This post might sound a little boring, but let me tell you, there’s no single blog post, search term, or ANYTHING out there that is helping me figure out what to do about the heating and cooling system in our home. I’ve done a lot of digging, and I’ve come up dry. I would love to see your findings, experiences, or thoughts in the comments below, as well; let’s help each other out!
As you already know, we are in the middle of a big basement renovation. An important factor of a heating/cooling system is how the heat is getting from point A to B. So, before putting up any walls, ceilings, or finishes in our basement we had to get it figured out. We initially decided to leave our oil furnace and baseboard water heat as-is and suffer with window air conditioning units for the few short summer months. But after weighing our options, we decided that for resale value, an updated system would only help. Also, when comparing our heating and electric bills to others nearby, the savings are totally worth the investment. After much debate, we decided to replace our heating/cooling system (or lack thereof)!
We decided to have a Unico heating and cooling system installed and are absolutely thrilled! It freed up 32 square feet in the basement (oil tanks and boilers are huge!), it cut our heating and cooling bills by a ton, AND for the first time we are comfortable in our home. That all sounded really short and sweet, but I want to be clear: when replacing a heating and cooling system in an existing house, the options are overwhelming and confusing! Here are the main options I came across. I hope this helps you!
Central Heat & Air
This is what everyone wants: temperature control, airflow, all that good stuff! There’s always the option to tear out a lot of ceiling and wall surfaces, add ductwork, and cover it back up. But there’s actually another way to get central heating and air without doing that! The Unico System is a small-duct, high velocity system that fits easily into older homes. The small ducts allow the installers to snake the ducts through the walls without opening up more than they need to.
How it Works
The main unit is placed in the attic or crawlspace. If you don’t have either of these, a closet or basement will do. This main line remains very thin, so it fits easily into a smaller space. The supply tubing connects to the main unit in the attic. It’s insulated with sound-dampening insulation, so it is very quiet. The outlets are really great—they look similar to a can light (only smaller) and are paintable/stainable! It blends in very well to whatever surface it enters into in each room. It can enter in through the wall, ceiling, or floor.
The previous paragraph describes how the unit runs, but it needs some type of fuel to run it. The Unico system can be paired with a condensing unit (this is what we opted for), air to water heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, or chilled water systems. So, you’re in control of how much you spend and how your system is fueled. I’ve attempted to explain the most popular options for ducted systems below.
Types of Outdoor Units
All heat pumps do is transfer heat and cold. This is why they are so efficient, because they move heat, rather than producing it. For example, in the summer months, an air-source unit pulls hot air from inside out and pushes cool air from outside in. In a geothermal heat pump, the unit pulls heat from underground and transfers it into heat for your home or cool air depending on the time of year.
Air-Source Heat Pump
There are one or more compressors outside that connect to the tubes through your exterior wall. The number of compressors depends on the number of heating/cooling zones you’re going to install. Most multi-unit compressors can handle up to 4 or 5 zones (we did our whole house on one compressor) These units run on electricity, so you need to make sure that your electric box has room for more breakers!
Note: we still opted for the air-source option without a backup system because of the inefficiency of our oil boiler. Even if the average monthly cost quadruples, it’s still cheaper than running our oil system. Gas fireplaces are on the list of additions we’d like to make to this home, so that will also provide additional heat if we need it.
Geothermal Heat Pumps
Nothing beats the geothermal heat and air systems. They provide great temperature control and can be highly efficient, using the constant temperature of the earth to cool or heat the air in your home. The main consideration about adding a geothermal or absorption system to an existing house would be digging 1–2 wells (depending on the type of system). This can prove to be quite an expensive undertaking, but many say that it is worth the investment.
Energy.gov has some great information on Geothermal Heat Pumps, make sure to check it out if you’re considering this type of system!
Absorption Heat Pumps
Absorption heat pumps are kind of a combination of the two previous heat pumps. The are basically the same as the air-source heat pump but driven by something other than electricity. Some options would be natural gas, geothermal-heated water, and solar energy. For more information on that, check out Energy.gov.
Living with a Unico Heat/Cooling System
Well, after all of the decision making, quotes, installation, and finally living in my house for the past few months: What do I think? So far, we absolutely love our Unico system. I will say that it’s just starting to get chilly here in Pennsylvania, so we’ve only experienced the cooling season. Once we are into the colder winter months I’ll be sure to update you!
I’ve often heard that people don’t like this system because the air flow is too hard. I really haven’t experienced this issue. Yes, you can feel the air coming out, or see it blowing the curtains a little bit, but it doesn’t seem to be any worse than the typical ducted system. There are also diffusers that clip on to the outlets so that you can redirect the air.
From what I’ve experienced so far, I would suggest the Unico System to my friends and family. It was a quick installation (within a week), and took very little cutting/tearing into my walls.
For more information on different types of Heat Pump Systems, visit Energy.gov—it’s the most helpful site I’ve found so far!
Note: I am not receiving any commission or advertising fees from Unico, nor do I represent them or their company. I simply had the unit installed in my home and wanted to spread the word about this new great heating and cooling option!