A Historic, Headache-free Retrofit: Noble Design Meets New Technology

A Historic, Headache-free Retrofit: Noble Design Meets New Technology

Character homes have a lot to offer: spacious floor plans, old-world craftsmanship, and an enduring sense of style. Transom windows, gabled roofs, and elaborate brick work are just some of the charming and expressive traits that color the homes of yesteryear.

With a romantic view of the past, it’s easy to forget the drain that inefficient heating systems and envelope wear and tear can have on your energy bill. Without modern retrofitting—i.e. heating and/or envelope upgrades—your happy, historic home can quickly turn into a bottomless, energy sink.

Where To Start

...Next-generation design standards, like Germany’s “passivhaus” (passive house), are a great source of inspiration for modernizing your home.

The passivhaus standard shows that simple fixes, like adding extra insulation to problem areas or upgrading your building envelope, can make a big difference to your energy bill. Pairing these relatively easy and cost-effective changes with a new, ductless heating system is a great way to go—especially if you’re still using baseboard heaters. A ductless system is one way around the messy, disruptive remodeling that comes with a traditional HVAC installation.

Go Ductless To Save Your Floor Plan

... Ductless solutions offer an easier, less renovation-oriented approach—especially if you want to maintain the classic look and feel of your heritage home.

Installing a traditional, forced-air system can be messy business. Between a bulky furnace unit, yards of ducting, and a bevy of vents, it’s easy to see why many people have kept their baseboard heaters over the years.

Accommodating a central-air system isn’t exactly easy on your floor plan. Stowing away the furnace in the basement, for example, can take up loads of valuable real estate—especially if it’s a lived-in space. Concealing the furnace behind a wall, or in a separate room, can improve the aesthetics of the situation, but unfortunately, may also mean a radical redesign of your floor plan—walls included.

Ductless solutions avoid this scenario altogether by moving your cooling and heating system outdoors, where it can be tucked away behind a tree or hedge. This preserves your original floor plan without cluttering vital, indoor real estate.

Overall, the biggest headache involved with installing traditional heating systems is the ductwork. To accommodate this extensive circulatory system of sheet metal, or flexible ducting, walls need to be opened up to allow room for supply and return air ducts. Some opt to build box-like enclosures overtop of existing structures, but this really compromises the character of a historic residence.

Once again, a ductless solution is the easy answer. With the main compressor unit outdoors, only a slim line is required to reach an indoor, air-handler interface. With only very minimal structural work required, this solution best preserves the original wall and floor plan.


Retrofitting your older home doesn’t mean you have to plastic-wrap your entire lifestyle. If you follow an easy-to-implement solution, like a ductless split for heating and cooling, you can maintain your original floor plan while enjoying environmentally friendly climate control.


The O'Neill Passive House Case Study

Energy Efficient Building Envelope Retrofits for Your House