adding central cooling to older homes

A hot summer afternoon in Georgia is enough to turn any home without air conditioning into a sauna. Noisy window air conditioners are adept at lowering temperatures, but they spoil charming exteriors and block your view to the outside. You may pine for central air conditioning, but is adding central cooling to older homes even an option?

The short answer to this question is yes. With various options available for different circumstances, including homes without existing ductwork, a cool interior is easier to achieve than you think.

Selecting a Central Air Conditioner

If your home has forced air heating, the duct network needed for central cooling is already in place. With two technicians on the job, central A/C installation only takes two to three days, often without the need to change the ductwork.

The first and perhaps most important task when adding central cooling to older homes is to select the proper equipment. Follow these steps:

  • Have a cooling load calculation performed – Experienced contractors reference Manual J to perform load calculations. This tells you how much heat gain the central air conditioner must overcome to keep your home comfortable. Factors include insulation levels, window and door placement, air infiltration rates, and home orientation.
  • Size the air conditioner accordingly – Your contractor will recommend an air conditioner size based on cooling load calculations. It’s important to go through the sizing process to avoid an undersized unit, which can’t keep up with cooling demand. Oversized units are just as bad, because they create comfort problems and wear out sooner due to short cycling.
  • Consider efficiency ratings – Federal law requires all new central air conditioners to be have a minimum seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of 13. Units at the minimum efficiency rating cost less initially, but they raise your energy bills for the life of the unit. In Georgia’s hot climate where you rely heavily on air conditioning throughout the year, it’s usually more economical to invest in a higher efficiency unit.

Placing the Central Air Conditioner

If you plan on getting a packaged unit, you’ll most likely need to have it installed on the roof. Packaged systems are essentially large window air conditioners with ductwork attached. However, it’s likely you’ll choose the more common split system air conditioner, which places the evaporator coil and blower inside and keeps the compressor and condenser outside on a concrete slab. Even the quietest condensers produce noise and create an eyesore, so work with your contractor to choose a discrete installation location behind foliage and away from windows.

Make sure the unit has two feet of clearance on all sides and five feet of clearance above it for ample airflow. If the unit is installed in the shade, it will operate more efficiently during the heat of midday.

Have the Ductwork Inspected

A duct inspection is an important part of adding central cooling to older homes. To get the most from the installation, the ducts should be sealed, insulated and sized properly for adequate air velocity.

Options for Homes Without Ductwork

If your home is heated with radiant floor or baseboard heating, it’s unlikely ductwork is installed. You can still keep cool with these options:

  • Ductless mini-split – This is a step up from a window unit. Capable of both heating and cooling, a ductless mini-split is essentially a small heat pump. The outdoor unit resembles an air conditioner compressor while the indoor portion mounts to the wall or ceiling with minimal intrusiveness. Multiple indoor units can pair with a single outdoor unit for whole-home cooling.
  • High-velocity system – This delivers chilled air with insulated air-supply tubing small enough to be easily installed within existing walls.
  • Central air conditioning: If you have ample space on the attic floor or basement ceiling, adding ductwork is a viable option. The additional installation increases the required investment, but having dependable central air could certainly be worth the effort.

For more information about adding central cooling to older homes, check out the air conditioner installation services from Byrd Heating and Air Conditioning or call 912-373-8447.

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