An HVAC retrofit in a historic facility takes a bit more planning than a traditional job

Retrofitting an HVAC system is challenging on the best of days, and it brings even more variables when completing the work on a historic building.

The gist is that cities and states often put protections in place for buildings in historic districts, so you could be limited on the changes you can make, particularly on their exteriors. 

However, upgrading the HVAC system could also become a necessity if you’re using the property in a new manner. For example, expanding companies could require additional office space inside their buildings, leading to greater demand for climate control. 

No matter your reason for the HVAC retrofit, it’s a good idea to learn as much about the process as possible before you begin to avoid mistakes. 

Here’s a look at five tips you’ll want to follow when the time comes to retrofit the HVAC in your historic building.

Key Takeaways

  • An HVAC retrofit could become necessary
  • Learning local building codes is essential
  • Alternative upgrades are possible
  • Using an experienced contractor eliminates the guesswork

1. Have a clear purpose in mind

Why are you retrofitting your HVAC system in the first place? Are your energy costs too high? Is your company expanding? Is your existing HVAC system nearing the end of its lifecycle?

Figuring out the purpose of your retrofitting job is the first step to planning a course of action. 

When looking to save money on energy, you might consider installing an energy-efficient furnace or air conditioning unit. Your ductwork might require repairs or replacement, too, depending on its age. 

Companies that are growing could require additional HVAC capacity in the building to keep up with demand. This process could involve expanding your ductwork or even installing wall-mounted HVAC units in some rooms. 

Older HVAC systems are bound to fail, but you don’t necessarily have to replace everything. Upgrading a few components could keep the system up and running while you slowly replace other items around it in the future. 

Knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it will streamline your HVAC retrofit, saving you time, and money.

2. Learn the building codes

If your building sits in an official historic district, there will be some hoops to jump through before retrofitting your HVAC system. You’ll need special permits before doing any work on the structure, and an inspection could be necessary before you begin. 

The first thing you’ll need to do is assess the building’s needs. When dealing with a smaller facility, your contractor can quickly determine the scope of the upgrades you require and compare them to the local building codes. Larger buildings could need a more complex system, which will take significant effort to plan. 

Keep in mind that there could be laws in place prohibiting significant exterior modifications. For example, local officials could stop you from fitting an air conditioner on the side of your building. There are sometimes workarounds, though, including installing the unit on the roof or in the basement. 

The course you take will depend on local building codes and how your contractor can work with them.

3. Consider a mini-duct or ductless system

If the existing ductwork isn’t able to support the new HVAC system, consider replacing it with a mini-duct system. Like the name suggests, these options use smaller ducts that you can retrofit into your existing system without damaging the walls and other original materials. 

Mini-ducts operate just like the traditional ones you might already have installed, except air passes through at a faster rate because of their smaller size. 

This higher velocity leads to less wasted energy and an overall more efficient system. Older buildings don’t have the same level of insulation as modern properties, so saving energy in this manner makes a lot of sense.

Another option is installing a ductless system in certain parts of your building. For example, if you’re turning a storage space into an office, it could require increased heating and cooling capacity. 

A ductless system like a mini-split or heat pump sits on the wall in that room and connects to an exterior unit through copper tubing. The result is efficient heating and cooling without having to install more ductwork when a retrofit becomes necessary.

4. Remember the maintenance

As you determine the type of HVAC retrofit that makes sense for your building, think about the maintenance costs it will require. Older components will require more upkeep, and there could be significant costs associated with that work. 

You might find it better to replace as many components as possible during your initial retrofit, so you don’t have to deal with as many repairs in the short term. 

Speak with your contractor about the status of your current HVAC system to develop the best course of action. Replacing a bunch of components today could extend the life of your system and save you a lot of money moving forward.

5. Consider new technology

Modern HVAC systems have all kinds of features that can minimize your monthly energy expenses. These savings go beyond the energy efficiency of the actual unit and into how these systems operate.

An energy management system, for example, is an automated control unit that continuously monitors the temperature and airflow inside the building. The result is an optimized system that automatically adjusts the compressors, fans, condensers, and blowers to make their operation more efficient.

The great thing about this technology is that you can often retrofit it to work with your existing system, and it won’t require a significant renovation to the building. Remember that an electrical upgrade could be necessary to install these systems, as well.

Hiring a contractor

The entire HVAC retrofit process begins by hiring a contractor. The team you go with will lead this renovation, ensuring your plan meets local building codes. From there, your contractor will guide you in the right direction as you determine the changes necessary to optimize the HVAC system in your historic building. 

Universal Electrical Services can manage all the electrical requirements associated with your HVAC retrofit job. We also work with some of South Florida’s leading HVAC contractors and have an extensive network of suppliers that can track down obsolete components required to keep your current HVAC system functioning. Contact Universal Electrical Services to get started on your HVAC retrofitting today.