HVAC Systems for New Construction and Home Remodeling

Types of HVAC Systems For New Construction and Home Remodeling

When building your dream home, or remodeling your existing home, one of the most important decisions you'll make is selecting your HVAC system. The time to make your choice is early in the design process. The solution hinges on several factors including where the home is located regionally, such as here in Ann Arbor, and your specific needs.

Making a thoughtful choice can often be the difference between comfort, and inefficient operation during temperature extremes. Choosing early in the new construction process can save you time and money. Waiting until construction is underway can increase costs and adversely affect the design of the home. Likewise, choosing the proper supplemental system for a remodel is critical in the early stage of construction. That's why it's important to begin your research early in the process.

For most homeowners in and around Ann Arbor, Michigan, you'll be choosing between three primary types of systems – radiant heating, whole house forced air, and the mini-split system. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each.

Radiant Heat Systems in New Construction

Radiant heat systems are actually quite elegant and provide homeowners with consistent comfortable heating. Radiant heat not only feels great underfoot but it also provides consistent heat and humidity control in damp environments.

Typically, in new construction, radiant heat systems are installed into the concrete slab, and often include a less dense loop in the garage area to provide some heat for homeowners who use this area as a workshop. The remaining area of the home is heated using the “staple up” method for installing the heating tubes to the underside of the structural sheathing of the remaining floors. Retrofitting a radiant heat system depends on the remodeling project. It works best with high thermal mass materials, so it's a good choice for a bathroom or kitchen remodel if tile is the flooring choice.

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Using radiant heat does require proper flooring to be efficient. If you are using hardwood, you'll need to stick to rift and quartersawn oak as it's one of the only hardwoods that is stable enough for radiant heat. Another possible choice is engineered hardwood flooring. This is an important element that will need to be considered if you choose radiant heat for your project.

There are two drawbacks to radiant heat. First, it does not include a cooling component. That means you'll need to install (and pay for) a separate cooling unit. The second is that radiant heat does not provide instant heating like forced hot air. This can be problematic if temperature extremes are common. In addition, radiant heat does not contain any air handling system for ventilation. It may require the installation of Passive Air Inlets or a whole house fan. Another option is installing Heat Recovery Ventilators, but this can add several thousand dollars to its cost.

Whole House Forced Air Systems

Whole house forced air offers two options. If both heating and cooling are needed, a heat pump system is necessary. This consists of an outdoor condensing unit, and an indoor air handler. Without cooling, an interior furnace system can be used. Whole house forced hot air can be controlled by a single thermostat in the living space. Heating for individual spaces is controlled by registers in each room. Zone heating uses multiple thermostats in various areas of the house to better control heat in specific areas, for example on each floor of the home. Depending on the layout of the home and the placement of the furnace, multiple zone heating can be complex to install.

The main drawback of retrofitting a forced hot air system during a remodel is that, whether it's heating or cooling, a network of ductwork must be installed and requires long runs of unobstructed space. In new construction, the ducting system can be thoroughly planned and easily installed during the build process. Ducts can be placed in joist bays, walls or concealed cavities within the home. In difficult areas, the use of soffits may be necessary to conceal the ductwork.

Mini-Split Systems

Mini-split systems are extremely energy efficient. They use an exterior heat pump, however, unlike traditional heat pumps which run a line-set to a single source air handler, mini-splits run multiple line sets from a single unit to individual air handlers. These are located in individual rooms, with each room controlled by a thermostat allowing for individualized control.

Mini-split systems can both heat and cool your home. They are also excellent as a supplement to radiant heat systems in large spaces, for example, living/kitchen/dining areas in an open concept home and can add a cooling component to specific rooms, like bedrooms in a home with whole house radiant heating.

Other Considerations

Another important consideration for any system you choose is the fuel source. Mini-split systems are operated using electricity. Depending on where you live in the country, this can be an expensive option during a prolonged period of heat or cold. Although, by their nature, they can be cost-effective if used wisely, because units are individually controlled.

Heat pump systems, like whole house forced hot air can use electricity, natural gas, heating oil or propane as a fuel source. Radiant heat systems are generally fueled by natural gas or propane since they use hot water to radiate heat. In colder climates, radiant heat systems driven by an electric hot water heater/boiler tend to have extremely high operating costs.

It's important to understand that every residence, homeowner's needs, and building site is unique. Your builder can help you to choose the perfect system for your new construction or remodeling project based on their experience and past projects. When weighing your options, consider the availability of fuel sources, your needs, and your budget. The good news is that choosing a system early in the design process makes installation much easier and cost-effective.  

Forward Design Build is a residential design-build firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan that is known for its commitment to craftsmanship and communication. We are committed to improving our neighbors quality of life with inspired design and creative remodeling. Our homes are highly functional, exquisitely beautiful, and remarkably comfortable. Contact us to speak with an expert about your new home or remodeling project.