Mini-Split Systems

Mini Split Systems

Nearly everywhere in the world requires some form of climate control to be built into homes, whether it be for heating or cooling. In most cases, this means the installation of large heating furnaces or central air units that require extensive infrastructure within and in some cases, outside, your home. For those who do not wish to invest in this infrastructure, there is an exciting alternative in the form of mini-split systems. Mini split systems are small, powerful, and convenient devices that offer combined heating and cooling functionality with very little need for alteration to your home.

 

 

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The technology behind mini split systems has gone through an astonishing level of advancement in the last few years, the systems of today being nearly unrecognizable to their predecessors, even those that are just a few years old. The mini-split systems of today are quickly becoming a common choice for those who wish to install HVAC systems in their properties. Even so, questions about the systems are still abound due to their relatively new status. As such, we’ve tried to answer those questions, and a few you might not have thought to ask, in the article below.

Mini Split Systems

Nearly everywhere in the world requires some form of climate control to be built into homes, whether it be for heating or cooling. In most cases, this means the installation of large heating furnaces or central air units that require extensive infrastructure within and in some cases, outside, your home. For those who do not wish to invest in this infrastructure, there is an exciting alternative in the form of mini-split systems. Mini split systems are small, powerful, and convenient devices that offer combined heating and cooling functionality with very little need for alteration to your home.

The technology behind mini split systems has gone through an astonishing level of advancement in the last few years, the systems of today being nearly unrecognizable to their predecessors, even those that are just a few years old. The mini-split systems of today are quickly becoming a common choice for those who wish to install HVAC systems in their properties. Even so, questions about the systems are still abound due to their relatively new status. As such, we’ve tried to answer those questions, and a few you might not have thought to ask, in the article below.

 

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1. What exactly is a mini split system?

A commonly asked question about a mini-split systems is exactly what they are. A simple way of answering that question is that they are an alternative technology to traditional centralized, and separate, heating and cooling systems. They do however share some similarities with traditional systems including the need for interior handling unit and an outdoor condenser. As per their name, many mini-split systems can both heat and cool a house with a single unit.

In contrast to traditional air conditioners, mini-split systems do not require the installation or adaption of a duct system in the home. This is a big difference to traditional heating and cooling units where the presence, and quality, of ductwork is crucial to the effectiveness of the system. This simplicity is why more and more homeowners are choosing, mini-split systems.

Adding to peoples confusion over what a mini-split system is the fact that they are known by a variety of other names and descriptive titles including: Ductless mini-splits, ductless heating systems, and mini-split heating systems.

 

2. How do they work?

In order to understand how a mini-split system works it is crucial that you are familiar with three components in particular.

The air handling unit is located in the home’s interior. It is usually found attached to the wall or hanging from the ceiling. The air handling unit is critical as it acts as a port for the heated or cooled air to enter the home. Inside the air handling unit is a fan that is used to circulate the air throughout either the room, or a floor of the property. In some systems up to four air handling units can be connected to a condensing unit.

The compressor, otherwise known as the condenser is an exterior part of the split system. A mini-split system’s condenser is usually notable for its thin profile in comparison to the condenser the large units traditionally used for an air conditioning system. Condensers are usually located somewhere on the ground, or the rooftop of a house. They are notable for the large amount of sound they generate.

The last component you should be aware of is its thin copper tubing. The tubing is used to connect the condenser to the air handling units throughout the property and carries the coolant that is responsible for both heating and cooling between the two. During the winter months the coolant absorbs heat from the outside and carries it inside to heat the home, in the summer the opposite process occurs, with the heat from the interior of the home being absorbed and carried outside.

The entire system operates using a principle called variable refrigerant flow. The system uses varied flow of the coolant to regulate the temperature inside.  Because these systems are able to regulate the flow of the refrigerant, they’re able to maintain much more constant temperatures at a fraction of the cost to cool or heat a room using traditional central air conditioning systems.

 

3. Mini-Split Pros and Cons

 There are numerous benefits to employing a mini-split system in your home. These benefits include but not limited to their energy efficiency and comparative simplicity of installation in comparison to central heating and cooling. This is especially true when a mini-split system is installed in a home or property that lacks the previous installation of ductwork or central heating and cooling. The closest piece of technology to a mini-split system is probably a portable air conditioner, though they are not nearly as effective as a mini-split. There are three key benefits to installing a mini-split system:

They’re Hugely Energy Efficient–  Mini-split systems are incredibly efficient, allowing them to use two to three times less energy than a comparative central heating system. This is good news for most property owners since less energy used means a cheaper utility bill. Compared to a central heating system a mini-split system can reduce your energy bill by a significant margin.

They offer a variety designs– Compared to central cooling and window mounted air conditioners mini-split systems offer a greater amount of flexibility in their design, while also being infinitely more discreet than window units in particular. This is because the air handler can be placed or hung nearly anywhere on the wall or ceiling, and in some cases can even be recessed into the structure.

Better heating and cooling of individual rooms– Because mini-split systems have a separate handler for each zone, they offer superior control of the temperature in each of the individual zones.  Each unit can be individually adjusted to the desired temperature of the occupant

energy efficient home
Despite these advantages mini-split systems are not perfect systems and do have their downsides.

They’re expensive- While not nearly as expensive as the instillation of new duct work, mini-split systems are vastly more expensive than window mounted-units due both to the instillation fees and the upfront cost. It is worth noting that due to their energy-efficiency mini-split systems may be subject to tax incentives and the price could potentially be reduced.

Proper placement is crucial– Proper placement is crucial when installing ductless systems, and in many cases this requires the assistance of HVAC professionals. This is because an improperly placed air-handler can cause a defect known as ‘short-cycling’. If this occurs, energy will be utilized less efficiently, which is one of the major benefits of these systems.

It hard to find someone qualified to install them- Due to their relatively new status not all HVAC installers and professionals will work with mini-split systems. This is because in order to be qualified to install a mini-split system they have to be trained in both the installation and sizing of a mini-split system. If the installer lacks these skills the system will not function as intended. If the system is too large it will lose energy efficiency, if it is too small it will not heat or cool effectively.

They have several technical requirements- There also exist several technical requirements for installing a ductless mini-split system. There will need to be a location near the condenser to drain the condensate water effectively. Though this is also a requirement for traditional heating and cooling units. This is untrue for window mounted or portable units.

 

How Efficient Are Mini-Split Systems?

Both relatively and as a stand alone technology mini-split systems are incredibly energy efficient. Nearly fifty percent more efficient than a traditional central heating or cooling system.

The most significant way that mini-split systems increase efficiency is their elimination of the need for ductwork. According to the United States department of energy’s findings the heat lost to the system of ducts throughout a house can be as significant as 30 percent or more. This is especially true for rooms that have been left uninsulated. To put this in a more relatable fashion ductwork can cause an efficiency loss equivalent of you throwing 30 cents out of every dollar into the trash when it comes to your cooling bill.

This is due to the fact that ducts aren’t usually well insulated and aren’t typically thought of as a source of cooling loss for homeowners. Cool air has to travel significant distances along ductwork to reach the area that needs to be cool. This allows for significant cooling loss due to convection as the air moves.

Additionally, if there are several different air handlers they can create several different cool zones. Allowing for the partition and allocation of areas you cool. This means you can choose not to waste money by cooling zones you are not using. With mini-split systems each room can contain its own air handler, allowing you to tailor the climate of each room. This allows you to create the perfect climate for your home and those within.

Additionally, mini-split cooling systems cycle air  more often than centralized systems to maintain the temperature you have selected for each room. This means less variation of temperature minute to minute. This is due to mini-split systems employing variable speeds of coolant flow and fan speed which leads to a more exact maintenance of temperature.

 

Who Should Consider Purchasing a Mini-Split AC System?

There are numerous benefits to investing a mini-split system, so it is easy to see why more and more property and homeowners are choosing to make the change, nonetheless there are a few considerations to make to find out if a mini-split system is for you:

A mini split system will be a good choice for homeowners whose properties:

 

  • Have enough space that you would like to create a more exact set of heating and cooling zones throughout.
  • Would benefit from a less intrusive alternative to a bulky window-mounted unit.
  • Have no duct work previously installed.
  • Would benefit from a significantly lower utility bill.
  • Have sunrooms, FROGs, Garages, Bonus rooms, basements, sheds or man caves that would benefit from climate control.
  • Have specific cooling needs within a single room of a commercial space such as an IT server room, storage closets that need to be climate controlled, etc.

There are a couple reasons that you may wish to pick a more centralized system for your property:

 

  • The design of a mini-split system may not match the pre-existing aesthetics of your home. A mini-split system is infinitely more noticeable that an HVAC system’s numerous discrete vents. If your house already has ductwork in place central heating and cooling is more likely the better choice.
  • You may find that the airblower of the mini-split system may generate too much noise. While the newer mini-split systems are vastly quieter than the older models and are usually unnoticeable, some particularly sensitive people may find the air blower of lower quality units too much to handle.
dual mini split systems

If you have chosen to install a mini-split system, there are a few important factors to consider before making a purchase and actually beginning to install the system:

 

  • Are you looking for both heating and cooling or just a single functionality?
  • How many air handling units will you be needing to achieve the effect you want?
  • What capacity do you need your system to be capable of handling?

 

How Much Functionality Do You Need?

Most mini-split systems currently on the market can provide both heating and cooling to where they are installed. Mini-split systems with a mono-functionality can also be found relatively easily. These systems that only offer either heating or cooling are also often cheaper than their counterparts that offer both.

Mini-split systems are very durable and rugged, being able to work in temperatures as freezing as -15 degrees fahrenheit and as scorching as 115 degrees. Indeed in all but the most extreme places a mini-split system is very capable of functioning.

Due to variation in seasonal temperatures in most places a mini-split system with both heating and cooling will be the most practical option for most property owners. In places with little variation, however, systems with only one functionality will be the more cost-effective choice.

Additionally if you live in a harsher climate, such as the south’s notorious heat, you will likely use your mini-split system more often, making the choice of a more energy efficient system critical to making climate control affordable.

 

How Many Air Handlers Do You Need?

One of the advantages to mini-split systems is that they can be used to create multiple climate-controlled zones. Each zone requires its own air handling unit leading to the question of how many handling units you will need. A single zone is one air handler to one condenser.

A single condenser can be connected to multiple air handlers in multiple zones. Most multi-air handler systems only go up to four handlers per condenser, though in some more advanced models a single condenser can be connected to up to eight handlers.

The most common use for a multiple air handler setup is to climate control different rooms independently of one another, achieved by placing an air handler in each room.

It is important to match the capacity of the air handlers to the capacity of your condenser. If there is only a single air handler this is a very simple process, both the condenser and handler will simply have the same capacity. If there are multiple air handlers the process is only slightly more complex due to the need for the capacity of the condenser needing to match the capacity of all of the handlers combined.

 

Capacity

Like any other central heating or cooling system, the capacity that mini-split systems are capable of is measured in British Thermal Units or BTU. A BTU is the amount of energy needed to heat a pound of water by single degree fahrenheit.

The larger the BTU capacity of an HVAC system is directly related to how much space that system can heat or cool. Small cooling units might be rated to only five thousand BTU, or roughly enough power to cool 100 square feet, while larger units will have a capacity of over 34,000 BTU. The capacity of the mini-split system must therefore correspond to the amount of space it must heat or cool.

It is a common misconception that a higher capacity system is more effective, but this assertion is simply not true. An over-sized system will simply waste energy, like killing the proverbial fly with a sledgehammer. Furthermore, an oversized system will dehydrate a room, causing a dry and unpleasant atmosphere to form. Several other factors can also affect the capacity you need for your mini-split system as well. Those systems located in sunny rooms or kitchens will require a higher capacity to combat the excess heat, the same holds true for rooms with many occupants or a significant number of electronics running. The opposite holds true for little used or shaded rooms.

The best way to estimate what size system you need is to use what is called the manual J load calculation method. This a common calculation used by HVAC specialists to determine how much power is needed for a system. The Manual J load calculation factors in different characteristics of a home such as square footage, building materials, geographic location, how much sunlight hits a particular part of the house, and even how much heat is being produced by other appliances. While there are free online calculators to run this calculation, we highly recommend having a professional HVAC service technician run these calculations to make sure that all the factors that can affect how large of a unit you need are taken into account.

mini split system

Conclusion

A mini-split system is a fantastic alternative to a traditional centralized heating or cooling system, especially if there is no existing ductwork within the property to allow for centralized climate control systems to be installed. Not only are they cost-effective to install compared to new duct work, but a mini-split system can also climate control different areas within the house at an efficiency unheard of for centralized systems. This increase in efficiency is so significant that those who install mini-split systems often see the costs associated with climate controlling their properties drop by up to fifty percent. Nonetheless despite their numerous advantages, some people may find it preferable to install a traditional centralized system if they have existing ductwork within their property. In any case if you are interested in installing a mini-split system in your home it is always advisable to consult a professional to determine both the capacity needed for the system to effectively climate control your home as well as  the best manufacturer to go with.

 

It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, or even what day it is. When your AC unit needs repairs right now, then our emergency HVAC technicians are ready 24/7 to help. If you have an AC emergency that just can’t wait, then call us to get the best emergency service in South Carolina.

 

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