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Ductless Mini Splits

The popularity of ductless air conditioners continues to grow as consumers search for alternatives to window units and conventional central air conditioning systems. Sometimes referred to as "mini splits," ductless technology provides a cost effective alternative for applications where the use of ducted A/C equipment would be impractical.

The Basics of Ductless Air Conditioning

A ductless air conditioner operates in essentially the same manner as its ducted counterpart. The heart of every A/C system includes a compressor that applies force to low pressure refrigerant and transforms it into a high pressure gas. The condenser and fan work together to dissipate the accumulated heat, and the refrigerant emerges as a high pressure liquid. At the evaporator coil, the liquid extracts heat from the indoor air and the resulting low pressure gas is pumped back into the compressor to complete the cycle.

Like a conventional split system, ductless air conditioners include an outdoor condensing unit to help minimize interior noise. While central air conditioners employ a single air handler, blower, and evaporator coil, mini split systems house all three components together in separate indoor units that are strategically placed throughout the building. Stylish enclosures are hung on interior walls or placed in the ceiling, which completely eliminates the need for ductwork in the air distribution design.

Ductless Configurations

Ductless split systems are available in a variety of configurations through the utilization of different components. When assembling a complete system, it is important to understand the various equipment options as identified in the table below.

Component Description

Wall Unit

Indoor fan coil unit that hangs on a wall

Ceiling Cassette

Indoor fan coil unit-recessed in ceiling with exposed grille

Single Zone Condenser

Outdoor condenser paired with single zone indoor unit

Multi-Zone Condenser

Outdoor condenser that can serve up to four indoor units

Heat Pump

Includes a reversing valve to provide heat

Applications of Ductless Split Systems

Ductless split systems are extremely versatile and can be used to provide cool comfort for a variety of different applications.

Application Explanation

Room Addition

Where central A/C system has insufficient capacity to cool the addition

Garage, Attic, or Basement Conversions

In instances where installing ductwork may be impractical or undesirable

Supplemental Cooling

In homes where the central A/C system is undersized or the ductwork has been compromised

Whole House

In new construction, ductless technology accommodates modern architecture, reduces installed costs and saves energy

In addition to replacing central air conditioning equipment, ductless systems are often a suitable alternative to room air conditioners. Since the evaporator and condenser are separate components, mini splits are much quieter and more energy-efficient than room air conditioners. Security is also enhanced since ductless components do not need to be positioned in an open window.

Advantages of Ductless Technology

Ductless air conditioners have many advantages when compared to traditional central air conditioning systems. The growing popularity of the technology is driven by a variety of factors.

Energy Efficiency

Conventional air conditioning systems utilize a network of interconnected duct runs that are used to deliver conditioned air to the various sub-domains within the home or building. Constructed of metal or flexible plastic, ductwork is a relatively inefficient distribution method. Connections are prone to leakage, and flexible duct can sag over time. The loss of efficiency from a poorly designed or improperly installed air distribution system can account for as much as 30 percent of total system energy consumption.

In contrast, point-of-use air handlers deliver conditioned air directly into the room without passing through thermally inefficient ductwork. By positioning the air handler directly at the delivery point, ductless systems increase efficiency by eliminating friction loss, leakage, and design deficiencies. Additionally, the placement of individual fan coil units throughout the building creates independent cooling zones that can be adjusted through individual thermostats to meet the lifestyle demands of the occupants. Zone cooling allows for higher temperature settings in unoccupied rooms, which can result in substantial energy savings.

Cost Savings

Although the cost of ductless air conditioning equipment may be higher when compared to a conventional system or a room air conditioner, ductless split systems are very cost effective over the life of the equipment. In new construction, eliminating ductwork and the air distribution system can result in substantial cost savings. Ductwork often causes unnecessary building design modifications that are eliminated by using ductless equipment.

Room air conditioners are generally noisy and inefficient. Ductless split systems provide quiet comfort, enhanced cooling options, and superior energy efficiency ratings that can result in significant savings in annual utility costs.

Health Benefits

Over time, dirt and debris accumulates in the interior of an air distribution system. When moisture is added through condensation, biological agents have the nutrients they need to propagate. Mold and fungi can degrade indoor air quality and aggravate allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems. Window units are almost impossible to completely seal, which allows outdoor contaminants to enter the livable area in a home or office.

The evaporator coil in a ductless system is accessible and easy to clean. The absence of ductwork deprives harmful organisms of the environment they need to flourish. Eliminating the dirt and debris that accumulates in ductwork can help keep a home cleaner, healthier, and smelling fresh.

Safety

When a central air conditioner malfunctions, the entire structure is affected, and the indoor temperature will remain uncomfortable until the unit is repaired. In areas where summer heat is extreme, this can create health risks for the elderly and small children. Since ductless systems often employ multiple condensing units in different zones, occupants can move to the areas of the home or office that are still air conditioned.

Inverter Technology

Ductless split systems are unique in that the most recent manufactured products include inverter technology. When a room has a light cooling load, a variable speed motor allows the compressor to run more slowly, which reduces energy costs. When the room has a higher cooling demand, the motor signals the compressor to run at a higher speed. In addition to saving energy, the unit is far more responsive and quick to provide a measured amount of conditioned air into the living space.

Understanding SEER Ratings

Every air conditioning unit has an associated Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) that is used to measure its performance relative to other brands and models of equipment. These ratings were developed and adopted by the U.S. government to provide consumers with a meaningful way to compare the energy usage of the equipment produced by different manufacturers. SEER ratings are percentage based, so a 16 SEER system is about 37 percent more efficient than a 10 SEER system. In practical terms, for every $100 spent on fuel costs for a 10 SEER air conditioner, a 16 SEER system would cost only $63.

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