Is a Mini-Split System Right For Me?
Mini-Split systems are becoming more popular, but are they worth the money? Learn how they work and all the info on these small units to make the decision yourself.
(Note: Southeastern does not have rebates for mini-split systems as this time.)
Mini-split, or ductless, air conditioning/heat pump units are gaining popularity, thanks to their energy efficiency and potential to create a range of temperature zones within the same home. While they can get expensive, they’re easy to retrofit into homes without HVAC ductwork. But are these the best units for your home?
If you’re trying to choose between a mini-split system and a traditional HVAC system, you need to know what a mini-split system is and how it works. For some homeowners, a mini-split system can be the better choice – it can allow you to downsize while remaining in your home, for example, or keep family members from fighting over the thermostat. Plus, most Mini-Split systems are also Heat Pumps. So they can also help heat your home. Here’s what you need to know.
How Does a Mini-Split System Work?
In a traditional HVAC system, a unit outside your home cools air and distributes it through your home via your ductwork. But a mini-split system doesn’t rely on ductwork to supply your home with cold or hot air. Instead, refrigerant moves through insulated lines from the outdoor unit to indoor units located in each of your home’s cooling zones. Some outdoor units are powerful enough to divide your home into as many as nine cooling zones, each cooled or heated by its own separate unit. Each indoor unit cools or heats the room or zone it’s in.
Mini-Split units are more secure than window A/C units because they require only a small hole to be drilled into the wall to run the refrigerant lines through, so there’s no need to cut a huge hole in the wall and there’s no possibility that a burglar could just yank the unit out of the window and crawl inside. But mini-splits can be more expensive than traditional HVAC systems – a single-zone system can start at about $3,000, while a four-zone system can cost at least $12,000. The more zones you want, the higher the cost.
Pros and Cons of a Mini-Split System
Mini-split units don’t require ductwork, which makes them a good option for installation in homes that don’t have ductwork, because adding ducts can significantly increase the cost of installing a traditional HVAC. Mini-splits are also good for installing climate control in additions, mother-in-law units or shops/garages.
These aren’t the only benefits of a mini-split system. These systems are about 25 to 30 percent more efficient than a traditional systems because nothing is lost to the ductwork itself. Mini-splits also have inverter-driven compressors, which don’t turn on and off constantly. Instead, they speed up or slow down based on system requirements. This makes the system even more efficient than a traditional system, which loses a lot of energy in starting up a compressor repeatedly.
Mini-splits are popular with homeowners who want more precise control over the temperature of individual rooms in their homes. Each unit can be individually adjusted, so you’ll be able to call a truce in the Thermostat Wars. If you have rooms in your home that you aren’t using, a mini-split unit can help regulate the temperature in the rooms you are using, while keeping the whole-house thermostat at a higher or lower temperature. This prevents mold and other problems that can arise from merely closing the vents in unused rooms and it could possibly save you money on heating or cooling bills.
The drawbacks of a mini-split system could include their installation price if you are wanting to install for whole house cooling and heating. In this case it could be more expensive than for a traditional system if you already have the ducting. Also, you might not love the look of the wall unit in every room, although there are floor and recessed ceiling models that look more like your traditional in house venting. Other disadvantges are, the need to clean the filter every month and more often if you have pets – the fans in mini-splits can’t handle dirty filters, so falling behind on monthly maintenance can shorten the life of your unit, plus, you’ll still need to have a yearly inspection from a licensed HVAC professional who will check your unit’s refrigerant pressure and flush the condensate lines, among other things.
There are a few other possible disadvantages to consider when installing a mini-split system, although, these are rarely insurmountable. For example, you’ll need to find a suitable outdoor location for the condenser. This may be easier in some places than others.
One key issue, however, may be important if you live in an especially cold climate: (like South Dakota) in those areas where the temperature regularly dips below freezing, a mini-split system may not have the capablilities to sufficiently heat the home so you will need a supplemental heating system, such as using a gas or electric furnace, electric resistance (baseboard/cove) heat or a wood/pellet or corn stoves.
If you already have a traditional HVAC system, it may be cheaper to just go ahead and get another one. But if you have a home that doesn’t have ductwork, or you’re looking to cool a specific room or rooms, a mini-split system may be the best choice. It can give you more precise control over the temperature in individual rooms in your home or shop and slash your energy bills, although it may not pay for itself, it may be worth the comfort it brings.