Are you installing a new HVAC system in your home, but not sure whether to go with a central or mini-split system? In this post, we’ll discuss the benefits and potential drawbacks of a ductless mini-split system to help you decide if this is the right option for you.
What is the Mini-Split System?
Also known as a ductless HVAC system, a mini-split is a heating and cooling system that does not use ductwork. Like a central air conditioning system, it allows you to achieve and maintain a desired room temperature.
Although mini-splits aren’t as commonly used as central air systems, they are gaining popularity as more people learn about the benefits of these systems. For reasons that we’ll list in this article, mini-splits are superior to window AC units in many ways and, for some homeowners, they may be a better option than central systems.
Mini-splits are useful in room additions where retro-fitting would be costly and complicated, such as garage conversions. Ductless systems also work well in basements, mother-in-law suites, and tiny homes, just to name a few. Basically, a ductless system can be used in any space where you’d use a window AC unit or baseboard heater.
How Does a Mini-Split HVAC System Work?
Let’s get technical and discuss how ductless mini-split systems work.
As its name implies, a mini-split system consists of two components that are split apart. One part of the mini-split system is installed inside of the home. The second part of the system stays outside. The two components are connected by a bundle of electrical wires and refrigerant lines.
That’s the quick overview, but here’s a more detailed look:
In a typical setup for the mini-split system, the indoor air handling unit is mounted on an exterior wall (and sometimes in the ceiling). The indoor unit also has an evaporator and a blower.
The indoor unit absorbs warm air out of the room and replaces it with cool air. It does this by drawing the air over cold evaporator coils. The coils are cooled by the refrigerant. The refrigerant also transfers the heat to the condenser/compressor unit.
The condenser/compressor unit, which is located on a concrete pad on the ground outside, releases the heat outdoors. It has a fan that aids the cooling process. As the refrigerant circulates through the condenser, it releases heat and transforms to a cold liquid that can then cool down the indoor unit’s coils.
In addition to a power cable, the two units are linked together by a condensate drain hose. Any accumulated condensate is then transported outside by this plastic tube.
What are the Benefits of Using a Mini-Split System?
So why should you opt for a mini-split system instead of a central air unit? Here are the biggest benefits of a mini-split:
A ductless system is, well, duct-free. There’s no need to install a complex system of ducts in your home. Going ductless has a lot of benefits. Ducts are susceptible to air leaks, heat gains, and pressure imbalances.
Increased Energy Efficiency
Speaking of ducts, did you know that up to 25% of energy can be lost through your ductwork alone? As ducts age, they can crack or get holes. That means that your HVAC system won’t work as well as it could. (If you already have ducts, you should definitely have your system’s ductwork inspected annually by an experienced HVAC technician.)
Your mini-split system will consume 30% less energy than a window AC unit. It’s also likely to consume less energy than a standard central system (of course, it’s difficult to generalize without knowing the age and state of your current system). Your system may also qualify for government rebates. Check out Energy Star’s Rebate Finder to determine if your ductless model will qualify for any special rebates.
More Secure Than Window AC
While a window unit is definitely easy to install, it’s not secure. It makes your home more vulnerable to burglars. A window AC unit also poses physical safety risks if it’s not securely attached and supported to the space.
Improved Air Quality
Because mini-split systems don’t use ducts, they also don’t re-circulate dirty air. They actually help to clean the air much better than a central system. Mini-split systems use filters that collect dust. They may also contain enzymes that neutralize odors and destroy pet dander and other air contaminants.
More Seamless Install
Mini-split systems don’t require a complicated install. HVAC technicians won’t have to crawl around your attic. Instead, your HVAC technician will only need to drill a small, three-inch hole into the wall to accommodate the bundle of electrical and drainage cords.
Less Visible Than a Window AC
A window AC unit is an eye-sore that can take away from your home’s curb appeal. Aside from the condenser unit that sits discreetly outside your home, the indoor air handling unit is concealed from outside view. It also doesn’t block your home’s windows.
Can Be Controlled Remotely
Your mini-split system can be controlled remotely, and you don’t even need a remote control. Most mini-splits can be operated through an app on your smartphone. This means you can turn it on and off, even when you’re away from home.
Not as Noisy
A window AC unit is noisy, and can be disruptive as it cycles on and off. Window AC units register between 50 to 80 decibels (dB). Central air units measure around 60 dB. By comparison, a mini-split system is around 25 dB – that’s the same noise level as a ticking clock or a soft whisper.
Mini-split systems can cool and heat.
And while the majority of mini-split systems are wall-mounted, they can also be floor- or ceiling-mounted. And, if you’re looking to replicate the same look as a central HVAC, you can even conceal mini-splits behind a grill plate. This can raise the noise level marginally, but it’s still quieter than a central heating system.
Add to an Existing House
No ductwork? No problem. If you don’t want to install a full HVAC system to your existing home, opt for a mini-split. As mentioned above, installation is pain-free and uncomplicated. You can add one unit or multiple units.
Allows Everyone to Be happy
Are there constant fights in your home about the thermostat? If someone’s always hot and someone else is always cold, and you’re not sure how to solve it, a mini-split system may hold the answer to your dilemma. With a mini-split system, each room can be a different temperature. The mini-split enables you to create different temperature zones in your home.
Long Running Times
Mini-splits aren’t always on, but they are designed to run for longer lengths of time. This allows the system to circulate more air and also provide cleaner air. Longer running times improves the humidity balance in your room.
What are the Cons of Using a Mini-Split System?
Now that we’ve explored the major benefits of a mini-split system, let’s look at some actual and potential drawbacks.
It Sticks Out
Unless you opt to conceal your indoor component behind a grill or within the ceiling (which increases the installation costs), your system will stand out. And you can’t cover it, either. Also, mini-split systems tend to be white or beige. This can clash with the rest of your space.
Cost More Upfront
Mini-split systems are more expensive than other alternatives. Not including the ductwork, a mini-split system can cost approximately 30% more than a central air system. It can also cost twice as much as a window AC unit.
Keep in mind that you’re not just paying for the system itself, but also for the installation, which requires an outdoor concrete pad for the condenser/compressor unit.
Requires Regular Maintenance
As with all HVAC systems, a mini-split system requires maintenance. You’ll need to wash the unit’s filter every month. If you smoke or have pets, you’ll need to wash the filter more often. Ductless fans also collect more debris. To ensure that your system has a long life, your fans will need to be cleaned regularly. Also, every year, a technician should flush the condensate line and check refrigerant levels and pressure.
Not As Efficient in Larger Spaces
If you’re hoping to cool a large space, it’s better to go with a central HVAC system. Mini-splits work best in smaller spaces of less than 1,000 square feet. They also perform better in areas where the temperatures don’t hit extreme highs or lows.
And, as is true of any cooling system, a mini-split system should be paired with good installation to ensure peak efficiency.
Should You Install a Mini-Split System?
Not sure whether or not to go with the mini-split system? Let’s talk. Our technicians can help you find the right option for your unique circumstances.