It’s July and as the first heat waves are rolling across Toronto, you may be wishing you had invested in last winter’s end-of-year deals on air conditioners. But if you live in an older home, the question of how to cool it down is somewhat complicated. So, if you want to make your older home more livable in the summer months, what air conditioning method works best?
There are a few different options to consider: central air conditioning, window-mounted air conditioners, and wall-mounted ductless air conditioning. All of them have pros and cons, and their value to you will depend on how much time you actually spend in your home over the summer months and what your budget will allow.
For example, a new central air conditioning retrofit to an older home will easily run over $10,000. You will recoup about 80% of the expense in your resale price should you choose to sell, but you’ll be spending additional money on duct cleaning, air filters, and general maintenance in the meantime.
Window-mounted air conditioners are noisy and a pain to install. They need to be changed with the season, which requires heavy lifting and often some shimming in the window unit itself. They can make all the difference in isolated rooms of a house, but even the quietest models make some noise. The good news is that they are now more powerful than ever, and come with easy-to-read displays and a suite of controls that everyone can use. This Consumer Reports buying guide will help you get started.
The compromise between these two methods is a wall-mounted ductless system, which patches into walls. You have probably seen units like these in hotels because they can heat or cool a room powerfully with very little energy. They can also draw air in from the outside and de-humidify it. Multiple models exist from companies like Fujitsu and Mitsubishi and most come with remote controls.
Bob Vila of This Old House is the definitive authority on how to retrofit older homes with newer technologies. He points out that there are multiple factors to consider when installing a new air conditioning system into an older home.
- The electrical system. If your home has knob-and-tube wiring, it may not provide enough electricity to power newer air conditioning models. Central air conditioners need between 20 and 50 amps of power, which old-fashioned wiring is unable to provide. So before you install a central air system, you should consult an electrician. And even if you’re installing a window or wall-mounted unit, an older home that sustains 60 amps of power total still might not be enough to meet those needs.
- The size. No matter what type of air conditioning system you choose, it should be fitted tightly to the house with adequate sealing around all ducts, vents, and fittings. Too many gaps and you have problems with humidity, noise, and loss of cool air. This is especially important for wall-mounted units that are patched into existing walls. Wall-mounted units (or “ductless” air conditioners) can be used as fans, heaters or air conditioners, and while they may not pump heat or cool air throughout an entire house, they can make all the difference in any room where the need for comfortable temperatures is paramount. Also, they use less electricity.
- How the home holds heat or cool air. Installing a new air conditioning system will only get you so far if your home has leaky windows and poor insulation. It can be worth it to look at your home through a thermal camera to find hotspots or other areas where air is leaking in or out so you can repair the damage before installing one of these systems.