The popularity of wall mounted mini split air conditioners around the world is evidence that ductless equipment is here to stay. The United States has jumped on board and contractors and consumers keep finding new and ingenious ways of using ductless equipment.
Following is a list of benefits for using ductless air conditioning equipment:
Cost: A competitive United States ductless market has helped drive prices down and efficiency up. You can call your local contractor or go online and find excellent pricing on ductless equipment. You can find mini split units for less than $1,000.00 and many cities offer rebates for high-efficiency air conditioners.
Installation: Installation of ductless equipment is very clean and easy. Most ductless mini split air conditioners only require a 3 inch hole in the wall to run all the needed refrigerant line sets and electrical wiring. Most contractors can fully complete the job in less than 4 hours, if the outdoor condenser shares the same wall with the indoor evaporator.
Space Requirement: Many older homes, cabins and additions were not built with central air conditioning in mind and do not have adequate space for ductwork. Wall mounted mini split air conditioners negate the need for added ductwork. Refrigerant line sets and wiring can easily run through attics, walls and ceilings to connect with the outdoor condenser.
Efficiency: Ductless split systems have become increasingly more efficient since United States minimum requirements rose to 13 SEER. It is not uncommon to find ductless equipment exceeding 20 SEER. Many ductwork systems lose more than 15 percent of the conditioned air through leaks and cracks.
Zone Control: Many mini split owners already have an existing central air conditioner system in their home. Smaller central air conditioners and older equipment are expensive to replace and many consumers have purchased mini split air conditioners to cool areas that their existing systems can not handle. Mini split air conditioners have the ability to cool any area or zone in a building. Why keep your central air conditioner at 65° F to cool your sunroom or upper level to 75°F? Installing a mini split unit in these areas is an efficient solution.
Heating Capabilities: Many ductless mini split systems offer either heat pump or electric heat functions. This is an excellent added feature for areas that require heat during the year and either do not have a furnace or the furnace is not capable of adequately warming the area.
Pre-Charged Ductless Air Conditioners
Do not get fooled by companies selling pre-charged air conditioners. Over the past few years I have received many questions about purchasing pre-charged mini split air conditioners. There are some companies that advertise that their compressors within the condenser are pre-charged with refrigerant. This is a true statement. Every manufacturer I know installs compressors that are pre-charged with refrigerant. This does not mean that you can hook up a copper line set and the equipment will operate properly. Pre-charged compressors usually have approximately 13 to 16 feet of refrigerant. No matter what length line set you use, the refrigerant amount will have to be regulated and charged to ensure proper pressure settings. A professional HVAC installer will have to hook up gauges and increase or reduce refrigerant for proper operation. If refrigerant pressures are not within recommended levels, problems will ensue.
Also, before a refrigerant line set is charged, it will need to be vacuumed of any contamination that may have entered. This is also done by a professional HVAC installer. Finally, remember that warranties are void if mini split air conditioners are not charged by a HVAC professional. To date there is only one system that is pre-charged with refrigerant and can be connected without the use of a HVAC professional, the AmericAire DIY system.
The AmericAire ACEDIY12HP110/ACCDIY12HP110 has a pre-charged compressor and line set that is already connected to the indoor evaporator. The system is vacuumed and charged at the warehouse and built with special quick-lock connecting fittings. This fitting locks into place at the outdoor condenser and charges the entire unit for 25 feet of stainless steel line set. The special stainless steel line set is made special to help prevent leaks that can occur with copper lines. If you need to have a line set longer than 25 feet, the AmericAire DIY system is not recommended. It is a great system and you can check out its specifications at this link.
Compare Mini Splits and Central Air Conditioners
Many consumers are weighing the pros and cons between mini split air conditioners and central air conditioners. I will try to lay out the major differences between the two systems and try to help you make the right decision for your home or office.
Space Requirements: I am going to break this down into two sections: Square feet to be cooled and Ceiling Height.
If you need an air conditioner to cool multiple rooms in a large area, I would recommend a central air conditioner. Mini split systems are great to cool areas and additions. They generally max out at 1,200 square feet. The cool air expelled by a mini split air conditioner can only reach areas of your home that are not closed off. If you have multiple rooms with doors, it will be very difficult for them to be cooled by a mini split system. You can purchase mini split systems with dual or multiple indoor evaporators, but the cost is driven up considerably. Single rooms and additions better suit mini split applications.
Ceiling height is the other variable that you need to consider when choosing between the two styles of air conditioners. A central air conditioner requires ductwork to distribute the air to each desired area. Standard ductwork requires approximately 12 inches of height for installation. Many older homes and basements do not have enough ceiling height to comfortably fit the additional ductwork. In these cases a ductless mini split air conditioner would be ideal.
Efficiency: Both the central air and mini split air conditioners have high-efficiency standards. In fact they were placed in the same split system certification. Make sure to check SEER ratings when purchasing your air conditioner. The higher the SEER the more efficient the unit. Currently 13 SEER is the minimum for the United States.
Central air conditioners lose efficiency with long duct runs, leaks and extra registers. If you are trying to cool your sunroom to 72° F you may have to lower your thermostat for the whole house to 65° F. This is not a very efficient way to cool an area. In this case an additional mini split air conditioner would be an excellent solution.
Price: Of course price is usually the biggest concern for consumers when deciding between a central air conditioner and a ductless mini split. Central air conditioners and large mini split air conditioners are very similar in price for the equipment. A major difference is that consumers can shop online for a ductless air conditioner, but by law they have to buy a central air conditioner from a contractor. This gives the consumer the ability to shop and save on equipment online.
The addition of ductwork and the increased labor really adds to the central air conditioners final price. The more ductwork that needs to be run, the more money it will cost for installation. You save this money with the purchase of a ductless mini split air conditioner. Ductless air conditioners can be installed professionally between $300 and $900 (depending on how far the outdoor unit sits from the indoor unit), and if you are able to do some of the basic labor. Both units require the addition of electricity, so make sure to find an installer that can work with both HVAC and electricity.
How to Find a Ductless Mini Split Installer?
So you have made the decision to purchase a mini split air conditioner, and now it is time to figure out how to install the equipment. There is some basic information that you will need to know before you flop open the five pounds of yellow pages. First thing you should do is have a good idea of where you want to mount the evaporator or indoor portion of the ductless mini split.
Wall mounted air conditioners attach to a bracket about 10 inches below the ceiling. This high installation lets the air flow downward in the room. All the wiring and lines will run out the back of the unit so find a place that has enough room to hold the minimum dimensions of the evaporator.
Find a nice flat area near the exterior of the building to house the outdoor condenser. A cement slab is ideal for a mini split air conditioner or purchase a plastic pad approximately 24 inches x 36 inches to place on a level surface.
Keep it legal and make sure to pull the appropriate permits. Mini split air conditioners are hard wired into your fuse box, so you will need an Electrical Permit along with a HVAC Permit. Electrical permits on average are $40.00 and HVAC permits are approximately $75.00. Contact your local city hall for more information. Many times the installer you find will pull the permit for you, but to be safe I always pull them myself.
Time to make the call to find your friendly local contractor to do the dirty work. I no longer receive the yellow pages which is a shame because it worked as a great booster chair for my daughter! The best way I have found is to go online and search the yellow pages. I use www.yellowbook.com but there are many directories to choose from online.
Type in -Air Conditioner Contractors- into the Product / Service box and your city and state into the Location field. Most likely you will not find anything that resembles the terms ductless air conditioner or wall mounted mini split air conditioner, but trust me 80% of all residential contractors have installed a mini split air conditioner.
I like to use mom and pop companies because it seems I receive better pricing from smaller companies; Jays Heating and Cooling and such. If you have already picked out the brand and style of wall mounted air conditioner, you will have to supply the contractor with some basic information before they come to your home.
5 Things to Know Before Contacting a Contractor:
1. Brand: They usually like to know the brand of the equipment, but it will not make a difference because 99% of the equipment is installed the same way.
2. Size: Speak in btu. (British Thermal Units) to help them understand the appropriate unit size. Example: 12,000 btu. = 1 ton or approximately 450 - 600 s.f..
3. Power Requirement: Does your unit require a 110 volt line or 220 volt line. Make sure to read the specifications beforehand or have them handy.
4. Type of Refrigerant: Does the unit use R22 or R410A refrigerant? They will need to know this to have extra refrigerant and the proper gauges on hand when charging your system.
5. Length of the Run: Have a general idea of how far the indoor evaporator will be from the outdoor condenser. The farther away the two units are, the more expensive it will be to install. Longer refrigerant line-sets require more refrigerant.
Many of the contractors that install mini split air conditioners will be able to do both the electrical and HVAC portions. Make sure to have a spot available for a dual pole circuit breaker in your electrical box. I ran into this problem when I was installing my own ductless air conditioner.
Check the breaker size in the specifications of your mini split air conditioner to find out the amp size needed to run the equipment. Most single mini split systems use a 15 or 20 amp circuit breaker. Make sure that the new air conditioner runs on its own circuit breaker.