor condenser unit.

In that way, mini-splits have a key advantage that works well in older homes. It’s that they don’t require ducts to operate. Instead, each air handler connects to the outdoor unit via a small bundle of refrigerant lines and power cables. That means you only need to drill a small hole, typically about three inches in diameter, into each wall where you install an air handler. That’s enough space to run the required connections.

Plus, mini-splits allow you to exercise precise control over the temperatures in your home. You can set a different temperature in each room with an air handler. Or, you can turn off an air handler entirely to avoid cooling rooms you’re not using. It’s a configuration that maximizes your comfort flexibility in a way that traditional central air conditioning systems can’t match.

Mini-splits also offer more efficient operation than central air conditioners. Their lack of reliance on ducts means that they don’t suffer from duct-related energy losses. In a traditional forced-air system, ductwork accounts for up to a 30% efficiency penalty from air leakage, convective, and radiative losses.

Other AC Alternatives for Older Homes

Although mini-splits are the best current option for older homes in need of central air conditioning, they’re not the only ones. Another way to install a central air conditioning system in an older home is to turn to a high-velocity AC system. They’re like traditional central air conditioners, except that they operate using much higher air pressure. That makes it possible for such systems to use small, flexible tubing, often as little as two inches in diameter, to move air around your home.

As a result, it’s often possible to install a high-velocity AC system in an older home because it’s much easier to install such small tubing into already-finished walls. Plus, they’re usually more efficient than traditional AC systems because the tubing they depend on isn’t prone to air leaks and energy losses like metal ductwork.

However, it’s worth pointing out that a high-velocity AC system isn’t an inexpensive option. In many cases, it could cost you between 50% and 100% more than a comparable traditional central air conditioner. Mini-splits, by comparison, are cost-competitive with central air conditioners or, at worst, slightly more expensive upfront. That reality means that high-velocity AC systems are usually an option of last resort in homes where traditional central AC is either impractical or impossible, and mini-splits aren’t wanted.

Choosing the Right Older Home AC Option

For all of the reasons set forth above, mini-splits are almost always the most cost-effective way to install central air conditioning in an older home. They feature the perfect mix of flexibility, ease of installation, and total cost of ownership. Plus, they don’t take up much space and will blend in seamlessly with your home’s décor. The benefits don’t end there, though.

Mini-splits have another trick that can be a major benefit in an older home. It’s that they can provide heat in the winter, too. Since many older homes rely on inefficient radiator systems for heat, they’re often inefficient and ripe for replacement. A mini-split can add air conditioning capacity and replace an aging heating system. Best of all, most mini-splits rely on heat pump technology to generate heat. That means they’re among the most efficient heating systems around and cut wintertime energy bills in many homes that depend on them.

Consult the Residential AC Specialists

If you own an older home in the Detroit area, you should now have a better idea of your options for installing central air conditioning in it. And C & C Heating & Air Conditioning can help. We offer complete HVAC installation, maintenance, and repair services, in addition to indoor air quality solutions and water heaters, too. That includes the latest ductless mini-split systems to satisfy your older home’s cooling needs. With a long history of flawless service and quality workmanship stretching back to 1948, we’re the go-to HVAC company for the greater Detroit area. We even offer financing on approved credit to help you to afford the HVAC solutions your home requires.

So, for mini-splits and all other heating and cooling solutions for your Detroit home, call the experts at C & C Heating & Air Conditioning today!

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