Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Systems

When our brownstone was built 100 years ago there was, of course, no such thing as cooling systems so when deciding what HVAC system to install, we had to make some compromises.

Our three options were:  central air conditioning, a ductless split-AC system and window or sleeve mounted units.

Window or sleeve mounted units:  No.  We have lived in many apartments that had window mounted AC’s and they were always loud and they blocked light and well they are just plain ugly.  Our condo had the units that fit into a wall sleeve but they were unsightly on the outside of the building and there is little selection depending on what size sleeve you had.  We bought one new and it was very loud and was still fairly large as it protruded from the wall of our already small bedroom.

Central Air:  The plus to this option is obviously that there are no visible units as they are built into a duct system.  With this option, if you are remodeling an old house you must consider that it was not designed to have duct systems.  These might interfere with ceiling and wall moldings or other period details.  In our opinion, this is the best option if you are gutting your home because they can custom design the ducts in the least intrusive way.  The other downside to this system is that it can be the most expensive.

Split AC Systems:  This is the one we chose.  Since ours was not a gut renovation, we were concerned about creating a system of ducts.  The plus side to these systems is that they are very quiet and cool each room separately. With central air, most systems are designed so that you set the temperature by zone or even for the entire house.  That means you are cooling more of your house than you need to and that is costly.  With a split AC, if you want to cool say only the bedrooms at night you can, which makes this cheaper to operate.  It also has a heat function so that if you a blast of heat in one room you can.  This might come in handy since the front of the house gets sun all day while the back of the house does not.  The down side is that even with the unit attached high on the wall, the in-room units are still pretty big, bulky and I’ll admit it, ugly.

First, you need to install the compressor. We considered putting it in the backyard but did not want to deal with a loud hot compressor next to our patio. We ended up putting it on the roof so it would be completely out of the way.

When installing the compressor on the roof you have a few options. The DOB does not allow it to be mounted directly to the roof. Instead you must put steel bars across your roof parapets or mount it directly to your roof parapet on a rack. The parapet mount is much more economical assuming your parapet is high enough. If not, you can extend it a few feet with some CMU blocks as we did. This is still more economical than the steel bars.


We chose a 4 zone single compressor Mitsubishi system and hired a separate plumbing company to install it (our contractor did not have a particular expertise in this area – don’t ask).

front ac

Next, each wall unit is installed. Even though you are not creating ducts you still need to open walls and install some plumbing. There are coolant feed and return lines that run from the compressor to each unit as well as a power cord and a condensation drain. The condensation drain runs from the wall unit down to your building’s waste line.

All the units were installed this week, which is great because now walls can be closed and finished.  Next to the extension, this was the next big hurdle to jump.  Here are a few photos of them installed.  We tried to put them in the least intrusive spots.  We are not very happy with the parlor floor unit.  It sticks out like a sore thumb.  There really were no other options so we will have to live with it.  The other units were placed so that they could not be seen when you first enter the room.

Parlor floor - sticks out like a sore thumb but not much we could do.

Parlor floor – sticks out like a sore thumb but not much we could do.

Master bedroom - not as obvious tucked in the corner

Master bedroom – not as obvious tucked in the corner

Just don't look at it from the side!  Maybe me can hang a plant off it or something.

Just don’t look at it from the side! Maybe me can grow some ivy around it or something.


15 thoughts on “Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Systems

  1. It may be too late but you can easily conceal split sys units. They make ducted split systems- drop a soffit in closets etc and duct the split system (a few feet) to a wall grille. Presto! No visible wall units. Not sure if your units are capable of doing that though……blog is great! Keep posting!

    • I looked into those units and the installation company said it wouldn’t work in our house because the drop in ceiling height was too much. Those units require 24+ in. of ceiling height to conceal them.

  2. We are presently going through the same choices right now. Our house is less of a gut and more of a gentle restoration so we have been looking into high velocity such as unico/space pak. I was originally going with hidden mini splits but have been wrestling with locations for each unit. Things are coming along nicely for your place.

  3. Pingback: We Are Still Here | Brownstone Cyclone

  4. We’re looking to install a split system with unit on the roof. Would you provide the name of the firm which installed it? Thanks.

      • We did not and he did complained about that. Even lodged a complaint with the DOB. That said, I had approved plans to install the AC on the parapet extension. An inspector came and cleared the complaint once we showed him the plans.

        I also looked into the legality of party walls and both owners are allowed to extend the height of the party wall as long as the extension does not interfere with the other party using the extension in the future. Basically you have to share it after you build it and you can’t build it such that it gets in their way.

  5. That will feel so nice to have a new place with a new air conditioning unit. I live in the southern US and AC means a lot to me! If it’s not on or working right, I just have to nap and it’s even too hot for that! I’ve been thinking about getting split air conditioning but I’m still deciding if my family will benefit from it.

  6. Hopefully your company will give you a discount! We love our split AC because they are so quiet compared with any window units we’ve had. And as we said in our post you can also use it for heat in the winter when you only want to heat one room a little.

  7. Hi Drew, Thanks very much for posting and hopefully you’re still checking. We’ve reached out to several engineers about this parapet bracket and no one seems to be familiar with it. Can you recommend the one you worked with? We have a small roof and it’s landmarked, so short of putting up on steel, this seems like a great solution. Thanks again very much, Jon

    • I don’t believe our engineer was involved. Our contractor simply cut way the parapet coping and extended it by a few feet using CMU blocks and mortar. The AC installers then drilled through the CMU to attach the brackets.

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