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Question about condos with central HVAC
Old 10-06-2020, 11:55 AM   #1
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Question about condos with central HVAC

We are considering downsizing to a "lock and go" condo once we have launched the kids. The attraction is no outdoor maintenance, single level to age in place, and the ability to travel without worrying about maintaining the yard, etc.

This is NOT a thread about how awful or awesome condo life is. People have different preferences.

BUT - I have a question about buildings that have central heating and/or AC.

How does this work for filtering viruses? Does the air get exchanged with units that might be occupied by folks with viruses like COVID19? Are there filters before the air gets sent to units? Are there HEPA filters you can put inline with the duct as it enters your unit?

I've never had central heat or central air. A few properties we like have this... which is great from a utility bill POV (heat and air included in the HOA) and pre-covid we never would have thought about the risk of virus transmission.

Again - please don't hijack this to condos are good/bad/etc... I'm specifically looking for how central air/heat is handled in multifamily dwellings.
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Old 10-06-2020, 12:24 PM   #2
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Rodi, my friend has a condo, and it has it's own heat/AC unit, and a closet with washer and dryer. Works out good.

I suspect you are onto something with the common heating source. Not just virus concerns, but food and smoking smells too.

Good luck, JP
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Old 10-06-2020, 12:32 PM   #3
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I agree. I'd just get one with it's own plant.
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Old 10-06-2020, 01:22 PM   #4
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Newer ones have zones within your condo. So the air does not spread from room to room. And only when needed are the rooms cooled. Ours is Trane.
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Old 10-06-2020, 01:24 PM   #5
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We own the town house version of a condo. Each town house has its own separate central heating and air conditioning unit. We have never had any issues with food smells or other airborne odors even though we share a wall on 3 sides with other town houses. Our unit came with a high efficiency Honeywell HVAC air filtration system that takes 4 inch filters in the attic. Maybe thats why we don't have odor issues.
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Old 10-06-2020, 01:37 PM   #6
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I understand that having one's own plant is better. But there are two condo buildings, both built in the 70's, that we like for location, views, amenities, views, views, views.

We're trying to figure out if this is a deal breaker, and to better understand how it works. I haven't read/heard anything about illness spread within a building (apartment or condo) with shared HVAC... but maybe it happens. FWIW - it's forced air... not radiators. (Radiators are not at all common here in San Diego.)
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Old 10-06-2020, 01:38 PM   #7
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It depends on the building and to some extent how old it is. Some that are old and were converted to condos have a central heating/cooling plant that is common property and of course you want to stay away from those. Others, generally more recent construction, may have an individually controlled (and owned) heating/cooling unit. This should give you individual control over the heating/cooling in your condo. Do not settle for anything less.

Back in the '70's I lived in an older apartment building that had a central heating/cooling plant and I swore "Never Again!" At the change of seasons they only wanted to switch from cooling to heating and back once per season, which made for some bad days on the intermediate temperature days. Apparently switching over was a big deal for the maintenance staff, or maybe it was expensive, I dunno, but that aspect of living there was a royal PITA. Obviously you want to stay away from places like that.
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Old 10-06-2020, 02:41 PM   #8
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My condo was a townhome in a 6 unit building. We had our own hvac system. Gas forced air heat with ac through ducts in my attic and unit. No hvac connection to any other unit.
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Old 10-06-2020, 04:12 PM   #9
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I think you'll have lots of choices that don't involve communal HVAC - unless you're moving into a motel-like arrangement.
We have owned a condo and a townhouse, both rentals. Every unit had its own central HVAC - as I oughtta know, since we had to replace both of them!. In fact I don't know that I've ever been in a multifamily dwelling with shared HVAC.
Now, whether viruses (like cigarette smoke) can seep under doors and through cracks in walls, is another matter. Unless a neighbor in the next condo smokes, I don't know how you could tell about this.
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Old 10-06-2020, 04:49 PM   #10
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It's not clear to me from OP, what type of condo is being talked about.
I've seen condos in the form of
separate houses
townhouses
high rise (15 stories) apt buildings.

More details would help.

As for "central heat or central air. A few properties we like have this... which is great from a utility bill POV (heat and air included in the HOA)"

This is only true if EVERYONE is as careful as they would if they paid it directly. Nothing bugged me more when living in one of these shared heating places when in Winter, I'd see some apt with windows open for fresh air.
Why not it was free heat
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Old 10-06-2020, 04:52 PM   #11
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OP can be sure if there is a filter on the HVAC system, it's likely to be like a home one, in that the filter is to protect the fan motor and system.

It won't be a Hepa filter
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Old 10-06-2020, 04:56 PM   #12
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There was a apartment complex covid case a few months ago where the virus spread through the shared septic system. But I believe that the system in one of the units had been modified in such a way as to facilitate the spread so it would not usually be an issue.
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Old 10-06-2020, 05:05 PM   #13
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Rodi,
My mom lived in a 6 story apartment style condo in Florida. The forced air unit was in the condo and the compressor was on the roof. The filters were in her unit.
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Old 10-06-2020, 07:45 PM   #14
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Our current and last Condo you have your own HVAC system. It is on roof. Filter is in your unit. Though clearly in any common building one has to assume with the negative presure it creates in room you are sucking some air from hallway and cracks into your unit.

What seems to be known about Covid, I would not lose sleep over that. Far greater and denser high rise societies are all over the world and it is simply not being spread that way and a lot of those are even sharing common HVAC systems.
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Old 10-06-2020, 07:51 PM   #15
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The two buildings are in the 10-12 story range. I'll have to check satellite view to see if they have individual compressors on the roof.
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Old 10-06-2020, 07:55 PM   #16
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Covid aside, I have also lived in Condo with shared system and building had to switch from A/C to heat come winter and spring. It never jived with when I wanted to switch and at times in those seasons one could not use A/C and Heat so that was subpar. Also they just weren't that strong.

For that reason alone I would want my own unit. Same for washer and dryer. Make sure to see if they do have your own washer and dryer the dryer is vented to outside. My experience with the dryer buildings that just vent into the unit you will get mold issues and crap on your ceiling and such.

Been a condo dweller now 25 years in various styles so I've learned a bit, they are not all equal. Try to grab a unit with less common walls for noise. I can say an extra layer of 5/8" drywall on the common wall solves any noise issue I have ever had. Layer of sound proofing adhesive in between even better ("green glue"). Small price to pay and totally increases quality of living if you have an issue.

I've always lived in converted old lofts in city with 4 ft thick concrete floors or concrete high rise cast floors so noise above or below is not an issue.
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Old 10-06-2020, 10:19 PM   #17
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Im a retired HVAC designer/ mechanical engineer. More detail in terms of where your central fan coil indoor air handler is located would tell you what you need to know. Most central heat/AC systems for condos are not shared and there is one split system per unit. You have an indoor unit in either basement, closet or attic served by an outdoor unit which rejects heat transferee through the Refrigerant lines. Look around to verify you have your own indoor unit.
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Question about condos with central HVAC
Old 10-06-2020, 10:25 PM   #18
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Question about condos with central HVAC

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Originally Posted by Al in Ohio View Post
Im a retired HVAC designer/ mechanical engineer. More detail in terms of where your central fan coil indoor air handler is located would tell you what you need to know. Most central heat/AC systems for condos are not shared and there is one split system per unit. You have an indoor unit in either basement, closet or attic served by an outdoor unit which rejects heat transferee through the Refrigerant lines. Look around to verify you have your own indoor unit.


If you have a separate indoor unit there is no shared airflow and no cross viral contamination. Anyone residing in a home served by the same indoor fan unit can share the virus unless a HEPA filter is used (preferably with the addition of UV lights inside the ductwork). Both are rare in residential systems. HEPA filters have high static resistance that the average indoor unit fan cannot handle. A special high static fan with matching higher horsepower motor is selected for HEPA filters.
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