Installing an Attic HVAC Unit
Installing an HVAC system may seem pretty useful on the surface. After all, if you’re hot, you get an air conditioner, and if you’re cold, you get a heater. Sure, you may have to be careful about picking an AC in your budget, but it’s still pretty straightforward, right?
If only it were that easy. The trouble is that there are not only a lot of different types of heaters, air conditioners, and everything in between, but you also need to decide where you want to get them installed. You can get a central system in the garage, a space heater to cover a single room, a room unit to heat or cool a single room, or even HVAC in your attic. To help you decide if that last option is something you might be interested in, here are the hard facts.
Why get HVAC in your attic?
The quick and easy answer is that your attic has a lot of space that is otherwise being wasted. It’s a good place to set up a heating or air conditioning system, but it’s got some particular advantages when it comes to air conditioning. The old adage that hot air rises is true, which means that the top level of your home is a good place to put an air conditioner. It pumps out cold air that will naturally descend, cooling your entire home.
If you’re in a situation where you don’t have a lot of room elsewhere in your home, then your attic may be the easiest place to set up HVAC. If you’re already using your attic for storage, then think about it this way: what will you need to get to more often, your belongings or your heater/air conditioner? Unless something goes wrong or you need to do some regular maintenance, you likely won’t need to interact much with your HVAC system directly. Most of the basic functions can be handled from the much more convenient thermostat. On the other hand, you may want to go through your stored belongings much more frequently.
- Having your HVAC in the attic saves a lot of space
- The installation is less expensive
- Attic HVAC units are less efficient and can have 10% more energy consumption
- They can get problems that remain unnoticed
- Maintenance is more difficult
Does insulation make a difference?
One major faction in deciding if an attic system is right for you is insulation. Some attics are insulated and some aren’t. If your attic is not insulated, then it’s a very poor idea to set up an HVAC system there. Efficiency will drop dramatically as hot and cold air seeps into and out of your attic, driving your energy bill way up and leaving your home as cold or warm as it is outside.
Therefore, if you lack insulation in your attic but still believe that an attic AC system would be a good idea, you will need to install insulation. You need to make sure that your attic is properly isolated from the outside temperature if you want to make any progress in heating or cooling your home.
What type of HVAC unit is best in attics?
When shopping around for an attic HVAC unit, most people opt for a central system. Attics are particularly convenient for setting up central HVAC systems because you can set up ducts and ventilation as you please up there. There’s no real need to make the area easy to navigate through, as you need to worry about with other parts of your house.
While you technically could get a more isolated heating or cooling system, such as a space heater or window air conditioner, that’s not really a worthwhile investment unless you plan on spending a ton of time in your attic. It won’t adjust the temperature elsewhere in the house but it could be a good idea if you’ve renovated your attic into some sort of office or reading nook. However, do be careful about setting up space heaters in your attic and other out-of-the-way places. Space heaters are known for causing fires, especially in areas with flammable objects.
By the way, do you know how a heat pump works and the difference between aux heat and emergency heat?
Tips for installing an attic AC
If you are going to set up an HVAC system in your attic, then it’s critical you consult a professional. Even if you could haul it up there and set it up yourself, there are a lot of safety concerns to consider as well. Is it stable? Is the ductwork set up properly? Is it going to fill your home with fumes? Is there a hole in the insulation that might drive your heating bill way up?
Before you even get started, it’s a good idea to have an inspection done in your attic. Make sure it’s a suitable location for a heating or cooling system before you commit to the idea. You may think that your attic is insulated but as HVAC SEO experts, I talk to many contractors and they tell me that more experienced eyes usually see a different story.
What are the drawbacks of attic air conditioning?
First and foremost, not every attic is suited to HVAC systems. If yours is too small or positioned awkwardly relative to your other rooms, then it may be a poor match. Running the ductwork where it needs to go may end up forcing you to do extensive work in the walls of your home.
Second, attics are generally better suited to air conditioners than heaters. As was mentioned before, cold air falls, so it’s a natural fit. As hot air rises, it may lead to the upper floor of your house being very warm and the bottom staying cold. Furthermore, heaters do pose particular fire hazards that air conditioners generally don’t. If a fire does start in your attic, then you may not be able to respond quickly before it engulfs the roof.
For homeowners in warmer climates, you also need to be careful about how much sunlight hits your roof. If you have poor insulation, then that heat can easily seep into your attic and heat everything up, both increasing the risk of fire and counteracting your air conditioner. However, this video has some tips and tricks on how to defeat that particular problem:
The bottom line
An HVAC unit in your attic is an interesting and unique way to solve a common problem. It can allow you to set up heating and cooling without taking up too much of your precious space, instead using an area that’s suitable for little more than hard-to-reach storage anyway. However, you should be diligent before you make a decision, getting a professional opinion on whether your attic is suited to house HVAC. If it is, then proceed carefully and get experienced installers to help set up your system and show you how to use it, plus what to do in the event of an emergency.