Can You Switch to Central Air in a Baseboard-Heated Home?

Marwa Hasan
Written by Marwa Hasan
Updated October 5, 2021
women adjusting thermostat in home
Photo: Monkey Business / Adobe Stock

Yes, you can upgrade your ductless, baseboard-heated house to central air

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

On a brutal summer day, your house is hot enough to be a sauna. You’ve tried everything to lower the temperature, from industrial fans to window AC, but nothing has worked. You may think it’s impossible to add central air to your baseboard-heated house but think again.

Adding central AC is easier to achieve than you think. There are options available for different circumstances, including for homes without existing ductwork. 

The Differences Between Central Air and a Baseboard Heater

Electric baseboard heaters have their pros and cons: They are affordable and easy to install, but they can also be less efficient compared to other heating systems. Many decide to replace baseboard heaters with a forced-air system. However, learning the difference between the two systems is crucial before taking the plunge. 

Baseboard Heating

A baseboard heater is an electric system that heats the house room by room. The units are located along the bottom of the walls and operate without any ductwork. 

Central Air System

Central air is a common term used to describe most whole-home air conditioning systems. These systems heat/cool the air, then push it into your living spaces through ducts and vents.

Central Heating

Central heating systems use either a furnace (running by gas, fuel, or hybrid) or a boiler with hot water pipes and radiators (including radiant underfloor heat). 

A central heating system is operated using one primary heating appliance, usually placed in the garage or the basement. All furnaces consist of four components:

  • Burners that deliver and burn fuel

  • Heat exchangers

  • A blower

  • A flue that acts like exhaust for gaseous by-products

How Central Heating Works

The central air creates a cycle to warm air by burning natural gas or propane in the furnace burner. The heat passes through the heat exchanger, and air from the ducts is blown over the heat exchanger to get warm and then sent through the same air ducts throughout your home.

Central Cooling

A central air conditioner is a closed loop of refrigerated and cycled air to provide a cool, refreshing breeze on a hot summer day. The central AC consists of three parts:

  • The condenser

  • The compressor

  • The evaporator coils

How Central Cooling Works

Warm air inside the home blows across the indoor evaporator coil. The refrigerant goes to the compressor, where a cycle begins. The heat absorbed by the refrigerant moves outside your home through the condenser and compressor (located on an outdoor unit). Meanwhile, cooled air is pumped inside through the vents. 

Both cooling and heating systems share the same ductwork for distributing conditioned air throughout your home.

Can You Add Central Air to a Baseboard-Heated House?

outdoor air conditioning unit for home
Photo: DonNichols / Getty Images

Homes with a baseboard system as their primary heat source lack the needed ductwork for traditional central air conditioning systems. But you can still enjoy air conditioning in your home. 

There’s no need to spend money on costly renovations to install ductwork when you can cool off without tearing your home apart. There are a few options  that fit homes without ducts, so you can choose the right central AC option for you:

Ductless mini-split: This is an upgrade from a window AC unit, which will provide you with both heating and cooling options. A ductless mini-split resembles a small heat pump using multiple indoor units and a single outdoor unit for a whole-central air system.

High-velocity system: This delivers chilled air with insulated air tubing small enough to be easily installed within existing walls.

Consult your local HVAC company to help you figure which central air conditioning system is better for your home and your budget. 

If you still wish to install ducts to cool/heat your entire home, the costs and work time will double. An experienced contractor would carefully plan ducts around the house and neatly hide ductwork behind walls, up in the attic, or at the back of closets with minimal cuts into walls and the ceiling and very little mess.

How Much Does It Cost to Add a Central Air System?

Most homeowners pay between $3,900 to $7,500 to install a central air system. However, to install ductless mini-split systems expect to pay $2,000 to $14,500. 

Remember that to replace baseboard heating with central AC, you'll need to remove the baseboard heating system first. It'll cost $120 to $150 extra per unit to remove the old system before you can install the new one. You'll also need to remove all the wiring around the heaters, as those can be a fire hazard if left in the walls.

The final price tag for the new HVAC system varies widely depending on where you live, the size and type of system you need. An air conditioning contractor will assess the situation to determine what kind of system you need.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.