April 9, 2024

Here in Foothill Ranch, CA, ductless mini-split HVAC systems are gaining popularity among homeowners. Although they date back to the late 1950s, many people here believe them to be a relatively new innovation. To help you evaluate them as an HVAC option, here’s an overview of what ductless mini-splits are, how they work, and their pros and cons.

What Is a Ductless Mini-Split?

A ductless mini-split is an HVAC system that combines a single outdoor unit with one or more indoor air handlers to provide heating and cooling where you need it in your home. They’re available in two main configurations. One is an air conditioning-only configuration, and the other is a heat pump that can both heat and cool your home. Ductless mini-splits offer a convenient way to add heating and cooling to homes that lack ductwork or whose ductwork is in disrepair. They also work well when you need to add heating and cooling to newly finished spaces such as basements and additions to your home.

How Do Ductless Mini-Splits Work?

A ductless mini-split uses the refrigeration cycle to collect heat from inside your home in the summer and carry it outside and to collect heat from the outside air in the winter to heat your home. The outdoor unit of a mini-split contains a compressor, a heat exchanger, a large fan, a reversing valve, and an expansion valve. The indoor air handlers of a mini-split contain blower fans, a heat exchanger, and a thermostat. Instead of relying on ductwork, a mini-split links its indoor and outdoor units together via a small bundle of refrigerant lines and power cables.

In cooling mode, a mini-split works like any other air conditioner. The process begins with the system’s refrigerant in a low-pressure liquid state. In that state, the refrigerant will be cold and have a low boiling point. The cold liquid gets pumped to the indoor air handlers that need it, where it passes through a heat exchanger while the blower fan blows hot indoor air across it. When that happens, the refrigerant absorbs heat from the air until it reaches its boiling point and transforms into a warm, low-pressure vapor.

From there, the warm vapor travels outside to the compressor, which increases its pressure and temperature. Now an extremely hot compressed vapor, the refrigerant passes through the outside unit’s heat exchanger while the large fan blows outdoor air across it. Since the refrigerant is hotter than the outdoor air, it surrenders its heat energy to the air and cools off. As that happens, the refrigerant condenses into a high-pressure warm liquid. Then, it passes through the expansion valve, which lowers its pressure and temperature so that the cycle can begin again.

In the winter, the reversing valve allows the mini-split to run its refrigeration cycle in reverse. That means it can harvest heat energy from the outside air to heat your home. This works just as long as the refrigerant gets colder than the outside air since heat energy spontaneously moves from hotter substances to colder substances. And when you increase the pressure on a warm gas, it also increases its temperature, making it hot enough to heat your home.

The Pros of Ductless Mini-Splits

Ductless mini-splits come with a variety of advantages that you don’t get from conventional HVAC systems. One of the most important advantages is efficiency. For starters, their lack of reliance on ductwork gives them a built-in efficiency advantage. Conventional HVAC systems waste up to 30% of the energy they consume via ductwork-related losses. When you combine that with the fact that the average mini-split has a SEER rating of 20 and that heat pumps are up to four times as efficient as the best gas furnace on the market, mini-splits blow away conventional HVAC in terms of efficiency.

Another advantage of mini-splits is that they offer zoned heating and cooling by default. Since they rely on individual air handlers installed throughout your home, you gain very precise control of your indoor temperatures. You can, for example, set different temperatures in different rooms or turn off individual air handlers altogether. Doing that can help you save even more money on operating costs, too, since it helps you avoid heating and cooling spaces you’re not using. Mini-splits are also very quiet when you’re using them since they feature much smaller fans than most central HVAC systems do. The difference in the level of noise can be significant. The average ducted HVAC can generate noise levels indoors between 50 and 70 dB while running, while the average mini-split only makes between 25 to 35 dB while running.

The Cons of Ductless Mini-Splits

Mini-splits come with significant advantages, but they aren’t perfect. There are also some disadvantages you will want to consider before purchasing one. One is a higher upfront cost. Installing a mini-split capable of heating and cooling your whole home can cost twice as much as a comparable conventional ducted HVAC system. And while you will recoup some of that cost through ultra-efficient operation, it can take much of the system’s lifespan to do it.

The layout of your home can also affect how easy it is to use mini-splits. A home without a lot of indoor airflow will need more mini-split units to effectively heat and cool your home. It is also harder to install air handlers in rooms without an outside wall.

Another disadvantage to consider is that some ductless mini-splits don’t perform very well at extremely cold temperatures. As temperatures drop, a ductless mini-split will gradually lose efficiency and require an additional heat source. Such systems contain backup heating elements. However, this also means mini-splits can cost quite a bit to operate in temperatures of roughly 25 degrees Fahrenheit and below. Of course, there are mini-splits designed for high cold-weather performance, but they cost even more upfront than the average mini-split. It may be hard to justify that cost in our relatively mild winter climate.

Your Local Ductless Mini-Split Experts

Ductless mini-splits offer an efficient viable alternative to conventional HVAC systems for homeowners in Foothill Ranch. As a Lennox Premier dealer, White Mechanical, Inc. sells and installs the latest in quality mini-splits. Plus, we offer comprehensive HVAC installation, repair, and maintenance services for HVAC equipment of all kinds. We also offer indoor air quality services, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, and commercial HVAC and refrigeration services.

Our team of NATE-certified HVAC technicians has the training and expertise to handle all of your home or business HVAC needs. As a proud member of the local community for over 20 years and a Better Business Bureau-accredited business with an A+ rating, there’s nobody better to call for your HVAC needs in Foothill Ranch. So, if you’d like to know more about how a ductless mini-split can meet your HVAC needs in Foothill Ranch, call our experts at White Mechanical, Inc. today!

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