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The oldest home in Florida was built in the 1720s, making it just over 300 years old. When you have homes that are that old, adding air conditioning isn’t always as easy as you’d hope. It’s unlikely your home is that old, but any home just has to be 30 years old and have historic or architectural significance to qualify for historic designation.

When this happens, improvements to the home have to meet certain criteria. You have to preserve the building’s historic features and construction details, while also balancing your family’s comfort. 

The good news is that most Florida homes already have central AC installed. But what if it doesn’t? How do you effectively cool an aging home when there’s an inefficient system or only window units? While it may seem impossible, it’s not. It just takes a little research and planning.

Research Any Preservation Requirements

Make sure you research any preservation requirements and whether a building permit is needed. In Miami-Dade County, permit exemptions have been established for the “change out of air conditioning equipment providing it’s the same capacity/amperage” and the installation of portable cooling units. If you’re adding a brand-new system or changing the capacity or amperage, you need to apply for and receive a building permit before work occurs.

It’s also important to look into the rules if a central AC system is allowed. Historic Preservation Miami does state that “outside compressors should not be visible from right-of-way.” If they are visible, they must be screened using a wall, fence, or greenery.

Another rule to keep in mind is that any home adjacent to Biscayne Boulevard must have air conditioning compressors and electrical boxes away from the Biscayne Boulevard side of the property.

If your home doesn’t have central AC, you may not be allowed to cut into walls. Don’t give up, as there may be ways you could make a window smaller using approved window fixtures and adding the central AC vents and condensate line through the additional space.

Improve Attic Insulation

Attics remain the number one location for heat transfer that decreases your home’s energy efficiency. If your home’s attic insulation hasn’t been upgraded in years, you’re losing cool air and allowing hot air into your home.

Florida Power & Light (FPL) offers ceiling insulation savings programs with up to $1,420 in rebates you may qualify for. You qualify for an instant rebate of $220 when you work with an FPL-qualified contractor, and there’s a federal tax credit of up to $1,200 if you qualify. The following requirements must be met to receive the $220 ceiling insulation rebate from FPL.

  • Your home’s current insulation has an R-value of less than R-8 (less than 3.6 inches of blown-in fiberglass, less than 2.5 inches of blanket fiberglass, or less than 2.1 inches of cellulose insulation).
  • You haven’t received this rebate in the past 20 years.
  • You provide access to your entire attic for inspection.
  • The insulation is added by an FPL-approved PIC

Consider adding insulation to exterior walls and a crawlspace, too. The more heat transfer you prevent, the more efficient your cooling system becomes.

Keep the Sun Out

Keep your cooling bills lower by using light-blocking blinds or curtains to keep the sun out during the hottest times of the day. That keeps rooms from heating up with the sun’s exposure. Make sure you have light-blocking patio blinds, too.

Another way to stop heat exchange is by adding insulation film over windows. That keeps hot air from coming inside through gaps or cracks in window frames and traps the cool air inside where you want it.

Install New Systems or Replace AC Units With an Energy-Efficient Central AC System

When possible, central AC is the best choice in historic homes as they are the best for cooling the entire building and removing excess humidity that encourages mold and mildew growth. Make sure the system you purchase is the right size for the home. If it’s too small or too large, it will waste energy and wear out faster than expected.

If you have a licensed AC technician perform an inspection and assessment of your home, you’re ensured that you’ll get the correct size and SEER2 rating. Homes in Miami and southern Florida require a split-system AC with 45,000 BTU or less to have a SEER2 rating of 14.3 or greater. AC systems that are over 45,000 BTU must have 13.8 or greater. If you can go higher, you’ll save more money. It does cost more, but the savings on your electricity bill make up for it.

Ask your AC installer about elevating your air conditioning unit. If you get it off the ground level, it’s less likely to be damaged in a flood. It may also make it easier to hide from the right-of-way but having it installed on an upper balcony.

Consider a Mini-Split AC Unit

If you have an older home with thick brick or stone walls and no existing ducts, the installation of central AC may become complex and costly. Ask about a mini-split AC unit that is more affordable and doesn’t require ducts. The downside is that they only cool one room or area, so you won’t have whole-house cooling without installing multiple units.

When all else fails, there are floor units that don’t require any holes or ducts. The hose fits in an open window. They’re not as efficient, but they can keep you comfortable when you navigate permits and how to get central AC in your older home.

Keep Air Circulating

If you can add ceiling fans, do so. The more the air in your home circulates, the cooler you’ll feel. Ceiling fans come in a variety of designs, so it’s possible to find a design that fits the age of your home, thus boosting your cooling without taking away from the period décor and architectural look.

Work With a South Florida Licensed HVAC Specialist

The rules for remodeling a historic home in Miami and Southern Florida can be challenging. Many times, cutting holes in existing walls must be carefully considered and approval must come from the historical society. If you have a historic home that doesn’t have existing ductwork, you need to talk to a professional who has tackled projects like this before.

You want to work with a licensed AC expert who understands are codes and can help you with the approval process on any major upgrades, if it’s required. With luck, the ducts will already be in place, and you’ll just need to replace an inefficient or broken central air system. If not, talk to All Year Cooling about your home’s age and layout, and work with one of our AC experts to plan the best way to install AC in your historic or older home.

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