The good news is yes! It may take a little creativity with your HVAC company (and potentially a carpenter), but you can have central A/C in a cape home.
Although most capes are found in New England & the northeastern US, which are not known for their warm climates, the areas can still get uncomfortably hot in the summer months (it was almost 80 yesterday here – and its only mid-May!). We all know heat rises, and cape homes are particularly prone to hot air getting trapped upstairs given the lack of attic space, especially in the corners of the room where there is not a large separation between the ceiling of the bedroom and the roof. If your cape is one of the many with skylights upstairs, the heat challenge is even worse.
When we moved into our home we were fortunate central air was already installed, but if you’re looking for some inspiration for how you can fit it into your cape, here’s what our set up looks like in the main section of our home (roughly ~865 sq. ft downstairs and ~560 sq. ft. upstairs):
Air Handler: Main indoor component. This will potentially be the trickiest part given the size of the unit. Homes built today are often built around the air handlers, which is why retrofitting a cape for one is not always easy. Ours is housed behind the built-ins & bench in our master bedroom (hence why a carpenter may be necessary). The shelves/backer in the built-ins are completely removable so you can access the equipment at any point. This is a bit of a process to remove & re-set, but worth it for the benefit of enjoying the A/C. The component in the bench is much easier to access. Overall, they did a really nice job with repurposing space we couldn’t have used for anything else, while adding stunning built ins & a bench.
Air Conditioner: This is the large condenser/compressor unit located outside of the home. Nothing special here needed for a cape, just needs to located in a cool, shady location so it doesn’t overheat. Our house faces north, so the unit is located behind our home as its in the shade for the majority of the day.
Ducts: In larger homes the duct work for upstairs spaces is often found in the attic, which most capes are void of. Since the project was complete when we moved in, we’re not sure where they are on the main floor, but upstairs they run along the front section of our home hidden in the benches where our gabled dormers are. In the guest bedroom upstairs there’s another bench with ducts hidden inside.
Air filter: Nothing special here, our return air grill is located on our central staircase. Not the easiest spot to change a filter, but again makes use of space we wouldn’t need for anything else and it doesn’t stick out.
Hope that helps with your project!