It’s hard to believe, but home central air conditioning is only a few decades old. And, even older options like window units weren’t around much longer than that.
As a result, a number of older homes aren’t equipped for a solid and efficient air conditioning system. For a long time, it’s been too expensive for many homeowners to consider putting one in. Or, a system just won’t fit into the design of the home, because it wasn’t built with central air in mind.
For years, then, many people with older homes have relied on ceiling fans or window unit air conditioners. But, these aren’t nearly as powerful as more modern HVAC options. And, in some cases, the older options are much more expensive to run.
Fortunately, there’s a way today to get the power of a central system without doing major work on your home. And, it often costs less than central. It’s called ductless, and it’s got a lot to offer in an older home.
What is ductless air conditioning?
Ductless air conditioning is an HVAC system that cools an entire house like central air. However, it doesn’t require ductwork and vents throughout the house. Instead, cool air travels through tubing and into units mounted on walls throughout the home.
The system begins with a heat pump. It’s located outside the home, just like an air conditioner condenser. The heat pump uses a heat exchange process to provide cold air. It’s based on the concept that warm air naturally moves to colder areas.
In this case, the heat pump draws warm air from the house. The air reaches a refrigerant liquid inside the pump. The heat transfers to the cooling liquid which evaporates and travels through the system to start the cycle over. As this happens, the home is left with cool air while the system continues drawing heat.
The air itself travels through narrow, flexible tubing. This tubing is usually less than two inches wide. This makes it very easy for an HVAC tech to install it. Instead of tearing down walls or building ductwork, they run it behind the walls like electrical wire.
At the other end are the ductless units. These are the devices that actually distribute the cool air throughout the house.
Depending on your needs, you can have as few or as many units as you want throughout the house. Each one has its own thermostat and remote control. And, unlike central air or even window AC’s, they are whisper-quiet.
The units are connected to the heat pump by the tubing. That tubing runs through a small hole a tech drills into the side of the home and then seals up. Next, they’ll run as many tubes as there are units through the house.
Finally, the tubing attaches to the rear of the unit through another small hole. This one will be sealed as well. But, since it’s usually behind the unit, you won’t even see it at all.
What are the benefits of ductless units in an older home?
Ductless units offer many benefits to older homes. When it comes to cooling especially, they offer a considerable upgrade to homes without central air. And, they do so without requiring all the expense and work of adding a traditional central air conditioner.
Central air for homes wasn’t widely available until the 1970s. That means homes built before that weren’t necessarily made to accommodate it. These include pre-war houses and those constructed when suburban housing exploded in the 50s and 60s.
As a result, adding central AC can be a considerable expense. If the home doesn’t have the right ductwork, it needs that installed to run cold air. For this, an HVAC company needs to design a duct system, and then build and install it.
Doing so can quickly run the bill up if your home isn’t designed for it. That doesn’t include the cost of the air conditioner itself. And, often the homes weren’t designed to accommodate large, bulky ducts. Installers will need to take up lots of space in closets and along ceilings to run them.
Large projects like this are sometimes a problem in very old houses. That is the case if the homeowner wants to maintain as much of the home’s original look and feel. Adding ductwork can ruin that quickly.
The same goes for vents. The air needs a way to enter each room from the ducts. Adding vents means cutting into floors and walls.
For these reasons, ductless is a great option for older homes. A system like this is just as powerful as a central unit. But, it takes a lot less work to install. And, it’s very flexible. The units can be mounted just about anywhere.
This way, you can place them as out of the way as possible. And, since they make virtually no noise, they’re even easier to keep out of sight and out of mind.
Does a ductless HVAC system save money?
In just about any case, a ductless air cooling system will save money over other air conditioner options. The ductless systems use much less energy than other methods to provide the same — if not more — cooling.
Ductless systems are Energy Star certified. This designation means they meet government standards showing they use less energy than other systems that provide the same cooling.
They’re more efficient for a few reasons. First is the cooling source itself: the heat pump. As we mentioned before, the cool air comes from the pump thanks to a heat exchange system. It plays on something that happens naturally: warm air moves toward cold.
As a result, it takes very little energy to make this happen. Essentially, the pump only needs a small amount of electricity to run a compressor and keep the air circulating. This energy is far less than what a conventional condenser requires.
They also cool specific areas. This means you don’t have to have every unit running if you aren’t occupying that room. You can adjust your energy output to lower your bills, and make sure unoccupied rooms aren’t sucking up money. It also is very helpful when people disagree on temperatures. No longer will you have to fight over the thermostat!
And, many times an older home has window-unit air conditioners. They cost much less than installing a central unit. But, they don’t work nearly as well. Each one only cools a small area, and they use a lot more energy than ductwork and vents.
Plus, they are designed for people to remove and install them easily each year. Because of this, they aren’t really sealed in. This design allows cool air to escape outside.
Fortunately, none of this is the case with ductless. The units are all inside the home. And, the tubing is even more airtight than ductwork. That means almost none of the cooling gets lost along the way.
Finally, many utility companies today offer rebates to people who install Energy Star HVAC products in their home. The idea is to encourage people to use less energy. Depending on where you live, and the units you choose, you can get anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
That money goes a long toward lowering the cost of installing your new system. After that, you’ll find yourself spending less than before on energy bills. After a while, the system pays for itself.
And, in the case of an older home, it’s often the first time the homeowner has enjoyed the comfort of quiet, efficient air conditioning throughout the house.