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Navigating HVAC Challenges in Historic Commercial Buildings

Owning a historic home or building is a unique experience. There are plenty of things to learn along the way, like how to adhere to local jurisdiction codes, preserve historic character, and renovate successfully yet carefully. There’s also a lot to maintain, especially if the historic building hasn’t had many renovations or updates.

One of the most crucial components of any building is the HVAC system; it keeps us warm in the freezing winter months and cool in the sweltering summer months. Unfortunately, historic commercial buildings may have an HVAC system that’s original to the building, causing all sorts of issues. It probably has issues running, maintaining a comfortable temperature, and putting off a burning smell. Whatever the case, historic commercial buildings can have many challenges with their HVAC systems.

If you own a historic commercial building or are thinking of purchasing one, keep reading to learn all about navigating HVAC challenges in historic commercial buildings so you can have a more comfortable atmosphere for the public and your employees.


HVAC Challenges in Historic Commercial Buildings

If you haven’t yet run into many HVAC challenges with your historic commercial building, consider yourself lucky. Many historic buildings often have original HVAC systems installed, which could be harming the building, employees, public, and increasing energy bills. Below are some common HVAC challenges in historic commercial buildings:

Limited Space

When you build a modern commercial building, you can plan for enough space for a modern HVAC system and all the ductwork. Unfortunately, when you purchase a historic commercial building, everything is already built, and you most likely can’t make major renovations, at least to the space. Historic buildings, whether apartment buildings, restaurants, museums, theaters, or other fixtures, are often limited in space, making it difficult to replace an existing HVAC system with a larger, more modern one.

Poor Insulation

Some historic buildings lack insulation or have poor insulation, making them cooler in the winter months and hotter in the summer months. Inadequate insulation can result in an uncomfortable work environment and a less-than-ideal experience for customers and guests. An HVAC system relies on the building’s insulation to reduce the amount of heat loss. They work in tandem to maintain comfortable temperatures and reduce the amount of outside air that enters and inside air that leaves the building.

Jurisdiction & Codes

If you already own a historic commercial building, you’re already aware of the jurisdictions and limitations for renovations and upgrades for the building. Unlike owning a regular commercial building, you’ll most likely need permits and even inspections before starting any work, including replacing the HVAC system.

Not Energy Efficient

Some historic buildings in Missouri date back to the early 1900s. Though their architecture is something to be admired, and we love taking a step back in time as we visit them, original HVAC systems in historic buildings aren’t very energy efficient. Though historic buildings can be energy efficient, their HVAC systems are usually the opposite.


How to Navigate These Challenges

As a historic commercial building owner, you may have the above challenges with your HVAC system. So, how do you navigate these challenges while still preserving your building’s integrity? Below are some ways to navigate HVAC challenges in historic commercial buildings:

Preserve as Much as You Can

As previously mentioned, there are codes to follow and permits required when changing anything in a historic building. If you have a permit to replace the HVAC system, you’ll want to preserve as much of it as you can. Perhaps there are old radiators you can implement with a new HVAC system or an old boiler you can preserve and put on display. Again, there will be some limitations when altering a historic building’s HVAC system, but try to preserve as much as possible.

Improve Insulation

Before you replace the HVAC system in your historic commercial building, consider improving the insulation first. Poor insulation leads to an uncomfortable environment, high and low humidity levels, and increased energy bills. Adding insulation, replacing windows, sealing air leaks, etc. are all great ways to improve insulation.

Plan Carefully

When working on your commercial HVAC system, you’ll want to plan carefully with a commercial HVAC company. There’s a lot to consider when upgrading or altering a historic building’s HVAC system, like the weight the building can support and the ductwork. Choose an HVAC company that will take the time to carefully plan your commercial HVAC replacement, ensuring that they try to preserve as much of the original HVAC components as possible.

At Cates Heating and Cooling, we understand how important the preservation of your historic commercial building is. We’ve worked with plenty of historic commercial property owners in and around Kansas City, working on commercial buildings like restaurants, theaters, and many other community fixtures. We’ll work with you to preserve as much of the original HVAC system and other features of your commercial property as we possibly can with extreme caution and care.

If your historic commercial building’s HVAC system is increasing energy bills, putting off an odd smell, not heating properly, or if you regularly hear strange noises, it’s probably time to replace the heating and cooling system. We can help with furnace repair, air conditioning services, a/c repair, and all other commercial HVAC needs.

Contact Cates Heating & Cooling. We’re family-owned and operated with a team of expertly trained technicians who have provided exceptional service to our customers for over 50 years. We service Kansas City and surrounding cities, including the following:

Kansas City


Lee’s Summit



Overland Park

& more!

Our furnace installation service is by an expertly trained team of technicians with decades of experience. Contact Cates if you have any questions or concerns about your furnace and how we can help preserve your historic commercial building!

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