If you are thinking about installing central air conditioning or heating when you previously used a different kind of system, such as baseboard heating or radiators, then installing ducts and vents is a required part of the project. Unfortunately, it can be tough to predict what the cost might be. This is due to a number of factors, including the size of your home, where the ducts will be located, and the number of vents that are needed to adequately circulate air throughout your home. In general, this sort of work costs between $3,000-$5,000 at minimum and, in especially challenging or large homes, can cost upwards of $10,000 or more.
The installation of ducting can seem like a huge and overwhelming job. That is why your first step should be to find a licensed HVAC professional who can help you determine what your home needs and the easiest method of installation. Understanding the specifics of this task and evaluating the costs of an AC unit or upgraded furnace are important when considering such a large home improvement project.
Upgrading Your Heating & Cooling
Adding ducts and vents to your home is only one part of a larger project to upgrade your home's heating and cooling system. These are the parts through which hot and cold air circulate around a home and they are attached to a specific system designed for forced air temperature regulation.
Upgrading to Forced Air Heat
All homes have some form of heating system, but it varies according to the age of a home and its location. The most common types of heating systems found in homes are baseboard, radiator, or radiant heat, which may be supplemented by separate heating units such space heaters, infrared heaters, or pellet or wood stoves.
Upgrading to forced air heat, which uses ducts and vents, is common in newer homes and remodels because this system shares parts with a central air conditioning system. Also, aesthetically, forced air heat is considered superior because ducts and vents take up less space on the floor than baseboards, stoves, and radiators do.
The parts needed to upgrade to a forced air heating system, in addition to ducts and vents, include:
Heating Source: may include a gas furnace, electric furnace, hydronic coil, or heat pump
Air Handling Unit: may include a fan, blower, or air handler
Because they operate based on a thermostat, forced air systems provide even heat throughout the home and are generally considered quite energy efficient. They can be paired with stoves or individual heating units for more focused or intense heat, especially during cold winter months.
While forced air heat has its benefits, a primary reason behind installing ducts and vents for most homeowners is a far more valuable upgrade: central air conditioning. Replacing cumbersome, noisy window air conditioning units while remaining less conspicuous than whole-home wall units, central air is considered one of the most significant home improvement projects to undertake. It adds incredible comfort to a home by providing even, whole-house cooling. It is also more convenient because it operates via the same thermostat as your heating system, ensuring that your home is always set at an optimal temperature throughout the year.
Central air units pair with forced air heat, utilizing not only the same ducting system but also sharing an air distribution unit such as a fan or blower. Once the foundation of heat is established, homeowners only need to add a condenser unit and an evaporator coil to enjoy central AC. These elements, though quite expensive, are easy to install and maintain once the system is in place, but it is important that a licensed technician performs installation.
Aging ductwork needs attention just the same as any other home system does. If they are poorly maintained and rarely cleaned, ducts can become inefficient, preventing hot or cold air from circulating in the home and decreasing energy efficiency by as much as 40 percent. Older systems are also subject to the stresses of age, including leakage and cracks, which may require complete replacement of certain areas or components of a duct and vent system.
There are three kinds of ductwork for heating and air conditioning systems:
Vinyl Flex: Made of a vinyl liner with wire reinforcement, it includes insulation and a vapor barrier. It's the most commonly used (95% of time). It is the easiest to install and least expensive for both materials and labor because it bends and requires fewer separate fittings than traditional galvanized ductwork. It is available round in 4-inch to 20-inch diameters.
Aluminum Flex: More expensive than vinyl, also includes insulation and a vapor barrier, but because rodents could chew through vinyl, this is used primarily under houses because it acts as a rodent barrier. It is available round in 4-inch to 20-inch diameters.
Galvanized steel: (Known as rigid pipe.) It's the most expensive for both materials and labor; it needs more fittings to make turns, and needs to be sealed and insulated on the outside. It is primarily used in garages to be fire resistant. It is available round or rectangular.
Repairing specific parts of a system, such as the air distribution unit or individual vents, is not uncommon over the lifetime of a home. The ductwork itself can also deteriorate overtime, leaving small leaks and larger holes that homeowners can repair if they are easy to access. This repair process is as easy as sealing leaks with mastic or using scrap sheet metal, mastic, and some self-tapping screws to seal larger holes.
In situations wherein basic sealing and patching jobs are not enough to improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system, or if problem areas are difficult to access or too numerous, completely replacing your ductwork may be in order. This is especially the case in older homes where time has caused too much damage to easily fix the system or where materials are of sub-par quality. This type of job is as complex and difficult to price as original duct and vent installation because factors such as home size, number of vents, temperature zones, and accessibility all affect the time and effort required to complete this type of project. In general, however, duct replacement costs an average of $35-$55 per linear foot.
Installing ducts and vents in a new or existing home sets homeowners up for an easy solution to meeting their heating and cooling needs. However, like any home system, they occasionally need maintenance in the form of cleaning. Newer systems that use air filters may not have a need for regular, professional duct cleaning. But for older systems or systems that appear to be producing dust or running inefficiently, a professional cleaning is a good way to ensure optimal performance standards.
Professional cleaning involves an HVAC professional servicing every element of your system’s heating and cooling elements, such as supply and return air ducts, diffusers, grilles, exchangers, coils, fans, drip pans, and the air distributing unit. This clears out dust, mold, and pollen. It costs, on average, $336, with most homeowners paying between $242 and $343.
In addition, homeowners can keep their systems clean themselves through good habits such as regular filter changes. It is also possible to reduce the need for regular cleanings by having HVAC professionals apply a sealant in the ducts, which prevents dirt and dust from circulating in the air. They may also apply a sanitizer when cleaning, which reduces the growth of mold and kills pollen and other allergens in the system.
Thinking of Installing Ducts and Vents as a DIY Job?
Although it can be a large and overwhelming job, installing ducts and vents is possible as a DIY project, particularly if the they are installed in a basement, crawl space, or addition where the space is easily accessible. This has the potential to save homeowners thousands of dollars in labor costs.
However, proper installation can take HVAC professionals several days to complete, so homeowners need plenty of time to dedicate to such a tedious, whole-home project. Attention to detail is also exceedingly important; taking time to seal all ducts properly and connect all components snugly can directly affect your energy bills over time. Homeowners must also pay close attention to local building codes and permit requirements before taking on such a large home improvement project.