Choosing the Right HVAC System: Older Building Air Conditioning

Renovating your business space in an older building? Choosing the right HVAC system is an important part of that decision. You probably feel comfortable with many of your choices, such as floor plans and furnishings. But when it comes to selecting a new HVAC system, you may feel challenged by a lack of expertise.

Space Issues When Replacing Older Building Air Conditioning

One of the most common problems facing business owners replacing older building air conditioning is space limitations. Though your building comes with a lot of charm, it may not come with a lot of space, which will likely guide your HVAC system choice. Even with a space shortage, you have good options when replacing your older building air conditioning, including a ductless system or a Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) system.

Consult with a qualified HVAC installer if your building is a designated landmark. If so, a preservation professional could advise you on renovation regulations that will impact your HVAC system choice.

Choosing the Right HVAC System: Ducted Air Conditioning

You are probably familiar with ducted air conditioning systems, which are frequently found in homes, residential complexes, offices, and commercial buildings. But is a ducted system the best choice in your older building?

A ducted HVAC system distributes heated and cooled air through a duct network. These ducts are installed behind walls and ceilings and can transport heat and conditioned air from a central unit to registers throughout your space.

When you're renovating and replacing an older building air conditioning system, if you already have appropriate ductwork in place, you may want to keep that in place. By replacing only the central unit(s), you can reduce your costs.

If space permits, a ducted system is also a good choice for restaurants and other businesses that produce humidity. That's because ducted systems remove moisture from the air more effectively.

When airflow is a major concern, a ducted system can better circulate air and equalize air pressure conditions. If aesthetics are an important part of your environment, a ducted system may be desirable because the ductwork is hidden. Additionally, a ducted system is less expensive to maintain.

Choosing the Right HVAC System: Going Ductless

Instead of utilizing one central unit to produce cool air, a ductless system contains smaller air blowers usually mounted to walls and ceilings. If you don't have room for ducts when replacing an older building air conditioning system, a ductless system is a viable choice.

Ductless systems are also used to supplement air conditioning systems in additions. If your business has different heating and cooling needs, the air blowers in a ductless system can be individually controlled, which makes it a popular choice for businesses that have varied climate control needs such as computer rooms or storage areas. Ductless systems are also a good choice if you must maintain a dust-free environment. A VRF system also lends itself to businesses pinched for space or needing to accommodate different temperature demands.

Older Building Air Conditioning: VRF Systems

Besides space limitations, you may be faced with preservation issues when you are replacing your older building air conditioning, especially if your building has a historic designation. When ceilings and floors must be preserved, and outward facade changes are stringently restricted, ductless or VRF systems may be the way to go.

A VRF system is capable of supplying heat and cooling and can do both simultaneously to different locations in the same building. The system is comprised of small air handlers that can be individually controlled. This is particularly useful for historic buildings that house a collection that must be preserved.

A VRF system is a good fit for restaurants, retail stores, and offices in cities like Manassas where space is at a premium. These quiet systems are energy efficient because their variable speed compressor only runs at the capacity needed for current conditions. A VRF system tends to be more expensive upfront than other systems.

Avoid Inefficiency with the Right System Capacity

When you are looking into choosing the right HVAC system or replacing older building air conditioning, size does matter. Bigger is not always better. An oversized system can cost more upfront and have higher costs for maintenance and energy usage.

An oversized cooling system does not run long enough to remove moisture from the air. To compensate, many people will lower the thermostat to allow the air conditioning to work longer, which uses more electricity. By choosing the right HVAC system with the correct capacity, the equipment will dehumidify the air and provide comfort without driving up your energy bill.

Ensure that your HVAC provider properly calculates the load requirements so you get a properly-sized system for your space. Though load calculations are square footage-dependent, many other factors need consideration when choosing the right HVAC system for your business. The building's construction, weather conditions, insulation quality, and window and door thermal efficiency are among the important components when calculating a load calculation. Look for a contractor who utilizes computer software programs for load calculations.


Choosing the right HVAC system for your older building is crucial for maintaining comfort, energy efficiency, and preservation requirements. Consider factors such as space limitations, existing ductwork, airflow needs, aesthetics, and preservation regulations when making your decision. Ensure the system capacity is appropriate for your space to avoid inefficiencies and higher costs. By selecting the right HVAC system, you can create a comfortable and efficient environment for your business.


1. How do I determine the right HVAC system for my older building? To determine the right HVAC system, consider factors such as space limitations, existing ductwork, airflow needs, aesthetics, and preservation regulations. Consulting with a qualified HVAC installer can provide valuable insights.

2. Are ducted systems more expensive to maintain? No, ducted systems are generally less expensive to maintain compared to other systems. Their hidden ductwork and efficient airflow distribution contribute to easier maintenance and lower costs.

3. What are the advantages of ductless HVAC systems? Ductless systems offer flexibility in climate control, individual control of air blowers, suitability for spaces without room for ducts, and the ability to maintain a dust-free environment.

4. Can VRF systems be used in historic buildings? Yes, VRF systems can be used in historic buildings that require preservation of ceilings, floors, and outward facades. Their small air handlers and individual control capabilities make them suitable for such applications.

5. How important is sizing the HVAC system correctly? Sizing the HVAC system correctly is crucial to avoid inefficiencies and higher costs. An oversized system may not dehumidify the air properly and can lead to increased energy usage. Consult with an HVAC provider who can calculate the load requirements accurately for your space.

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