Installing a new air conditioner in an older, existing home is a great way to enhance the comfort of the occupants, but it also presents several problems. Heritage homes and townhouses can be limited by space and restrictions. At the same time, freestanding houses may need to be insulated to a suitable level before a new air conditioner can become a worthwhile purchase. 

That’s not to say upgrading to a modern, efficient air conditioner is a bad idea. Not at all. It’s just an undertaking that requires careful planning and consideration before making purchases or punching holes in the walls. Consider trying a modern ceiling fan to see if that is able to keep the room cool before going through the hassle of the new A/C unit.

Here’s what you need to know about installing a new air conditioner in an older, existing home:

First, Seek Approval

Owners of heritage-listed homes will be well aware of the restrictions placed on potential renovations. A property becomes heritage-listed when a governing body deems it of historical or architectural importance. This can elevate the character and value of a property but also carries additional responsibilities for the owners.

Homeowners will want to apply to the appropriate heritage group before carrying out any works on the property. There’s a good chance that air conditioning will be approved without any hassle. But it’s always recommended that you check before a technician begins drilling holes in a heritage-listed home.  

Next, Improve the Insulation

The effectiveness of insulation will always limit the heating and cooling efficiency of a home. New builds are adequately insulated during the construction phase, but older homes are notorious for their lack of insulation.

Insulating the walls, floor, and windows is a more extensive job to consider during renovations. However, roof insulation can be improved at any time so long as you have access to the attic or roof cavity. The ceiling accounts for up to 35% of summer heat gains, which can be reduced by fitting insulation batts or spray foam insulation throughout the attic.

Another 15-25% heat enters through gaps and cracks and around doors and windows, so these spaces must be sealed. Significantly improving insulation will increase the efficiency of air conditioning, making it perform better and reduce running costs along the way.

Best Air Conditioners for Existing Homes

The final step involves choosing the right air conditioner for you and your home. AC is not one-size-fits-all, so weighing up each system’s costs, requirements, and benefits is essential for making a well-informed, appropriate purchase.

Fallingwater frank lloyd wright kauffman house edgar ArchEyes Photograph by Christopher Little
Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright completed in 1939 | © Christopher Little

Split System Air Conditioner

Split system air conditioners are the least intrusive form of fixed air conditioning and the easiest to install. A split system will occupy little wall space, and modern systems are aesthetically pleasing, designed to meet the requirements of contemporary homes. Reverse cycle split systems can both heat and cool, making them suitable for use all year round.

Leading brands including Fujitsu, Daikin, and Mitsubishi all offer systems that feature inverter technology to remain efficient and help keep electricity bills to a minimum. The latest models also use smart features allowing the settings and temperature to be managed remotely via smartphone.

Due to their compact size and output, split systems are ideal for adding climate control to a bedroom or central living space. When looking to treat multiple rooms or the entire home, a different type of system is required.

Evaporative Cooling

One of the cleanest and most energy-efficient ways to lower the temperature inside is with evaporative cooling. Evaporative air conditioning, known as swamp cooling in some circles, relies on water to cool the air in place of the refrigerant gases used in split systems and central air conditioning.

Evaporative air conditioning cools the air at a mounted roof unit, and then the system’s fan directs the cooling airflow around a home via discreet ducts concealed inside the roof or walls.

Evaporative draws a constant stream of fresh air throughout the home, making it the ideal choice for people living with asthma and anyone affected by dust and other airborne particles. By ditching the chemical process, evaporative coolers reduce the user’s carbon footprint and lowers running costs by up to 75%.

As evaporative only provides cooling, an alternate system or heater may be required for use during winter.

Central Air Conditioning

Central air conditioning is the whole home heating and cooling solution. A reverse cycle central air conditioner is typically installed within the roof cavity, and a series of discreet ducts and vents direct the treated air flow to as many or as few rooms as you desire. The slim, color-matched vents are the only visible indication that a system is in place.

A wall-mounted thermostat is used to manage climate control with zoning functions to shut down areas not in use, saving energy in the process. Many modern systems use smart technology, so a smartphone doubles as a remote controller, ideal for managing settings from the bed, the couch, and even from work.  

Central air conditioning is the all-encompassing climate control solution, so it does cost more and has a more complex install than the alternative options.

And this forms the basis of what you need to know about selecting the right air conditioner for an existing, older home. Be sure to speak with an HVAC professional regarding the appropriate size system for your home, and don’t go performing renovations without seeking approval from the proper governing bodies.