Upgrading the heating system in a multi-unit building requires more care and consideration than single-family homes. While you will need to consider many of the same factors, there are also several additional concerns to keep in mind. Making the wrong choice can lead to tenant complaints, higher maintenance costs, and excessive utility bills.
Two common choices for multi-unit homes are ductless heat pumps and traditional ducted furnaces. If you're replacing a failed HVAC system in your building or considering an upgrade, this guide will help you weigh the pros and cons of these two options.
Forced-Air Central Heating Advantages and Disadvantages
Traditional ducted systems (or forced-air central heating systems) generate heat in the furnace and distribute it throughout the house through a network of ducts. These systems are often reasonably efficient, and they're a relatively cheap choice if your building already has ductwork. Keeping this system is often the natural choice if your building already has a central heating furnace.
On the other hand, forced-air heating systems also have numerous downsides. The ductwork system is a potential source of maintenance issues and lost efficiency. Ductwork leaks can allow heat to escape, forcing the furnace to work harder, use more energy, and ultimately fail more quickly. These leaks can also provide a means for contaminants such as allergens to enter the air.
Forced air systems can also potentially lead to higher maintenance costs for rental units. You'll typically need separate furnaces and ductwork for each rental unit in the building. This equipment duplication can lead to high maintenance costs even for relatively small structures, such as duplexes and triplexes.
Mini-Split (Ductless) Heat Pump Advantages and Disadvantages
Heat pumps offer several potential advantages over traditional furnaces. These systems move heat from one area to another, making them drastically more efficient than systems that burn fuel to produce heat. Heat pump systems are also typically reversible. This feature means that a single heat pump unit can act as a heating system and air conditioner.
Heat pumps often cost more upfront, but long-term maintenance and operating costs may be lower than a traditional furnace since there's less equipment to maintain. You also won't have to worry about tenant complaints due to inefficient, leaky ducts. Finally, mini-split systems require minimal modifications for installation, making them well-suited to buildings without existing ductwork.
Although ductless heat systems aren't the best choice in every situation, they're worth considering when performing HVAC upgrades on rental units. These systems can provide efficient heating and cooling for tenants while also reducing your long-term maintenance costs.