Even in mid-Michigan, ductless air conditioners continue to grow in popularity. When you have the option of a central air conditioner versus a ductless system, it can be difficult to decide. Discover how ductless air conditioners work, their benefits, and the few drawbacks you’ll encounter.

Understanding Common Central Air Conditioning

Before you can understand how a ductless air conditioner works, it’s important to understand central air conditioning. For all air conditioners, the system absorbs heat from the air circulating through the system. This cools the air down, and then it gets pushed back out into your home.

The system uses refrigerant to absorb the heat. To continue making the system work, it then must expel the heat outside. This is possible by increasing the refrigerant’s temperature outside while lowering the pressure inside.

To evenly cool your home, a central air conditioner uses a single circulating fan to push the air out. Your system has a series of supply vents and air returns that create positive and negative air pressures. This pressure difference creates the circulation needed to keep your home at an even temperature.

In advanced systems, you’ll have multiple zones in your home to control the temperature more effectively. These use different thermostats throughout your home, with a series of dampers that open and close to control where the air goes.

What Is a Ductless System?

A ductless air conditioner is like a central air conditioner in that it absorbs heat inside and pushes it outside. It also does this by utilizing the same refrigerant regulation as a central air system. However, this is where the similarities stop.

Unlike a central system, ductless systems cool a single room rather than your entire home. They accomplish this by using air handlers in the rooms throughout your home. If your home is small, you may only need a single air handler. However, most homes will likely need multiple air handlers to maintain an even temperature throughout your house.

Multiple air handlers also create zones throughout your home, but without modifying your system in any way. Each zone has its own air handler, allowing it to keep the area at just the temperature you need. This also makes it much easier to keep one area cooler or warmer if that’s what’s required.

Ductless systems can run multiple air handlers from a single outside compressor. Depending on your model, one condensing unit may handle up to eight different air handlers. If you have a large home, you may need more than one outside compressor.

How Many Mini Splits Do You Need?

Ductless air handlers circulate less air than central air systems. The trick becomes determining how many you’ll need to cool your home effectively. Installing a single air handler is akin to trying to cool your entire home from a single window air conditioner.

If you search online, you’ll likely see recommendations that you have an air handler in every room of your home. This may be a good recommendation if you have large rooms, but that may not be necessary.

You’ll likely need individual air handlers in the larger living areas. If you have a very large living space, you may need two air handlers to cool the room evenly. When it comes to bedrooms, offices, or smaller rooms, you’ll need to consider how closely you want to regulate the temperature.

Part of the consideration is how well the air flows throughout your system. A ductless system draws warm air in and pushes cool air out at nearly the same place. Without the use of fans, your home may not have as much circulation as it would with a central air system.

That’s why it’s important to have enough air handlers installed throughout your home. Fortunately, HVAC professionals can easily evaluate your space and help you determine not only how many air handlers you’ll need, but where to install them.

What Size Ductless System Do You Need?

In addition to the number of air handlers required, you’ll have to evaluate the size system that will serve your home efficiently. Generally, the larger your home, the more capacity you’ll need. With a central air system, you only have one size for the entire system.

However, with a mini-split system, there’s the size of the air handlers in your home plus the size of the condensing unit outside. The condensing unit must be large enough to handle the space served by all the air handlers. Each air handler must offer enough capacity to serve the space in the zone.

When discussing size, this doesn’t mean the amount of space the air handler occupies on your wall. Rather, it’s the cooling capacity, which is measured in British Thermal Units, or BTUs. It’s important to get the right size system to avoid excessive utility bills or system strain.

Benefits of a Ductless Air Conditioner?

Like any system, you can expect both benefits and drawbacks from a ductless air conditioner. Consider these four benefits when you install a ductless system in your home.

First, as mentioned previously, you’ll enjoy zones throughout your home to tightly control the temperature. These individual zones not only give you the temperature you’re looking for but help to save your utility expenses.

Lower utility bills are the second benefit you’ll enjoy. These savings come in two forms, the first being that the system only cools the areas that are too warm. The second is that there are no ducts that can warm up the air on the way to its destination. Ducts account for about 20-30% energy loss.

Ductless air conditioners are also scalable. If you add a sunroom to your home, you can easily add an air handler if the condensing unit can also handle the addition.

Ductless systems use inverter compressors to adjust what’s needed based on the demands of the system. Since it’s not just an on-or-off system, this further improves your efficiency,.

Drawbacks of a Ductless AC

There are several drawbacks to consider as you explore the ductless option. First, expect to pay more to install the system than you would for a central air conditioner. Of course, that’s only if you already have ducts installed. A ductless system runs about 30% more than a similarly sized central system. Installing ductwork is a separate expense.

Ductless systems require a little more maintenance than a central air conditioner does. Both require seasonal maintenance; however, a ductless system requires that you clean the air filter monthly to keep it operating optimally. With a central system, you may not have to change the air filter for two or three months.

Then there’s how it looks in the room where the air handler is installed. A central system hides the air handler in a closet or basement whereas an air handler in a ductless system is in the open. If this is a concern for you, there are recessed options you can explore as an upgrade to your system.

People around Grand Rapids, Portage, and Three Rivers have turned to Bel-Aire Heating & Cooling to keep their homes cool since 1961. Our expert technicians provide heating and cooling installation, repairs, and maintenance combined with indoor air quality solutions and energy audits. Call to schedule your ductless air conditioning consultation with one of our installation experts today.

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