Should I Upgrade to Central Air in My Old House?

While old homes may have a great classic appeal, a lot of them lack central air. If your older house doesn’t have central air, your box units aren’t sufficient, or you use more than two rooms regularly, you may benefit from installing a central air unit. If you have concerns about how upgrading may affect the structure and style of your older home, there are several ways you can upgrade to central air without compromising the beauty of your house. Let’s discuss all you need to know about adding central air to your old house.

Upgrading Central Air in an Old House

Image via Flickr by chumlee10

Old homes often have a lot of charm and personality. They have years of history, and you may want to preserve those memories. Unfortunately, most old homes lack central air, which can make the house uncomfortable during the summer seasons. Alternatively, some houses have window units, which can be loud with a low cooling capacity. Thankfully, central air is quiet, comfortable, and efficient.

The question is: Can you easily upgrade to central air without ruining the integrity of your home’s historic interior? The answer depends on several factors, but you can usually install central air to your old home with few issues.

What Are Some Deciding Factors in Upgrading An Old House to Central Air?

There are several deciding factors you should consider when upgrading your old home to central air, such as:

The Size of Your House & Cooling Needs

Before you get central air, you need to determine how much cooling your old home needs. To find this out, have a contractor come and give you a quote. They can perform an analysis that factors in variables that affect your cooling rate and capacity. For example, they may look at your insulation levels, air filtration, and the surface area of your walls. These specific evaluations can give you a more exact analysis of your needs.

The Efficiency of the Unit

To measure the efficiency of air conditioning units, experts use a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The SEER defines the efficiency of a unit, and higher numbers designate more efficient units. Current air conditioning units range from a SEER of 13 to 25, and newer, more efficient models can often save you money, as older models had lower SEER ratings, often in single digits. However, remember that the SEER is a maximum value, and the efficiency of your system can also depend on the size of your home, how often you’d use the unit, and how long the cooling season is.

Whether or Not Your House Has Ducts

Another main deciding factor is whether your house currently has ductwork. Most old homes don’t have ducts, which makes upgrading to central air more difficult. If your home doesn’t have ducts, you have a few options. You can install new ductwork, but not all old houses can support new ducts. This simply depends on the structure of your house and how it was built. If contractors can’t add new ductwork, you can opt for a ductless central air unit.

Types of Central Air Systems Available

There are different central systems you can choose for your house. These options require minor remodeling, which can be beneficial for maintaining the look of your old home:

Mini-split Systems

Mini-split systems are wall-mounted cooling units that contractors place in different rooms. These units connect to a compressor and fan that sits outside of the house. This allows you to add central air to your home without the units being in the way. Mini-split systems are beneficial because they don’t require extensive work on the area, meaning that you can maintain the structure of your house.

High-velocity HVAC Systems

High-velocity HVAC systems use extremely small ducts and registers to transport air into a room. These tubes and registers are only a few inches wide, which provides an unobtrusive way to get air into your house. Since the ducts are so small, contractors can insert them through the walls and ceilings. This means you don’t have to remodel or reconstruct your home.

Retrofitting an Old Heating System

Retrofitting is when you add a new component to an existing item or structure. If you already have central heat in your house, a contractor may be able to retrofit it to add central air. This can allow technicians to use a system that’s currently in place and avoid unnecessary and additional ductwork. To do this, you may have to update or seal your heating system to work with the new central air unit. 

How Easy Is It To Upgrade?

It depends – some homes are easier to upgrade than others. For example, if your home already has a forced-air heating system, you can install central air in the ductwork that’s already there. However, if the house requires new ducts, the process gets more complicated and expensive. The technicians would have to find space to retrofit or install the ductwork. If you’d like to learn more about the process and what you can expect, the experts at Dahme Mechanical in Arlington Heights, IL would be happy to answer questions and provide an initial evaluation.

Cost to Upgrade to Central Air in an Old House

There are several variables, such as climate, existing insulation, cost of labor, and the amount of square footage that affect how much it will cost to upgrade your old house to central air. Generally, you can expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 for a central air installation. However, if your home is already equipped with forced-air heating and you are simply retrofitting it to add central air, the costs will be lower – between $3,000 and $5,000. You always want ask your contractors for a quote before they begin work on your project, so you know exactly what to expect.

Despite the cost, central air equipment can last up to 15 years if it’s high quality. You can also check your warranty if the system stops working. If you own an older home and you want to upgrade to central air, you have several unobtrusive options. Regardless of what you go with, you can find a simple, budget-friendly way to add central air while maintaining the look of your house.

This information can help you decide whether you should install central air, and if you do, you know what your options are. If you have questions about this process or you want to schedule an appointment, please contact us at Dahme Mechanical Industries, Inc. We proudly serve Arlington Heights, IL and the surrounding Chicagoland community, and would be happy to discuss upgrading your old home!