Brownstone Boys: Central Air Conditioning Vs. Ductless Mini Split

The deck is almost finished and you can barely even see the condensing unit

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 45th installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish their tale of buying and renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

We’re having some warm autumn weather. It’s been so nice we even sneaked away to go to the beach last weekend. With the late summer we’re having, since we moved upstairs we also have needed AC. Our place didn’t have an air conditioning system when we moved in, so it’s something we added to the project early on.

There are a few options when renovating and adding a new cooling system. The scope of your renovation might help you figure out which system is best for you — a central air conditioning system or a ductless mini split system.

brownstone boys

We’re living in the front bedroom (that will be our office) while we finish renovation. A temporary window unit is keeping us cool!

Central AC Ducted System
Central AC systems consist of an outdoor compressor/condenser and a single indoor unit that pushes air through a series of ducts to vents throughout your home to keep it cool. Temperature is controlled by a single thermostat and heating and cooling typically share the same ducts.

If you are completely gutting a place and the original features, plaster, and moldings aren’t something you’re keeping you might want to build in a ducted central AC system. The advantages are that you have control over the temperature of the entire home and it’s usually distributed evenly and comfortably. The upfront cost can also be a bit lower.

It’s also possible to cleverly hide the ductwork (without disturbing original features) in centrally located service areas between main rooms such as closets. (Some brownstones have original closets located between the parlors, for example, where ductwork can be tucked away in dropped ceilings.

It can be difficult to run the ducts throughout your home if you aren’t gutting the entire place. It can also be less efficient because the ducts can leak over time.

Mini Split System
A ductless mini split system also consists of an outdoor compressor/condenser but instead of connecting to a single unit that pushes air through ducts it connects to indoor units in each room that distribute heat or AC throughout the room. Each room’s temperature can be controlled individually, which makes mini splits an attractive option for those who want flexible control and all-around comfort.

brownstone boys

The mini split system is a perfect solution to cool our brownstone

Mini split systems are becoming more and more popular in New York. They are great for adding a system where one doesn’t exist because they are not as intrusive to install as a ducted central AC system. If you are doing a restoration (say a brownstone ;)) and the thought of cutting through original features, plaster, and moldings makes your heart hurt a bit this might be the option for you. Rather than large ducts carrying cool air though the ceiling and walls, there are small tubes carrying refrigerant and drainage. We found it very easy to hide them in the walls without disturbing one plaster molding or anything else important to us. In addition, since mini split systems are controlled in individual rooms, they can help save money by cooling or heating rooms on an as-needed basis.

The main disadvantage of buying a mini split system is the cost. Although mini split systems are more expensive than other systems to install, they offer significant savings in the long run. Because they do not rely on ducts to operate, mini splits eliminate the surprise costs that come with leaky or uninsulated ducts.

The room units can also be unsightly but these can also be hidden inside walls. As well, for comfort, cost and extremely cold conditions, some heating and cooling experts recommend keeping a radiator system if a house already has one rather than switching entirely to mini splits for both heating and cooling.

brownstone boys

The air handler fits perfectly next to the door in the bedroom

Window Units
Can’t forget about these! They might not be on your radar if you are going through a renovation, but in New York they are impossible to ignore. You’re probably familiar. It’s by far the cheapest, loudest, easiest, and least attractive option. They do a bad job of distributing the cool air evenly, but they do cool well. They are quick and easy to install and the least intrusive option since you just pop them into the window with no ducts or pipes that need to be run. Although, we guess the big box staring at you from the windows could be considered intrusive.

Our Pick….
We decided on a mini split system for our place and it’s going online this week. Just in time for an almost 90 degree October day. We worked with our friends at a local retailer and went with an LG system. So far we love the size and shape of the units. They are slim and attractive. Later this week when they are on we’ll let you know how they’re cooling.

[Photos via Brownstone Boys]

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