Many older homes in Las Vegas still have heating and cooling systems like window air conditioners and boilers and radiators. While many of these old systems have faithfully endured, they have long-surpassed their life expectancy and are under strain. It’s worth considering an upgrade to a new central air conditioning system. Technology has improved over the years. Modern HVAC systems are less noisy, more energy-efficient and offer more convenience with products like smart thermostats.
Adding central air conditioning and ductwork is a big investment to make in your home. You may be hesitant to replace your old system because of the cost involved or concerns over how it will affect an older home. However, when done properly, retrofitting an older home with a central air system pays dividends in improved comfort levels and, because they’re more energy-efficient, helps cut costs on your electric bill.
Here are the steps involved in adding a central air conditioning system plus ductwork to an older home.
Step 1: Choose The Right Contractor
You should always choose an HVAC contractor carefully. More so, if you don’t want an HVAC installation to damage or change the character of an older home. Unfortunately, there are a lot of HVAC contractors in Las Vegas who are poorly qualified. Some are unscrupulous and will cut corners to increase their profit on a job. That’s why it’s important to do some research before hiring a contractor.
Contractors in Nevada must be state-licensed. Always check that the contractor is licensed and can prove that they employ trained HVAC technicians. Next, check that they offer a warranty on equipment and parts and a guarantee on labor. This covers any potential problems that may arise after the installation.
Lastly, hire a contractor that knows what city building permits to apply for if major alterations are required to replace old window ACs, boilers, and radiators with a centralized heating and cooling system. HVAC contractors must comply with city building regulations, especially if any electrical work is being done.
Step 2: Home Evaluation and Load Calculation
Once you’ve selected the contractor, they will do a home evaluation. The contractor will examine the house’s structure to determine the specifics of the job.
The contractor will also assess the home’s insulation. Older homes were not built as “tightly” as new homes, resulting in drafty window frames and doors. If the home’s insulation is poor, the cool or warm air generated from your HVAC system will escape to the outside and outside air will also be able to flow in. This results in temperature fluctuations that the HVAC system will constantly try to compensate for. To prevent this, your contractor may recommend sealing all air leaks before installing the HVAC system.
A professional contractor will then conduct a load calculation, also called a Manual J. calculation. This is the industry standard to ascertain the heating and cooling needs of the building so that the contractor can install the right size HVAC unit. Units that are too big or too small won’t heat and cool the house properly. A load calculation takes into account the home’s square footage, how high the ceilings are, the number of windows, and how much sun the house gets. This is an important step as you want to be assured that the correct size unit is installed for the best efficiency.
Step 3: Installing New Ductwork
Some older homes do not have a system of ducts to deliver conditioned air. This means an HVAC contractor will have to install new ductwork. Homes with existing ducts that are old and leaky will also benefit from ductwork replacement.
The biggest challenge in installing new ductwork is often space. Older homes were not designed to house bulky central air systems. Traditional split system HVAC systems consist of an outdoor condenser unit, an indoor evaporator unit, and ductwork that delivers air through the house. In most cases, the indoor unit is placed in the attic or basement and the ductwork runs from the unit to the rest of the house.
If your house has enough space, it will be fairly easy for your contractor to install an AC unit and add the ductwork. Be prepared for the disruption, though. Installing new ductwork is labor-intensive and usually adds an extra 2-3 days to the job. If you have a two-story home, the installation will take longer.
Step 4: Upgrading the Electrical System
Depending on how old the home’s electrical system is, it may be necessary to redo the wiring when replacing a heating and cooling system. If the electrical wiring from a mid-century home has not been upgraded, it will not be able to handle the higher load that a new HVAC system will place on it.
Your HVAC contractor should check the electrical system before starting work on installing a new HVAC system. This is an extra step in the process that pushes up the cost and extends the duration of the project. However, in some cases, it is unavoidable when switching over from an old heating and cooling system to a modern one, and here’s why.
The wiring in older homes was designed to cope with 60-100 amps of power. Today, with so many modern appliances and electronic devices like laptops, smartphones, and tablets all plugged into electrical outlets, 60 amps is no longer sufficient. Add to that a new high-efficiency HVAC system and you’ll be plagued with tripped circuit breakers and electrical shorts. Overloading the electrical circuit is hazardous. If your home still has aluminum wiring, this presents even more of a danger. Aluminum wiring easily overheats and can spark a fire. It’s time to replace it with copper wire that can better withstand heat.
Step 5: Weighing Up The Cost of Installing Central Air Conditioning
Cost is one of the biggest factors homeowners take into consideration when installing a central air conditioner in an older home. If your home already has ductwork, installation is easier and will cost less. If your home needs ductwork laid, the cost can double.
With the ductwork in place, installing a new AC system in an old house will cost less. However, the cost can be higher depending on the brand, size of the unit, and the SEER rating. The SEER rating tells you how energy efficient the system is — the higher the rating, the higher-priced the unit will be. However, you will reap the additional cost over time with the money you save on lower energy bills. If you want additional systems fitted, like a humidifier or air purifier, the price goes up even more.
Take your time when selecting the type of unit you want. While cost is a big consideration, now is the best time to consider other factors such as energy efficiency, additional systems that can improve your home’s indoor air quality, and products that offer convenience, such as a smart thermostat. Choosing a good quality HVAC unit is worth the additional cost if it offers a good return on investment in terms of overall comfort and cleaner air.
Other Things To Consider When Adding a Central Air System to an Older Home
Updating your older home with a modern central air conditioning system means better comfort and can raise the value of your Las Vegas home. However, there are two more things to consider before tackling a renovation like this.
Retaining an Older Home’s Character
If you like the original features of an older home in Las Vegas, you may have concerns about the damage installation work can do to certain features of the home. High ceilings, crown moldings, pillars, wood trims, and hardwood floors are features of the home you want to retain. Well-preserved homes often fetch top dollar in the property market.
When ductwork needs to be installed, it often means lowering the ceilings or creating boxed corners to hide ducts. The alternative is to install the heating and cooling system under the floor which means cutting holes in the floor for the vents.
Discuss your concerns with the HVAC contractor who can advise you on the best way to install a central air conditioner without detracting from the home’s character. In a single-story home with an attic, the ducts laid in the attic can easily connect with the registers in each room. In two-story homes, the best way to feed ductwork from the attic to the lower level is to run ducts through the closets on the second floor. You may lose some closet space but it is the least intrusive way to add ductwork to a home.
What To Do If Your Home Has No Space For a Split System Unit
Split system units are an effective way to heat and cool a house, particularly larger homes. If, however, there is no basement or attic space to install the indoor unit, you could install a packaged HVAC system on the roof. Rooftop installations are common in Las Vegas. They cost a bit more but are easy to install and, because they require less work, can be installed quickly.
If you don’t want to spend extra money on a rooftop installation, then you can opt for a different type of HVAC system, like a ductless mini-split system. They are easier to install than a traditional ducted system. Ductless systems, as the name suggests, do not use ducts to deliver air. This makes them the ideal choice for older homes as no major modifications need to be done to the home to accommodate for ductwork.
Another benefit of a ductless system is zoning. With a ductless system, air handlers are installed in different areas of the home. Each one can be individually controlled. This means that different members of the household can heat or cool the rooms they are using according to their temperature preference.
Another space-saving option is a heat pump split system. They are similar to the traditional split system with an outdoor unit and indoor air handler. A heat pump uses a single unit to heat and cool a home, eliminating the need to find space for a furnace.
Ready to Upgrade Your Home’s HVAC System?
Upgrading the heating and cooling system of an older home may seem daunting. Granted, the process is a little more complicated than homes that already have the bones in place for a new central air unit. However, the right contractor will be able to get the job done smoothly and with minimal disruption or damage to your home.
Don’t go through another summer with an old clunky air conditioner. For all residential HVAC replacements to new or old homes in Las Vegas, call The Cooling Company at (702) 790-8277.