What is a ductless mini-split air conditioner?
Friday, June 29, 2018
The most common type of heating and air conditioning system in the U.S. is a “central split-system,” which has two parts: an outdoor condenser unit and an indoor air handler. The air handler is at a central location in the home and distributes conditioned air through ducts to registers (vents) in the floor or ceiling of each room.
A “ductless mini-split” is also a split system with an outdoor and indoor unit, but there are no ducts. The conditioned air is distributed directly from the indoor unit, which is usually wall-mounted and controlled by a hand-held remote. Most mini-splits are heat pumps, but they are also available as only a cooling air conditioner.
The wall-mount air handler can only service one room, but there are mini-split systems with an outdoor condenser that can serve up to four wall-mounted air handlers. The essential difference between the two types of systems is that a central system distributes air to each room through ducts, while a mini-split delivers refrigerant through small pipes to an air handler in each room it serves.
Mini-splits are more popular in Europe, the Caribbean, South America and much of the rest of the world than in the United States. They have several advantages when compared with a central system:
- Because they have no ducts, mini-splits avoid the energy loss inherent in a ducted system.
- Each wall-mounted air handler can be separately adjusted, so a multiple air handler system creates individual zones that can be separately adjusted to the requirements of each room.
- The small size makes them easier to install, and they are often the only choice when retro-fitting a system into a home with no attic or crawl space for duct installation—unless you are will willing to tolerate the noise and inefficiency of a wall/window air conditioner.
There are, of course, a couple of disadvantages:
- A mini-split unit is about 30% more expensive than a central split-system.
- Some people do not like the appearance of a wall-mounted air handler in a room.
You can usually tell what type of system is inside the home by the shape of the outside condenser unit. Mini-splits have tall and narrow condensers compared to the cube shape of most central split-system condensers, as shown in the photo below.
Mini-split condensers are also often bracket-mounted on the side of urban buildings in some areas.
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To learn more about heating and air conditioning systems, see these other blog posts:
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