Installing Mini Splits in an NYC Townhouse

by | Last updated May 15, 2023 | Building Systems, Renovations

New York City Townhouses and Brownstones usually have radiators and a boiler for heat and through the window AC units for cooling, unless they have been upgraded to a modern system. Mini Splits are a popular heating and cooling system for townhouses in NYC.

Mini Split heating and cooling systems are a good choice for townhouse renovations because they are relatively easy to install as a retrofit and are energy efficient. With these systems you can control every room independently in a different zone. 

I am Jorge Fontan an architect in NYC and owner of Fontan Architecture a Manhattan based architecture firm. At our office we work on a variety of projects including building new houses and renovating townhouses in New York City. On our townhouse / brownstone renovations all of our clients now want mini split systems. In this post we will discuss some of the reasons you may want a mini split system and a few things to consider when making this decision.


Planning Mini Split Systems

You will need to hire an architect and engineer if you are going to install mini splits in your townhouse in NYC. The system must be properly designed and sized. The location of all the components must be planned out. A properly designed system will provide a much better result and comfort level. The architect will also file plans with city agencies for approvals and permits.

We often install mini splits when we are gut renovating a townhouse, because this is the best time to do it. There is a lot of accessory work that goes along with installing these systems. This will be a soother process if you do it all together with other work in the house.

You may need to upgrade your electrical supply to support the new mini splits. Mini splits are are electric and require a great deal of power. The electrical load will depend on the system. Your design team needs to know how many amps are coming into the house currently and do a calculation to determine if this will be sufficient. If it is not, they will have to upgrade your service.

Mini Split systems have condensers on the outside and air handlers on the inside connected by line set. Additionally, each air handler needs a condensation line. All these items need a location. This means opening ceilings and walls, especially if you want to keep the equipment more discreet. This becomes even more complicated if you choose to install a ducted mini split system with linear diffusers. The point being, all these things need to be thought out, when we are working on the design, we always go through all the options with our clients, and make sure they have the information they need to decide on what type of system to choose.

If you want to learn more about townhouse renovations in general you can read another post we wrote on NYC Townhouse Renovations.

Mini Split Condenser

Mini Split Condenser in the rear of a townhouse in Brooklyn


Can You Install Mini Splits on a Landmark Townhouse in NYC?

You can install Mini Splits on a Landmark Townhouse or Brownstone in NYC as long as you obtain all required approvals and permits from the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). You will need an architect or engineer to design the system and produce all required documentation for approvals before the contractor can pull a permit. 

One large variable when planning a mini split system on a Landmark Townhouse is the location of the condensers. LPC does not want the condensers to be visible from the street, or visible to the minimum extent possible. In some cases, this may be easier than others. You can install the condensers on the roof or in the rear yard. LPC will require your design team and contractor to provide a mockup for the condensers.

In the photo below you can see an example from one of our projects where we provided a mockup for LPC approval on a one hundred and eighty year old townhouse in the Lower East Side. On this townhouse we proposed putting the two condensers on the roof. These sat on dunnage which is a beam to elevate them off the roof. We also proposed a railing along the rear. All of these items were part of the mockup. This project was a full gut renovation of the townhouse. All work including the mini splits was approved by LPC and this project is now completed.

Mini Split Mockup on Landmark Townhouse in NYC

Mini Split Mockup on Landmark Townhouse in Manhattan, NYC

You do not need to build a mockup if the building is neither landmark status nor located within a landmark district. Your team will still file for approvals with the NYC DOB before obtaining a permit. Either way there are codes, regulations, and bureaucracy to deal with.


Mini Split Zones 

I think one of the best features of a mini split system is that every room is on a different zone. You can control each room independently. This is a great way to save energy because if you have a room that is not used often you do not need to heat it as much. Also, sometimes one person prefers it to be a little cooler and another person likes it warmer. Each room can be set to a different temperature. The control is great for comfort and energy savings.


Mini Splits for Townhouses & Brownstones

Mini Split systems are a good choice for retrofitting a townhouse with new heating and cooling. There are many issues to take into consideration but with proper planning and a good team you can have a high quality system that provides comfort and efficiency.


Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on Adding Mini Splits to a Townhouse in NYC.

I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect about a potential project, you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.


Contact Fontan Architecture

Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.