Adding Central Air Conditioning and Ductwork to an Older Home

Adding Central Air Conditioning and Ductwork to an Older Home

Many people residing in the northern regions of our country live in older homes that do not have modern central air conditioning systems. This is largely due to construction that may have been completed before air conditioners existed and cooler summer temperatures that did not always necessitate a large central air conditioning system. However, with unprecedented high temperatures in summer months over the past couple of years, some homeowners may be considering upgrading their homes to include larger, more efficient HVAC systems.

Common Hurdles of HVAC Installation

There are several common hurdles those living in older homes may face when installing an HVAC system. The most common problem to overcome when installing a central air conditioning system is that older homes often require you to install new ductwork or adapt it to the existing ductwork of a forced-air furnace. A central cooling system can easily be retrofitted to a forced-air furnace system to utilize its existing ductwork. The work can be completed in two to three days but may exceed this estimate based on the scope of the work involved. While each home is different, the cost to retrofit an HVAC system to a forced-air furnace in an average home would be about $3,500–$4,000.

Homes missing the required ductwork necessary for a central cooling system must install a circuit of ducts to deliver the conditioned air throughout the home. You might envision a massive project with structural alterations, drywall repair and painting costs. While there is some truth to this, in most cases a clever HVAC contractor can utilize existing walls and closet spaces to hide the ductwork and minimize cutting, damaging and altering ceilings and walls. Due to the increased labor of installing ductwork, you can expect to pay double the amount mentioned above (around $7,000–$8,000) to complete your central air conditioning project.

Types of HVAC Systems

There are many types of HVAC systems available today with a wide range of performance and energy efficiencies. The type of system you choose will depend on several factors, including your climate zone, the condition of your home’s envelope — the ability to contain conditioned air — and the amount of square footage, as well as recommendations from your HVAC contractor. Your HVAC contractor should use Manual J calculations to determine the appropriate system for your home. Listed below are common types of HVAC systems and their average costs:

  • Split systems: Split systems are the most common type of HVAC system used in residential applications. Their two main components are an indoor air handler and evaporator coil and outdoor condensing/compressor unit. Average costs are mentioned above.
  • Ductless minisplit system: Ductless mini-split systems are ideal for homes missing the necessary ductwork, as they do not require them. Their ease of installation, adaptability and control options has led to a rise in their popularity. The average cost of a ductless mini-split system with a single indoor head can cost you between $2,000–$5,000.
  • High-performance heat pumps: Heat pumps are highly efficient systems capable of providing both heat and cooling for your home. Their costs are higher than standard central air conditioning systems, but you can normally recoup the additional costs in energy savings, usually in about five years. Average costs for a whole-house heat pump system — a three-ton system — range between $2,000–$8,000 for an installed system. High-efficiency, ground source heat pumps are much more, averaging between $5,000–$7,000.

Saving money on HVAC Systems

Rebate and incentive programs are available that can reduce the costs associated with central cooling system installation. The Database of State Incentive for Renewables and Efficiency provides a detailed list of programs broken down by state. Simply insert your zip code to view a list of rebate and incentive options available in your area. Mass Save also allows you to search for HVAC savings programs based on zip codes. In addition, the federal government promotes energy efficiency through special rebates, incentives and tax credits. Visit to learn more.

The costs mentioned above are general in nature; the many specifics of your home, as well as the type of system you choose, its energy efficiency and recommendations from your contractor, will dictate the final cost of your HVAC system. Visit Gott Real Estate to find more home improvement tips and money-saving ideas, as well as a wealth of real estate information, services and listings.


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