3 Options for Retrofitting Modern HVAC Into an Older Home

Central air conditioning and forced air heating are ubiquitous in modern American homes. It's rare for new construction to eschew these HVAC features, except in areas with very temperate climates. However, older homes are a much different story. HVAC systems varied more in the past, with homes featuring everything from hydronic baseboard heating to steam radiators.

A retrofit can be an excellent option if you own an older home without the convenience of a modern HVAC setup. Still, installing an entirely new HVAC system isn't a small project. Costs can vary based on many factors, so it's important to consult with an expert and carefully weigh your options. In most cases, you'll be deciding between these three retrofit approaches.

1. Use Existing Heating Ductwork

Forced air heating became a common option for many homes before central air conditioning, and some newer homes in colder climates may still only have central heating. The good news is that any home with existing ductwork for a central heating system is well-positioned for a full HVAC upgrade that includes air conditioning.

Since ductwork installation is often the costliest (and most disruptive) part of a retrofit, you'll save plenty of time and money if your home already has ductwork. However, it's important to understand that your ducts may require modifications to accommodate a modern system. Likewise, you may also want to consider upgrading your existing furnace to achieve the greatest benefits.

2. Retrofit New Ductwork

If your home uses hydronic or steam heating, you won't have the ductwork necessary to support central air conditioning. Fortunately, it's usually possible to retrofit this ductwork into an existing home, although the size and layout of your house will matter. Installers will typically route ductwork through attics, basements, crawl spaces, and closets to minimize demolition and disruption.

When retrofitting ductwork into your home, you'll need to decide whether to keep your existing heating system or add a forced-air furnace. While there's nothing wrong with keeping your existing heating equipment, upgrading to a modern forced-air furnace may offer energy efficiency and home comfort benefits.

3. Install a Mini-Split System

A final option is to forego ductwork requirements altogether and install a mini-split system instead. Mini-split (or ductless) systems typically use heat pumps, which means they can provide heating and cooling. Heat pumps also tend to be more efficient than other heating than other options. Since they don't require ductwork, you won't need to pay for a costly retrofit.

Of course, there are also drawbacks. Mini-split systems can be more expensive upfront, and you'll need to be okay with the large "head" units that will be visible in your living spaces. Whether a mini-split system is right for you will depend on your preferences, budget, and the difficulty of retrofitting a ducted HVAC system into your home.

Reach out to an HVAC system installation service to learn more.