Ductless mini-splits are a relatively new addition to the HVAC industry, and, as such, there is a lot that most people don’t know about these systems and how they work. A mini-split is a type of heat pump that uses refrigerant to bring heat into the home or to remove heat from the inside to help keep the home cool. In a central HVAC system, one air handler is responsible for circulating hot and cold air into the ductwork and throughout the home. Mini-splits are different in that they don’t need ductwork, as each room has its own air handler that supplies hot and cold air to that room only.
The heat transfer process that mini-splits use makes them much more energy efficient than having a central AC unit and a furnace. Mini-splits are far more efficient than furnaces and will use much less energy. The energy efficiency of a central AC unit and a mini-split is usually about the same. However, mini-splits don’t have issues with energy waste due to leaky ductwork like most central HVAC systems do. All this being said, mini-splits still aren’t always the best option, so we will look at the different factors you should consider when determining whether a mini-split or a central HVAC system is the better choice.
Installation Cost and Space Requirements
A central HVAC system will always take up more room and be more expensive and time-consuming to install. Trying to install a central HVAC system in an existing home that doesn’t already have ductwork could be a nightmare and involve some serious construction and renovations. As such, you would be better off choosing a mini-split if your home doesn’t have an existing central HVAC system.
Installing a mini-split is fairly simple, and the entire process can usually be done in just a day or two, depending on how many total air handlers you need. After mounting the mini-split heat pump outside, the technician only needs to cut a small hole in the exterior wall where each air handler unit will be mounted. This hole is used to run the refrigerant lines between the indoor and outdoor units and also the condensate drain tube so that the air handler can drain outside.
On the other hand, if your home does have a central HVAC system, then there are only a few situations where installing a mini-split would make sense. For instance, a mini-split can be a good choice if you’re adding to your home, as it can heat and cool the new area without decreasing the effectiveness of your central HVAC system. If you were to run ductwork to your new addition and connect it to your central HVAC system, you would usually need to upgrade to larger central HVAC units to ensure the system still heats and cools effectively. This is important to consider, as installing new HVAC units and new ductwork will usually add much more to the project’s total cost than installing a mini-split.
Mini-splits are also ideal for areas like garages and other rooms not connected to the central HVAC system. They can also be a great choice if you have rooms that always stay too hot or cold and you need to supplement the heating and cooling in that area.
New Construction Projects
If you plan on building a new home, we recommend installing a central HVAC system. Even though it will take up more room due to the ductwork, a central HVAC system will still heat and cool your home more effectively. We would also almost always recommend opting for a heat pump instead of a furnace and air conditioner, as heat pumps can heat and cool as a mini-split can.
Part of the reason for this is that mini-splits can be quite expensive. If you’re looking to heat and cool an entire home with a mini-split system, the system will usually cost a few thousand dollars more than a new heat pump. Depending on the size of the home, you may also need to install two mini-split systems, as these systems do have some specific limitations.
Mini-Split Advantages and Drawbacks
The biggest advantage of a mini-split is the ease of installation, which is why they are generally always the better choice if your home doesn’t have an existing central HVAC system. Another major benefit of a mini-split system is that each air handler has its own independent temperature controls. This lets you set different temperatures for each room without affecting the rest of the building. However, you can do the same thing with a central HVAC system by installing a zoning system and multiple thermostats to adjust the temperature for different areas independently.
One issue with mini-splits is that you are usually somewhat limited by where each air handler can be mounted. A mini-split can also only accommodate a certain number of air handlers, usually between four and eight, depending on the size of the system. Both of these reasons help to explain why it is often necessary to have two or more mini-splits if you want to heat and cool the entire home.
The mini-split heat pump is only so powerful and can only pump the refrigerant for a certain distance. This means that each air handler must typically be no further than 50 to 150 feet from the outdoor unit, depending on its power. This typically isn’t as big of an issue for multi-story homes, but it can create problems if you have a single-level home that is much more spread out, as you will often need separate systems installed on each side of the house.
Another issue to consider is that mini-splits don’t always provide as much heating in cold weather and will occasionally need to defrost. When the unit does defrost, you will be stuck without heat until the cycle finishes and the system starts heating again. This typically isn’t a major issue in Texas since the weather rarely gets below freezing, but it is still something to consider.
Central heat pumps also need to defrost occasionally in freezing weather. However, you won’t be left without heat whenever the unit does need to defrost, unlike how it would be with a mini-split. The reason is that most heat pump systems also have a supplementary electric resistance heater that will run whenever the unit is defrosting or whenever your home is really cold and much more heat is required.
If you’re still trying to decide between a mini-split and a central HVAC system, you can count on the Blue Ribbon Cooling & Heating team for help. We install and service almost all types of HVAC units, including mini-splits, heat pumps, central ACs, and furnaces, and we also specialize in indoor air quality services. For more information or to schedule any heating or cooling service in the Bastrop area, give us a call today.