Central AC / Mini-splits in rental units

22 Replies

I'm in the process of rehabbing a three unit building In Jersey City, NJ.  I'm redoing the heating system, so that each unit pays it's own heating bill.  I was not planning on providing air conditioning.  I was planning to put properly wired outlets near a window in each room, so that the tenants could buy and use their own ACs.

Talking to a local landlord, he suggested I put in central AC.  This would obviously be expensive, but also a marketable feature.  The flip side, besides the cost to install, is the cost to maintain (the tenants would pay to run it on their own electric bills.)  Obviously, it's something else to break and need fixing.

If I were to do this, I was thinking about how.  I'm wondering if it would be better to do split ductless units vs convertional ducted AC.  I'm not sure how much different the installation costs would be. 

And here's where the train of thought runs right off the tracks.  I'm about to get to the point of replacing the hot water heating system, with a separate gas boiler for each unit.  If I do the central AC, I could run the heat as reverse cycle AC.  This makes the heat electric (not cheap.)   Also, this is northern NJ.  Temperatures in the 20's or below are far from unheard of.  I don't thing the reverse cycle AC handles this too well, and uses a back up resistance heating mode.  So is this a silly idea, and I should stay with the gas boilers for heat?

Let me know what everyone thinks about all of this.

In my opinion, everyone expects AC these days. Five years from now it will be more so.

I added a mini-split as part of a recent addition.  It was about the same price as forced-air heat but saved me space I didn't have for duct work.  In hindsight, I should have somehow made space for ductwork.  The mini-split required significant labor from the electrician and the HVAC guy because of the exterior AC unit.

A new, forced-air furnace just cost me $2400 installed.  Existing duct work and AC were unaffected.  What kind of cost are you looking at with your (seemingly exotic) systems?

Right now I have no existing ductwork.  The cost of the heating system replacement was baked into a large rehab job.  Unless I can stop the heating system replacement soon, that's going to continue, and the AC will be an add on, if I do it.

In St. Paul, you know winter.  Are you using the  the mini-split to provide heat also, or just AC?  How's that working in deep winter?

How much is the monthly rent on this place? A $700 per month place might be a different answer than a $1700 per month place.

@Michael Wolffs  

We just finished replacing a 12' section if external wall and sill plate that had rotted as the result of a through window/wall AC unit that had allowed water to leak down into the wall for a prolonged period of time.

We also removed a through-wall natural gas furnace at the same time and applied 3" of closed cell foam to the external walls on the main level.   We will be putting a 3/4 tonne ductless heat pump into this unit (SEER 30/HSPF 13.5) which will handle the heating and cooling far more efficiently w/o the need for ductwork.  The unit also operates with a COP >1 to -25C.

Initially we are installing just the one unit on the main level, if needed we will install a second unit on the upstairs level at a later time.   The upstairs has resistance heat - code requires there to be an auxiliary heat source when heat pumps are installed and the unit already had baseboards.

Our main level is essentially one big open space with the stairwell to the second level intersecting the middle (there is airflow around both ends of the stair well).  If your floor plan is suitable (i.e. not too many rooms with doors closed all the time), I would recommend taking a strong look at ductless heat pumps.

Medium greenapartmenthires 1024x1024Roy N., Louer Louer Ltd. | 1.506.471.4126

Originally posted by @David Hood :

How much is the monthly rent on this place? A $700 per month place might be a different answer than a $1700 per month place.

Going to be looking for $1,500.  For the area, that isn't that much (2 bed, 2 bath)

Originally posted by @Roy N. :

@Michael Wolffs 

We just finished replacing a 12' section if external wall and sill plate that had rotted as the result of a through window/wall AC unit that had allowed water to leak down into the wall for a prolonged period of time.

We also removed a through-wall natural gas furnace at the same time and applied 3" of closed cell foam to the external walls on the main level.   We will be putting a 3/4 tonne ductless heat pump into this unit (SEER 30/HSPF 13.5) which will handle the heating and cooling far more efficiently w/o the need for ductwork.  The unit also operates with a COP >1 to -25C.

Initially we are installing just the one unit on the main level, if needed we will install a second unit on the upstairs level at a later time.   The upstairs has resistance heat - code requires there to be an auxiliary heat source when heat pumps are installed and the unit already had baseboards.

Our main level is essentially one big open space with the stairwell to the second level intersecting the middle (there is airflow around both ends of the stair well).  If your floor plan is suitable (i.e. not too many rooms with doors closed all the time), I would recommend taking a strong look at ductless heat pumps.

 Heat pumps work up in Canada?  I know NB is near the ocean, so the climate may not be as extreme as inland, but I didn't think they'd work well in places that get real winter.

Originally posted by @Michael Wolffs :

 Heat pumps work up in Canada?  I know NB is near the ocean, so the climate may not be as extreme as inland, but I didn't think they'd work well in places that get real winter.

 Michael:

Don't kid yourself, New Brunswick gets real winter.  Not as cold as the real north, nor maybe quite as long as the Prairies - I've lived winter in both, so can compare - but 3-4 weeks with lows in the -30 to -40 range and highs around 0F is part of winter here.    The jetstream typically moves south of us each autumn which contributes to our cold winters.

This newer generation of air-to-air heat pumps will operate down to -25C (-12/13F).  Below that you will want an auxiliary heat source.

Even with the need for the resistance heaters in the dead of winter, there is much of winter where the heat pump can handle the job just fine, making it a more cost effective solution than resistance heat alone and, in this region, cheaper than either oil or natural gas.

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I am from the old school where we don't really use heat pumps here in NJ. The question of to provide central A/C depends on your comps and competition. If your market and rent is typically no central A/C then do the room A/C's. If the rent and market is more high end than you should do central A/C. One of may rentals that is not high end; they just use window A/C units while some higher rent rentals I have; I do have central A/C because if I didn't then I would not be able to charge the same rent as comp's in the area. That's how I would decide. Since you don't have a furnace with ductwork it is going to be expensive to put in central A/C so get quotes from different contractors doing mini-splits and convential central A/C. That is the only way you can find out if its worth it so get the quotes so you can decide.

Mark Langdon, Langdon Properties | [email protected] | (973) 602‑7125 | http://langdonproperties.net

  1. Originally posted by @Mark Langdon :
  2. I am from the old school where we don't really use heat pumps here in NJ. The question of to provide central A/C depends on your comps and competition. If your market and rent is typically no central A/C then do the room A/C's. If the rent and market is more high end than you should do central A/C. One of may rentals that is not high end; they just use window A/C units while some higher rent rentals I have; I do have central A/C because if I didn't then I would not be able to charge the same rent as comp's in the area. That's how I would decide. Since you don't have a furnace with ductwork it is going to be expensive to put in central A/C so get quotes from different contractors doing mini-splits and convential central A/C. That is the only way you can find out if its worth it so get the quotes so you can decide.

I wouldn't put in central AC / splits separate from the gas heating system.  Doing both would be just too expensive.  But seeing as how I'm about to change the heating system already, if the cost of putting in splits is the around same as the new gas boilers, it might be worth is to get a two for one (AC and heat.)

Do yourself a favor look at the Mitsubishi hyper heat option. One of the best on the market and good to down to 0 degrees.  Very efficient and cost effective option, with very high 20-30 seer ratings kinda of like mpg on a car.  Will provide both heat and ac should cheaper than natural gas!  Quietest operating unit on the market as well!

Originally posted by @Chris Wosnitzer :

Do yourself a favor look at the Mitsubishi hyper heat option. One of the best on the market and good to down to 0 degrees.  Very efficient and cost effective option, with very high 20-30 seer ratings kinda of like mpg on a car.  Will provide both heat and ac should cheaper than natural gas!  Quietest operating unit on the market as well!

 Mitsubishi was the first brand I thought of.

Installing a traditional a/c would either be an air handler or a furnace with the ac coil on top and an outside condenser both options would need duct work.  And unless your gutting every wall and or ceiling it will be costly.  It's not the parts it's the labor to install it and getting the right amount of airflow to heat and cool properly.   That alone may cost 5-10k per unit and then you need to buy the furnace/ac.

Mitsubishi hyper heat is the way to go, you can put in multiple heads in seperate rooms if needed  as well with no fact work!

Originally posted by @Chris Wosnitzer :

Do yourself a favor look at the Mitsubishi hyper heat option. One of the best on the market and good to down to 0 degrees.  Very efficient and cost effective option, with very high 20-30 seer ratings kinda of like mpg on a car.  Will provide both heat and ac should cheaper than natural gas!  Quietest operating unit on the market as well!

 Chris:

The reference I made above was to the Mitsubichi MSZ-FH##NA Mr. Slim line.   It is the most efficient ductless offering at the moment.  While the SEER rating ranges from 30.5 on the 3/4 tonne model (FH09NA) to 22 on the 1.5 tonne model (FH15NA), more important to those of us in northern climates is the HSPF rating.  The 3/4 tonne unit carries an HSPF 13.5; the 1 tonne an HSPF of 12.5 and the 1.5 tonne 12.0.   The entire family line operates down to -25C (-13F).

Medium greenapartmenthires 1024x1024Roy N., Louer Louer Ltd. | 1.506.471.4126

@Roy N.  I see this is an old thread, but I plan to install mini-split heat pumps into rental units that I'm remodeling in Maine and wondered how it has worked for you.  Did you need supplemental heat in the dead of winter?  Did the tenants complain that their electric bills were too high?  How about comfort and noise?  These would be installed in a drop ceiling in each room except the bathroom. 

Does anybody else have any experience with these now that new models have been developed for extremely cold climates?  They have been aggressively marketed around here and rebates are being offered.  What have you paid for them?

Hey @Amy A. !  I recently was talking to another agent about his mini-splits and he has a rather large home (2,500 sq ft+) and said he never had to use any alternative heat source and that his electric bill never went over $100 (total throughout the year). Obviously there will be other factors (insulation, southern facing, etc) but they seem like a great solution if you're looking to replace a heating system either way. I imagine the tenants should be sold simply on the central air factor!  We've been looking into them for our apartments when our systems need replacing. 

Is this a long term hold or a quick rehab and sell? also, putting separate heating is a great idea. What are the markets rents there? These questions need to be asked first before investing a significant amount of money for central AC for each apartment. I would put a separate home run for each apartment, and have them place an AC unit of their choice, themselves. Afterall, its rentals, not coops or condo's, which will most definitely be a different response.

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Originally posted by @Amy A.  I see this is an old thread, but I plan to install mini-split heat pumps into rental units that I'm remodeling in Maine and wondered how it has worked for you.  Did you need supplemental heat in the dead of winter?  Did the tenants complain that their electric bills were too high?  How about comfort and noise?  These would be installed in a drop ceiling in each room except the bathroom. 

Does anybody else have any experience with these now that new models have been developed for extremely cold climates?  They have been aggressively marketed around here and rebates are being offered.  What have you paid for them?

Amy:

The building code will require you install  some form of ancillary heating with a heat-pump.   I'm a few hundred miles further north and inland than you and in our environment the ancillary heat will be needed 2 - 3 weeks (mostly at night) of the winter ... though this past winter was fairly mild and the heat pumps handled much of the load.

There are many different inside units available and it sounds like you are planning to use a small, semi-ducted, air-handler/cassette so you can cover several rooms.   We are looking at a similar type of installation which will combine the roles of HRV and heat pump - something they've been doing in Europe for a long time.

Whether you are using an airhandler/cassette or a ductless head mounted on a wall, the heat pumps are fairly quite.  When it comes to ductless heads, the Mitsubishi models we use adapt the direction they exhaust conditioned air and the rate at which they operate based upon the occupancy of the room.

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@John McCarthy this would be for a long-term hold.  There is one huge forced air central heating and AC system.  I'm not as concerned about having AC, but want the tenants to have the ability to control their own temperature and pay for it themselves.  This will be a 55+ community and some older people like to keep it extremely warm.   I think the market will allow it for a bit lower rent, but I wouldn't tear out the central heating system until I know the heat pumps work well enough.  

@Michael Wolffs what did you end up doing?

Didn't do the mini-splits.  I did conventional gas heat, individually metered to the apartments (tenants pay their own gas bills.)  I don't provide ACs, but there are outlets for window units.  In the end, the project turned out to be too far along to make the change.

I would consider it for future projects.

@Amy A. , if the units have separate metered gas. If you say the current heating situation is one large central heating system, am I safe to assume that the large unit is in the basement of the property with exposed duct work?  if this is the case with your unit, it should not be a problem to split off the duct work to separate units and install a small forced air heating unit to each.  I know you said you are not worried about providing A/C to the units but it may not be a bad idea to price out the system with the A/C included.  You may be surprised at the cost to ad it during furnace install not being to bad, but if you decide later to add the A/C the cost will be a lot more later. 

Good luck

@Amy A.  Wanted refresh this and see if you could report your decision?  Considering mini splits in MA (hot summer, cold winter) and wanted to see how it worked out for you / costs.

Thank you!

Originally posted by @James Sestito:

@Amy A.  Wanted refresh this and see if you could report your decision?  Considering mini splits in MA (hot summer, cold winter) and wanted to see how it worked out for you / costs.

Thank you!

 James:

I worked in Ma for a few years, your winters aren't terribly cold ... it would be great weather for a heat pump.

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