Converted Chicago condos create challenge for HVAC replacement

Converted Chicago condos create challenge for HVAC replacement

Converted factory or warehouse condos were all the rage in the 1990s Chicago real estate market.

Two- and three-bedroom units with history, charm and all the modern comforts were plentiful and available for less than $200,000. Fast forward 20 years, and many of those units are showing their age and require updates.

One major expense owners of older condo in Chicago should plan for? Worn-out HVAC units that can't always be replaced with off-the-shelf models. Thick brick walls, 14-foot ceilings and little insulation in many of these units can make properly heating and cooling the place pretty difficult. 

Getting it right

Angie’s List member Audrey A. recently faced this problem when replacing her HVAC unit in her converted warehouse condo in Chicago. She asked for advice on Angie's List Answers about how to figure out what size system she needs for her 1,200 square foot unit, constructed in 1995. “I need to request other quotes but I don't understand how to judge whether the size is right,” she asked.

An over-sized unit, will cost more to run every season and may create other issues, while an under-sized unit may leave your sweating through Chicago summers or excessively bundled up in the winter.

Gil Wagner of highly rated Blue Frost Heating and Cooling in West Chicago says right-sizing your HVAC unit requires a precise test.

“The only way to know if the size is correct to do a Manual J load calculation,” Wagner says.

HVAC technicians should also inquire about the performance of the current system to make sure it was keeping the home comfortable, says Richard C Dykstra with highly rated Nicor Home Solutions in Naperville, Illinois. That information also can be a factor in determining the new and correct size for your HVAC unit.

Manual J load calculation explained

What exactly is a Manual J load calculation? And how much does will the load calculation cost?

A standard for measuring a room’s heat loss and heat gain developed by the Air Conditioner Contractors of America, the complex calculation takes in to account room size, home location, insulation and window type, among other considerations.

Once those measurements are taken, they are entered into a spreadsheet or calculation program that provides the BTUs per hour needed to control the temperature for each room and the entire house. Only then can a HVAC company determine the proper size HVAC unit, Wagner says.

Load calculation tests should be performed by ACCA-certified HVAC technicians or similarly certified energy consultants. Wagner, for example, provides the assessments for free during regular sales calls.


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