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  1. #1

    Options for Small Apartments

    We are in the process of purchasing a small apartment complex in North Carolina. The units will require renovations & I need some help determining the most cost-effective way to do this. There are 32 units; 22 2-bd & 10 1-bd. The units, depending on # of bedrooms, are anywhere from 500-600 square feet. No larger than 600. The units are all-brick, built on a crawlspace.

    Currently they have older gas heaters. I'm not sure what kind or what condition they are in. But I need to be able to move them so that I can run a w/d hookup in that area.

    We're trying to move these units a little more up-market, what's the best solution?
    - Retrofit with central heat & a/c
    - Thru the wall PTACs (how many of these would I need per apartment?)
    or is there some other method of which I am unaware?

    Your assistance is appreciated,

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    NW AR
    Mini-splits might be an option to consider.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2001
    Do the apartments currently have air conditioning?
    How many floors do the building(s) have?
    Probably the most practical thing to do is install a gas furnace with AC and run a minimal amount of ductwork.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Fort Worth, TX
    Have a Manual J heat load calculation done to determine proper equipment size. Yes, the apartments are not large, but will vary in orientation and exposure. Part of an "upmarket" experience is tenant satisfaction...if their systems are always freezing up or they're never comfortable, that kind of kills the upmarket feel and they'll be lookin' to move out...

    As for what you might install...PTAC's are noisy. There may be quiet ones out there but when was the last time you stayed in a motel or hotel using PTAC's that when you ran the thing it was almost unnoticeable? The white noise the fan makes is good for drowning out nearby freeway traffic...other than that when the compressor kicks on it can startle you awake in the dead of night.

    Mini-splits are an option, but for the two bedroom units might present uneven heating/cooling concerns if, say, the indoor coil is only in one room (and likely sized for the whole apartment).

    Many apartments of your size and larger use an air handler and ductwork that are installed in a drop ceiling. This gets conditioned air to all rooms and keeps the equipment and ducts out of the attic. One thing I would advise is if the fan coil must be installed over a bathroom (as they often are in apartments) to use a ducted return vs. building stud cavities. Apartment installs of this nature are notorious for using cavities, which will mean odors form adjacent apartments and outdoor air will be drawn into the unit when the system is running, along with objectionable bathroom odors.

    Even if you do not plan to manage these units, or own them long term, take the time to have it done right so it isn't an ongoing headache for those who do have to manage, maintain, and live in them. I have been on the managing, maintaining, and tenant end of apartment life...poorly installed HVAC does not make any of it fun.
    • Electricity makes refrigeration happen.
    • Refrigeration makes the HVAC psychrometric process happen.
    • HVAC pyschrometrics is what makes indoor human comfort happen...IF the ducts AND the building envelope cooperate.

    A building is NOT beautiful unless it is also comfortable.

  5. #5
    Thanks to all who have responded so far. Will follow the recommendation to test the heat load.

    The buildings do NOT currently have a/c, only gas heat. These are 1-story units with some limited attic space.

    So far what i'm hearing is -
    - mini splits
    - natural gas with a/c (do these come in the same unit? or are these two different appliances?

    but no PTACs. If you have time, please elaborate or point me to a brand name, unit or supplier.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Western NY
    I see a lot of McQuay PTACs. I'd start by looking into them. Wouldn't hurt to look into ductless mini-splits. I have installed a few and am impressed with the results. Very quiet and dependable.
    "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
    -Abraham Lincoln

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Kansas City
    Who is paying the utilities and what part of the country are you in?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Kansas City
    Ductless mini-splits with multiple air handlers will work nicely. Single outdoor unit and up to 3 wall mounted ductless air handlers. They can be heat pumps and you can add electric baseboard heaters for supplemental heating if you are in a cold climate. Several manufacturers...Sanyo,Mitsubishi, Goodman, Tadiran, Carrier.........

    I can't recommend this link for anything, but it has some good information and pictures of minisplit installations.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    The "Burgh"
    Consider the National Comfort Paks. Google for their website

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Atlanta GA area
    Depending on how cold it gets, you might want to look at heat pumps with elec back up heat. IMO 600 sq/ft is pretty small. If it were insulated well (and IMO high end rentals would require this), you should end up with managable utility bills.

    An air handler in the attic with minimal ducting would be an easy install IMO. Use one return centrally located with the air filter in the return grill. The major issue here probably would be the electrical to both the HP and the A/H.

    Get multiple HVAC companies out there to give you their ideas. Installing 32 new systems is a big enough job to get some free information from potential contractors.

    Best to you, hope you work it out!

    Quality work at a fair price with excellent customer service!

    Romans Ch's 5-6-7-8

    2 Chronicles 7:14

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