because your house doesnít have central air
conditioning doesnít mean it canít be added.
itís hot. And for homeowners living without the
comfort of central air conditioning, the summer months
may be unbearable. Or for those living with fans in
every room and window A/C units running noisily and
inefficiently, perhaps itís time to pull the plug and
consider retrofitting the house with central A/C, which
ó surprisingly ó isnít as inconvenient or
expensive as you might think.
are the exceptions?
the most part, every house can be retrofitted for A/C.
"There are some restrictions on certain types of
homes, but it just depends on the house," says
Frank Garneski, owner of Garneskiís Air Conditioning
& Heating in Sterling, Va. "Some jobs can be
very difficult, and some jobs can be very easy."
the house already has an electric or gas forced-air
heating system, adding A/C isnít that hard and
typically can be installed in one day. Our experts say
the A/C installation cost averages between $2,800 and
you see trickier applications is if a home has baseboard
heat or a boiler where thereís no ductwork," says
Chad Peterman, operations manager for Peterman Heating,
Cooling & Plumbing in Indianapolis. "The good
news is, you still have options."
if I donít have air ducts?
first option would be to add them, which works best if
you have open space in the attic and basement.
"Finding the space is the trickiest part,"
Peterman says. "Itís labor intensive to run
traditional ductwork will increase the overall cost.
Homeowners can expect to pay between $7,000 and $10,000,
and should allow three days to complete installation.
"Every home is different, so the design of each
home really becomes the cost factor," says Bill
Stuhr, sales and installation manager for Five Star
Heating & Air in Palatine, Ill. "A two-story, a
ranch, a split-level and raised ranch will all have
different costs due to the difference in design."
second option is to install a ductless A/C, which our
experts agree is the most efficient ó albeit more
expensive ó alternative. A ductless A/C consists of an
outdoor compressor and wall units mounted in rooms that
need cooling. Itís a good choice for structures whose
walls are too thin to support ductwork or for individual
rooms that need extra cooling, such as a man cave or
recent addition. A ductless system averages $6,000 to
$15,000 according to our experts, depending on the
design and type of units selected, and would take one to
two days to install.
third option is a high-velocity system, which uses
smaller, more flexible tubing than the standard ductwork
required for low-velocity systems. The main hurdle for
most homeowners, however, is cost. Prices can start at
$15,000 and quickly increase depending on the size of
the house. Expect a two- to three-day installation
period for a high-velocity system.
can also consider installing a rooftop A/C, which costs
as much as $1,000 more for the unit but will include
nearly double the installation cost because of the
difficulty of the roof work.
biggest thing is understanding your options,"
Peterman says. "Understand that it is an
investment. We have a lot of people presented with the
ductless option, and it might be the best option, but
they shut it down because of the cost. The ability to
turn units on and off, depending on if youíre using
the room, will save you money in the long run."
do I hire to retrofit the A/C?
youíre adding A/C to your house, our experts advise
hiring a reliable HVAC company that has experience doing
so with homes similar to yours. "Thereís more
work and knowledge involved," Peterman says.
"Making sure the ductwork is properly installed and
is the right size for the system; making sure all the
equipment is the proper size."
addition to verifying proper licensing, insurance and
bonding, homeowners need to make sure the contractor
pulls the proper permits. "The No. 1 red flag is a
contractor who avoids or refuses to pull mechanical
permits," says Gregory W. Gill, president of Action
Air Conditioning, Heating & Solar in San Marcos,
Calif.. "Third-party verification is vital. It
guarantees your system is installed to industry safety
standards and building codes. Additionally, lack of
permits can void your homeowners insurance in the event
of fire or water damage caused by an illegal
red flags to watch out for include contractors who only
present one option and those who donít perform a
Manual J heat load calculation, which determines the
proper size of A/C equipment needed to adequately cool
the house. "Square footage means nothing,"
Stuhr says. "If I have a home that is 2,000 square
feet with all windows or a home half built into the
ground with minimum windows, these will require totally
different A/C sizes to cool the home."
final point of advice our experts offer is to try not to
fixate on the price. "Consumers pay for two things
when purchasing a new A/C unit ó the product and the
company performing the installation," Stuhr says.
"If you have the best product with a bad
installation, then the product will not last or will not
perform correctly. You need both to get your moneyís