Editorials

The cost of installing air conditioning in a luxury residential property

Barry Smith
Sales Director

In this article, we seek to provide some clarity on the typical cost of having air conditioning installed in a prime or luxury residential property, and an insight into the options or requirements that affect the cost.

Every property is unique and no two projects are the same but, having installed air conditioning in over two hundred residential properties in West London and the home counties, we have established that there are five main factors that determine the cost regardless of the property type or location. These are:

  1. Type of indoor units required (exposed or hidden)
  2. Sound-suppression options
  3. Location of the outdoor unit
  4. Planning permission requirements
  5. Associated enabling or builders works costs

There are several other factors that will have a marginal effect on the cost such as type of controls, type of grilles, brand of system, etc, but these will be comparatively minor variances, similar to optional extras when buying a new car.

So let’s go through the main five in more detail.

 

1. Type of indoor unit

The two most common styles of indoor units used in luxury residential properties are the concealed ducted horizontal unit and the concealed ducted vertical unit. These are usually located above a ceiling or behind a panel in some joinery and are connected via ductwork to discreet linear grilles or slots.

Where it’s not possible to install a concealed ducted unit or the aesthetics of the room are not so important, a wall-mounted unit at a high level is sometimes used instead.

Whether you’re cooling one room or the whole house, the average cost for concealed ducted units fully installed and commissioned is £5,500 – £6,000 + VAT per room.

For exposed wall mounted units, the average cost is £3,500 – £4,000 + VAT per room.

“For example – for an installation with four concealed ducted units (e.g. kitchen, dining room, lounge and master bedroom), and three wall-mounted units (e.g. gym and two top floor bedrooms), the budget cost will be £32,500 – £36,000 + VAT. This is approximately what it will cost to get that system designed, installed and commissioned.”

 

2. Sound-suppression options

The acoustic element is probably the single most overlooked and misunderstood subject in the whole process. When it comes to air conditioning in residential properties, the most common complaint by far is noise. This isn’t due to faulty or old equipment, it’s entirely down to design. Noise and sound levels are hard to explain or demonstrate. It is very important to get a clear understanding of the client’s perception of what is or isn’t an acceptable level of ‘noise’, and to be able to deliver a system that meets those expectations.

Our homes are our ‘comfort zones’ where we relax, eat, sleep, entertain, read, study and so on. Having a clear understanding yourself before you place an order of how quiet or noisy your air conditioning units are going to be is critical. Unfortunately, once it’s all up and running and the installers have gone, it’s too late to do much about it. If noise is likely to be a concern, ensure it is addressed early on in the discussions, make sure the contractor can demonstrate they are fully conversant with the entire acoustic element of the design, and check they can guarantee the sound performance of their designs.

Each air conditioning unit will be at a different capacity or in a different location, and the designer must factor in precisely the right combination of anti-vibration measures, air velocities and free areas through ductwork and grilles, fan speed selection, air throw direction and distance, in-duct airborne sound attenuation and break-out sound attenuation.

With exposed wall-mounted units, little can be done to reduce noise output. They have variable fan speeds and night set-back features that reduce the sound slightly. For some people, this is good enough, especially those that prefer some ‘white noise’ to aid sleep or concentration.

Exposed wall mounted units and concealed ducted units with no attenuation typically output NR35-40 which is the recommended maximum NR level for libraries, museums, courtrooms, schools, hospital operating theatres and wards, etc.

The noise output from concealed ducted units however can be reduced to the point where you could hear a pin drop even when it’s running at full duty! To achieve this, bespoke attenuators must be fitted on both the air inlet and the air outlet side of the unit. The average cost for bespoke attenuation typically varies from £500 – £2,000 + VAT per unit depending on the level of sound suppression required.

 

3. Location of the outdoor unit

Air conditioning systems have to discharge heat from inside the property to outside. The unit that does this is called the ‘condenser’. With the vast majority of air conditioning installations, the condenser is located outside.

The most common locations for outdoor condenser units are in a front or rear lightwell or vault or concealed somewhere in the rear garden, or on the roof. If the outdoor unit is to be located on the roof then cranage is usually required which can vary from £2,000 – £8,000 + VAT depending on property location, whether a road closure or parking space suspensions are required and so on.

 

4. Planning permission requirements

Planning permission is normally required if an outdoor air conditioning unit is to be installed, especially where properties have neighbours in close proximity, or the building or its grounds are listed or heritage.

For a planning application (including the sound survey and report that must accompany it) the typical cost is £2,000 – £3,000 + VAT.

In most cases, the outdoor unit will need to be installed within an acoustic enclosure to meet planning conditions. Condenser acoustic enclosures typically cost from £4,000 – £10,000 + VAT depending on the size and specification required.

 

5. Associated enabling or builders works costs

Enabling works or builders’ works include things like opening up ceilings and floors ready for the pipework installation, modifying existing or installing new joinery to house the indoor units, upgrading power supplies, boarding up, plastering, redecorating and so on. If the house is already decorated and furnished then the enabling works are likely to be quite costly and disruptive. However, if the house is being renovated, the associated enabling works will form part of the main contractor’s work package and the cost implications are minimal.

 

Barry Smith

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