Hot and Cold: AC and Heat Options To Consider When Renovating

We grew up in Las Vegas and New Orleans (Happy Mardi Gras!) Although we’ve both been in Brooklyn for decades now, we grew up with very different types of heating and cooling systems that usually focus more on cooling a space rather than heating it. Here in New York it’s often the opposite but they are both important. Traditionally these old buildings focused on heating, and they relied on the masonry walls, tree-lined streets, and tall windows to cool it. But today you’d be pressed to find someone renovating one and not putting in a AC system. The question that has come up for us: does putting in a cooling system change the thought process on how to heat your home?

If your place hasn’t been renovated in a while you likely have a steam, hydronic, or forced air boiler to heat your home. All three are tried, tested, and effective for heat even in very low temps. New construction or older buildings that have been gut renovated may have a central HVAC system delivering both heating and cooling through ducts. In our case we had a hydronic boiler delivering heat through baseboard radiators. We didn’t like the look of them and wanted more traditional exposed radiators. So we changed all of the radiators and piping that delivered hot water to them. But that didn’t help us cool the place! For that we installed a mini split system throughout the house. We didn’t want to run the bulky ducts necessary for central AC or a Unico system.

We went with an LG mini split system that also has a heat pump for heating. We have the radiator system running to heat the place regularly, but occasionally if we want to speed up the process or just make it even cozier we’ll turn on the mini split in heat mode. In not a very long time at all it is so warm that we forget it’s even winter outside.

It’s raises the question, could we just heat our home with the mini split units? Many people have asked and the consensus has been that you could use a mini split system to supplement but not necessarily as a primary heat source with the low temperatures we can get in the northeast.  Our mini split system specs say that it has 100% heating capacity to 5 degrees and “continuous heating operation down to -13 degrees”. That leads us to believe that our mini split system will not effectively heat when it is below -13 degrees. Nevertheless, some people are doing it. And we have heard no complaints from those that we know that only have a mini split system to heat their home. Apparently the technology is getting better for heating so that in the near future, if not now, heating with a mini split system will be a safe choice.

How much does a mini split system cost to install? It can vary depending on what brand you go with and some installation details but a 4-5 unit system might run you $4,000-$7,000 and installation could run $12,000-$18,000. Keep in mind costs for additional electrical work and drywall/plaster repair where the lines are run.

We’ve also seen a lot of places with a ducted forced air heating system. You may have seen the old grates on walls and floors that carry the warm air to each room. For AC, rather than install a mini split system you can just add an AC coil to use the existing ducts for cool air. That option is likely a lot cheaper than installing mini split units which will need electricity and drainage run to them with a lot of drywall and plaster repair once they are installed. To add an AC coil to forced air heating system it can run $10,000-$12,000.

The last option that we have seen recently is installing hydronic radiant floor heat with a mini split system for AC. It’s seems like a combination that will deliver a comfortable feel but not necessarily be budget saver to install.

Anyone have any experience with heating exclusively with a mini split system? Or do you have any other ideas on the best way to configure an HVAC system?

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