By Monte Leper

Q. We’ve always had window air conditioners and want central air. It’s quieter, and we’ll get our windows back. We just want your opinion on whether it’s worth it. We realize that we will have less room in our attic and we think that we will lose space in the closets where the ducts go from the attic to the second floor to the first floor. We got a pretty expensive estimate, $15,000. Do you think it’s worth it?

A. To recap, you need to obtain planning permission, which involves several steps, from filing a site plan showing the location of the outdoor condenser unit; a plan of the attic, showing how the fan is mounted, with a location for the condensate drain pan; to find out if the house is in a flood zone and how the outdoor unit will be mounted above the base flood level. You will also need an electrical certificate and final inspection for an electrical system, as well as a plumbing permit if the system is gas.
Your taxes will go up, as well as your energy bills. Window units are the least expensive system, but are generally unsightly – but you avoid increased taxes, the building permit process and expense, and disruption to the home, including loss of valuable access and of storage space in the attic and closets.
A split system, where you have a wall unit that can also provide heat, is another alternative, but requires an outdoor condenser and a permit. A tax increase is likely, but much less than a central air system. If you are a DIYer, you may be able to install the split system unit yourself. I have friends and family who have purchased their own split system units online and installed them themselves.
Most importantly, do not attempt to perform any new electrical work for the dedicated service and cut-off switch required for a split system wall unit if you have no training or knowledge of the electrical portion of this installation. Unless you are using the previously installed outlet and a cut-off switch that would be in place for a window unit you are replacing, contact a licensed electrician to perform this work. Safety is extremely important. Follow all instructions and seek qualified assistance if necessary.

Remember that there are issues that most people will give you the wrong information about, such as permits, zoning, plumbing and electrical. I have seen the results of illegal work many times, as I get calls to inspect damage and work to legalize after a fire or flood, or when someone receives a violation. It’s very disheartening when I look at a job that has caused a fire that has displaced a family or, worse, caused a death.

Installing condensers in a side yard instead of the back yard resulted in costly and time-consuming hearings and zoning variance permits. Avoiding the permit now can be much worse later. Good luck!

© 2022 Monte Leper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to [email protected], with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, Architect.