NJ AIR QUALITY BLOG

Are Mini Split HVAC Systems Good For Your Home’s Air Quality?

ByMarc Silberberg

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So, you want to install central air conditioning in your home. You are sick and tired of individual units cooling your home unevenly. You have even put away a substantial amount of funds in the bank for this major renovation. Have you thought of any of the drawbacks of central air? Yes, it is fairly even cooling at most, however, from my own personal experience, not every room is equally cooled.

Every detached home has different sides and I call themoutdoor zones. This means that the sun is stronger on certain sides of the house. We all like a sunny room in the winter and skylights are great for bringing in the sun on a cold wintry day. These same sunny rooms are quite difficult to keep cool in the summer even with the shades drawn shut.

Another issue that I have personally witnessed as a teenager growing up in an old house where central air conditioning was installed was the lack of closet space caused by duct installations. Where would you put those air conditioning ducts so that they are out of sight and don’t cause eyesores in each room? At the time of installation, which was quite a few years ago, closets were not built that large and neither were the rooms so there was little hope in extending or building additional closets. Decreasing the size of the closets was the only way to install central air in the home.

When I was privileged to build my own home, I did not have that issue since the ducts were built invisibly into the walls. However, we were excited about having an attic where we could stand up and store unneeded items. Well, try walking around an attic with air conditioner ducts all over the floor. Additionally, one the large units is in the attic as well and if the water pan overflows then you get a leak coming down into the sleeping areas or closets depending on where the unit is located.

What is a Ductless Mini Split Unit?

A ductless mini split system uses an individual evaporator and fan for each individual room or zone. They are quieter than individual conventional window units but not as soundless as central air where you only hear the sound coming from the central unit. This is due to the fact that cold air is produced at a single point and then circulates the air via the large ducts through the home.

What are the Advantages of a Mini Split System?

Looking to install a new or additional air/heating system in your present residence? Mini split ductless heating and cooling systems could be your answer. Unlike the traditional central air systems, a ductless system does not require the installation of ductwork. It produces both cooling and heating for the zone or room in which it’s installed. The reason this system is referred to as “ductless split systems” is because it consists of two parts.

Outside the home, there is a condensing unit that operates outside like a traditional air conditioning unit. The second part, “the head” is the indoor air handling unit. Usually, the indoor heads are mounted on the top of the wall and then are connected to the outdoor compressor. There are various other models as well depending on the homeowners taste and the likelihood that these variants will fit the home. Some examples are ceiling cassettes which are recessed ceiling units, floor mounted units which allow for fast warm up or cooling, and horizontal- ducted units which can be hidden either below the floor or above the ceiling.

1) The overall cost saving for homeowners with a mini split system can be substantial. Since utility costs have skyrocketed recently across the country monthly electric bills can quickly climb to out-of-control levels. These systems use less power since they are smaller than traditional HVAC systems and the cool or heated air is delivered directly to the zone or room.

2) You only have to cool the room or zone that you desire so if you have a part of your home that you are not using, for example the basement you will not be using needless energy and basements do not retain heat that much in the summer.

3) Similar to solar energy, homeowners can be entitled to utility rebates or tax credits for the year of installation of their ductless system. Homeowners and businesses may also qualify for government programs which include this system.

4) If you decide towards summer that you would like to install a central air conditioning system it would take at least the whole summer and by the time it’s installed you may already be ready to turn on your heat. That’s what happens to last minute pool enthusiasts who could more simply install an above ground pool. Some systems, depending on the number of units needed, can be installed in one day.

5) Ductless systems use a refrigerant called R410A which has a zero-ozone depletion risk meaning it is safe for the environment. So those green friendly folks can feel happy that they are doing something good for the atmosphere while upgrading their heating and cooling comfort zone.

6) A mini split system reduces total carbon output since they are so energy efficient, going beyond the minimum government standards set forth by the ENERGY STAR guidelines.

7) Many mini split units (including Mitsubishi) have washable filters that can be cleaned or replaced regularly. This reduces duct cleaning on a regular basis eliminating pollen, allergens, dust, and bacteria. Some business or homeowners may still choose to call a reliable local duct cleaning company to maintain these units.

What are the Disadvantages of a Mini Split System?

1) No outside air is ventilated into a ductless system. In a central air conditioning system, outside air is brought into the central site and then dispersed throughout the home.

2) Central air conditioning systems have the benefit of additions such as humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and air purifying and cleaning systems. With the mini split system, there is zero ductwork to distribute the air throughout the entire home or office.

3) If the homeowner is starting from scratch and trying to cool/heat their entire home with a ductless system it can end up being more costly than the regular central air system because each outdoor and indoor terminal is quite costly individually. According to the department of energy, such a system ranges between $1500 to $2000 per ton (12,000 BTU hour) and may cost twice as much as window units with similar functions.

Final Words

There are several great options today when it comes to heating and cooling the home or office. Individual units work fine in small apartments especially for residents who work all day and want to keep their electric costs down. New and more efficient units are constantly coming on the market which can be both good and bad for the resident. Good because if you are on the lookout for a new unit after your initial cost you will end up with saving money. Bad, because in order to get more efficiency you will be tempted to trash a good unit for a better one. Also, you have to be from the old school to be able to come in from a hot commute home from the office and walk into a hot apartment and then turn on your individual unit. Most people today are used to walking into a cooled home.

The newer mini split units have become quite popular as a quick fix for a too warm in the summer and too cool in the winter residence. They can take only one day to install and get working. However, many of the units do intrude on the decor of a room. For example, today’s kitchens are very sleek and bare and seeing a large mini split unit on the wall interrupts the perfectly serene decor. Homeowners can look into the ceiling or floor units to dispel the decor interruption.

The ease or complication of installing different types of systems depends on the age of the home. Steam heating was standard in homes from before the 1950’s through the 80’s and those homes may not have ductwork. Hot water baseboard heating popular in the 70’s and 80’s as well did not have ductwork and those homes were often cooled with window air conditioners. Windows can’t be opened, and humidity does not get removed efficiently and some homeowners chose to remove the units for the winter to keep out the drafts. Mini split units are certainly a step up from these old-timers.

Central air conditioning is probably still the most desired of all. As long as the ducts were put in during construction or renovation, they won’t intrude on closet space; this is still probably the most luxurious way to go. Always make sure to have your ducts cleaned regularly by a licensed duct cleaning specialist who will be certain that all the dust allergens and germs are removed from the ducts and ultimately from your home. With all the crazy diseases going around today, we all want the peace of mind that at least we are safe in our homes. We are certainly lucky that we have different heating and cooling options in this day and age that cannot be taken for granted. There are still countries that are even hotter than ours that do not have such cooling and heating alternatives.

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