Forum Thread

Typical costs/experiences to retrofit an older home with central air?

Ero 2,861 945 August 9, 2016 at 09:53 AM
Hi guys,
I'm in the starting phases of my house hunt, and trying to determine if I should absolutely rule out older homes with window units, or if it's possible to do a retrofit within a reasonable budget.
I'm curious about your experiences, if anyone's had an older home retrofitted with central air and heat.

Can you tell me a bit about the process, how long/intrusive, and if you don't mind, a ballpark cost?
I'm not looking at huge houses. Here's a similar house to the one I'm looking at to give you an example of the scope. (not the actual one, don't be creepy wave)
https://www.coldwellbankerhomes.c..._13704588/

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#2
It doesn't look bad at all, because you have an open crawl space and virtually everything vents to the first floor, probably through floor vents you will drill into the floors. You will need to find a route into the second floor, somehow, or else you can use a separate AC unit just for the upstairs
I should point out that usually, people install the ductwork and use it for both central heat AND AC. If you vent only to the first floor and use a separate AC upstairs, you probably don't need to vent heat to the second floor because heat rises, and the downstairs heat will most likely heat the upstairs just fine, without any venting to the attic area.

I did the work on a house somewhat similar to yours and it cost $3,000 for both central heat and AC, but a relative did the work and he did most labor for free and parts were at cost. So a good ballpark is 2x to 3x that, and you should get a lot of bids and make sure you're dealing with a reputable individual or firm who can show you some stellar references. If you already have central heat and the ducts are in good order... then your cost goes WAY WAY down. You'll need the AC unit itself, a concrete pad, and the 240V electric supply for the AC unit. If what I'm saying sounds complicated... it isn't at all, really, and anyone who bids on the job will review all of these things.

I don't know if you're a new homeowner, but let me tell you: There are TONS of guys who do construction work who are alcoholics or drug addicts, and they seem ok, then they get the first 1/3 payment and go on a bender and you don't see them for weeks. So you need to be serious about doing your homework on the references and be willing to walk away from a deal.

Oh, and another thing is that a big part of an HVAC installation is insulation. So you need to review the insulation status of that home.
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Last edited by Rebound August 9, 2016 at 10:15 AM
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#3
Ballpark price would be around $10k.

I just had the home warranty company replace my ac condenser and coil, that alone was close to $4,500 that they paid.
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#4
Thanks for the initial comments. In the case that new duct work needs to be laid, do they take down all the walls and ceilings too so they can lay the ducts? I'm guessing the prices you quoted/estimated might not include that, and it'll skyrocket if that needs to be done? Or is Sheetrock work cheap? Honestly the ~10K price tag caught me off guard, I thought it would cost at least 3x that!
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#5
Quote from Ero View Post :
Thanks for the initial comments. In the case that new duct work needs to be laid, do they take down all the walls and ceilings too so they can lay the ducts? I'm guessing the prices you quoted/estimated might not include that, and it'll skyrocket if that needs to be done? Or is Sheetrock work cheap? Honestly the ~10K price tag caught me off guard, I thought it would cost at least 3x that!
I looked at the photo of the home. That house is almost all single-story. So you put the duct work in the crawlspace beneath, you cut holes in the floor, and the ducts enter through the floor. Each room that needs duct work upstairs is additional to that, because you need to get the duct (a hard, flexible hose) up to the second floor. It depends on the house construction. Most homes have some kind of plumbing and ventilation stack which you can feed such a pipe through.
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Quote from Rebound View Post :
I don't know if you're a new homeowner, but let me tell you: There are TONS of guys who do construction work who are alcoholics or drug addicts, and they seem ok, then they get the first 1/3 payment and go on a bender and you don't see them for weeks
Also plenty of registered sex offenders EEK! (looked up the the tile guy my dad recommended recently)
That said, I wouldn't advocate charging an AC system with refrigerant yourself.
Quote from Ero View Post :
Hi guys,
I'm in the starting phases of my house hunt, and trying to determine if I should absolutely rule out older homes with window units, or if it's possible to do a retrofit within a reasonable budget.
I'm curious about your experiences, if anyone's had an older home retrofitted with central air and heat.

Can you tell me a bit about the process, how long/intrusive, and if you don't mind, a ballpark cost?
I'm not looking at huge houses. Here's a similar house to the one I'm looking at to give you an example of the scope. (not the actual one, don't be creepy wave)
https://www.coldwellbankerhomes.com/ny/hastings-on-hudson/20-ronny-circle/pid_13704588/
Can we assume you're in New York? Location has some bearing on the types of systems that are appropriate.


What is the existing heating system? Fuel Source?
In older homes hot water or steam heat are common. Fuel Oil vs Natural Gas may limit certain options.


I would imagine most homes could be retrofitted to forced air, but it will vary widely how easily that can be done. Without sufficient attic / crawlspace / basement you could be adding som big bulkheads to parts of the house.


Depending on where you are, things like heat pumps may be worth considering.


Beyond the traditional forced air systems, there are also:
-ductless mini-split systems.
-high velocity ducted mini-split systems.
Both of these are generally easier to add to existing / older homes. These are generally electric only.
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Last edited by jkee August 9, 2016 at 11:59 AM
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#7
Quote from jkee View Post :
Also plenty of registered sex offenders EEK! (looked up the the tile guy my dad recommended recently)
That said, I wouldn't advocate charging an AC system with refrigerant yourself.

Can we assume you're in New York? Location has some bearing on the types of systems that are appropriate.


What is the existing heating system? Fuel Source?
In older homes hot water or steam heat are common. Fuel Oil vs Natural Gas may limit certain options.


I would imagine most homes could be retrofitted to forced air, but it will vary widely how easily that can be done. Without sufficient attic / crawlspace / basement you could be adding som big bulkheads to parts of the house.


Depending on where you are, things like heat pumps may be worth considering.


Beyond the traditional forced air systems, there are also:
-ductless mini-split systems.
-high velocity ducted mini-split systems.
Both of these are generally easier to add to existing / older homes. These are generally electric only.
I'm looking in New York and north jersey. I think I've read enough to blanket rule out any house with oil heat, so it'll be gas most likely. Electric is pretty $ so I'd probably avoid it also.

I wasn't aware there were so many types of air systems. I've got my research cut out for me Smilie thanks a lot again everyone, keep it coming!
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#8
Quote from Ero View Post :
I'm looking in New York and north jersey. I think I've read enough to blanket rule out any house with oil heat, so it'll be gas most likely. Electric is pretty $ so I'd probably avoid it also.

I wasn't aware there were so many types of air systems. I've got my research cut out for me Smilie thanks a lot again everyone, keep it coming!
In your location, you'd probably only want to go min-split if you were keeping the existing steam / hot water.


If you've got attic access to most of the house, it isn't too hard to add flexible regular sized ducts.


The decade the house was built and the style of the house probably have the biggest impact on your options.


Heating oil can certainly have issues, but it can be cheaper than other options. However, I also prefer gas. Also note even if an older house currently has gas, there could still be a heating old tank buried in the yard which can be very expensive to have removed.
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#9
Any numbers people throw out here are all with a huge astric. It's going to be highly dependent on the area of country you are in, and even the neighborhood. Along with that the size of the house and down to the style and specific house. How easy is it to run ducts to room X from the basement, etc. What the house has now for heat?

Instead of central air, I would look more at ductless systems, These are a ton easier to install and retrofit in. I had relatives in the midwest who installed these in to a ranch and were happy with them. http://www.mitsubishicomfort.com/...ng-systems They are highly popular in Asia and Europe.
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#10
Quote from Rebound View Post :
I don't know if you're a new homeowner, but let me tell you: There are TONS of guys who do construction work who are alcoholics or drug addicts, and they seem ok, then they get the first 1/3 payment and go on a bender and you don't see them for weeks. So you need to be serious about doing your homework on the references and be willing to walk away from a deal.

Oh, and another thing is that a big part of an HVAC installation is insulation. So you need to review the insulation status of that home.
The truth x50000. You need to be extremely careful. I had a guy come in to do a new furnace, his references were great, plenty of good reviews. Turns out he had done good work in the past but had developed a drug or gambling problem. I was able to press felony charges on him, but I'll never get my $2500 down payment back. I will never deal with another contractor that insists on money down before doing work.

In regards to the central AC, I'm also in NY. I really don't consider it something needed; it just isn't hot enough all the time. I think you would be better served by several small room air conditioners or a big window unit. We just have a small one in the bedroom, and on the really awful days just go in the bedroom. Just remember with a central unit you are paying to cool the entire house, not just one room.

The other part mentioned about insulation is huge too. One of the first things I did in my house was double the insulation in the attic. The payback was 2 years (when heating oil was higher). Don't forget the tax break too. Also make sure your roof is properly ventilated; if your house don't have a ridge vent, consider installing one.
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#11
If you have forced air heat it should be relatively easy, you can have a contractor meet you at the house and provide a quote, so you can know. Don't forget you will need a fairly large breaker in the panel and an old house might need, new service and a new panel. That could run into a bunch of money there.

Depending on the size and layout you could go with a ductless system, if you can you could put the vents in the attic since cold air falls they work pretty well.
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