Are Mini-Splits an Energy-Efficient Option?

Ductless mini-splits have become more prevalent in Charlotte, NC over the past few years, and there is a good reason for this increase in popularity. They are among today’s most energy-efficient and comfortable heating and cooling systems. Homeowners and business owners looking to invest in ductless mini-splits may question their efficiency and benefits. This guide is designed to address some of these.

How Does a Ductless Mini-Split System Work?

Simply put, a ductless air conditioning system links an indoor unit to an outdoor compressor. The indoor unit has evaporator coils, which are cooled with refrigerant. The warm air is pulled from the room and blown over the coils. The heat from the warm air is transferred outdoors by the refrigerant.

Unlike a central indoor unit connected by ductwork to transport the cold or warm air back and forth, a mini-split has a small unit in each room. The warm air is sucked in from the room, and the heat is transferred outside. Mini-splits are popular because they require a less intrusive installation, can be designed to match the room’s decor, are quiet to operate, and are energy efficient.

A mini-split connects a network of indoor units to one or two outdoor compressors. The outdoor compressor receives all the warm air from the different units installed in the house. Once the central outdoor unit is installed, homeowners and business owners can select various indoor unit options, including ceiling registers, floor mount options, or ceiling recess options, to match the look of the room and the needs of the building’s occupants.

Benefits of a Ductless System

One of the key benefits of a ductless mini-split is its ease of installation. A home that does not have existing ductwork requires the installation of new and expensive ductwork. Another benefit is integrated zoning. This means that homeowners can control the temperature in each room. Mini-splits operate using heat pumps. This means that if the flow of the refrigerant is reversed, a mini-split can heat or cool a space.

Part of the energy efficiency of mini-splits comes from the fact that they don’t lose air through leaks in ductwork. A traditional central air conditioning system can lose up to 30% of its energy through ductwork. Additionally, inverter compressors adjust to the needs of the system as opposed to shutting down entirely. This adds another layer of energy efficiency.

Are Mini-Splits More Energy Efficient Than Central AC?

Ductless mini-splits often surpass their central HAVC counterparts’ energy efficiency by possessing a higher SEER rating. In the HVAC industry, SEER stands for “seasonal energy efficiency ratio.” It evaluates the system’s cooling output over the average season and divides that by the total energy used. In its simplest form, the SEER represents the energy and money a unit needs to function over the year.

The concept is relatively simple. The unit attains a higher SEER rating by using less energy to produce the right amount of cooling. The SEER ratio refers to the unit’s maximum efficiency. Understanding it is akin to comparing the miles per gallon a vehicle achieves when running at its best. For example, a car might get 30 miles to the gallon on the highway but significantly less in the city. The same principle applies to an AC unit. For example, a SEER rating of 21 represents a particular unit’s maximum efficiency.

Why SEER Rating Matters When Discussing Mini-Split Efficiency

When discussing mini-split efficiency, the SEER rating matters significantly. Traditional air conditioners built 15 years ago typically had SEER ratings between 8 and 10. The SEER rating typically appears on the yellow and black energy guide sticker found on the outdoor unit. Modern ductless mini-split systems can have SEER ratings of 30 or more based on the brand or model. However, it’s more common for them to have an SEER rating of 20 or so. Most modern central air conditioners have SEER ratings between 13 and 14. Some high-end models may reach a rating of 20 or higher.

A 13-SEER system and a 20-SEER system can cool your home at a set temperature. However, the 20-SEER system can accomplish this more efficiently if installed correctly. With a higher SEER rating, the mini-split cooling system can enhance your home’s comfort. This results in lower energy costs, improved quality cooling, and enhanced efficiency.

Create Cooling Zones

Creating cooling zones is another advantage of mini-splits over central air systems. Central forced-air systems typically include one outdoor air conditioner or heat pump unit and one indoor unit — usually a combustion furnace or electric fan coil. The cooled air travels through your home via a network of ducts. However, the cold air loses some energy as it travels to the ductwork, making the system work less efficiently. Poor unit installation or leaky ductwork can lead to even more energy loss. Central air systems aim to provide temperature control for the entire house regardless of how many rooms are occupied. This often results in cooling rooms that are not in use.

Mini-splits counter this by allowing you to create zones within your home on different temperature schedules. This is possible because you have a separate indoor unit for every area that needs cooling or heating. The indoor unit is mounted on a wall, ceiling, or floor. If you only need to cool or heat one room, you turn on the indoor unit. Regardless of the number of indoor units installed, each one delivers precision cooling directly to the room where it is installed, eliminating energy loss through ductwork.

Ductless outdoor units typically have an inverter-controlled variable-speed compressor. The inverter can adjust operations, providing the exact heating or cooling needed to keep your home comfortable. Without inverter technology or variable-speed capabilities, your air conditioning system must cycle at total capacity regardless of the required output. Inverter technology, a higher SEER rating, and the ability to provide zone cooling are just a few reasons why mini-splits are more efficient than traditional central air conditioning units.

Situations in Which Mini-Splits Maximize Energy Efficiency

Depending on how your home was built, ductless systems can be used in various applications to help maximize energy efficiency. In a new addition or garage apartment, a ductless system has a clear advantage. In these cases, the ductless unit is appropriately sized for the new space, and it won’t steal air from other rooms or overload an old HVAC system.

Another mini-split scenario is if you’re looking to downsize HVAC use in a larger home. For example, empty nesters may have a larger home with several empty rooms. While closing HVAC grilles in vacant rooms can slightly minimize energy use, it often creates pressure imbalances and mold problems. In these circumstances, it is better to install a ductless system in the most-used rooms and only use the central air on rare occasions when necessary.

Trust Our Experts For HVAC Services in Charlotte and the Surrounding Area

At Integrity Heating & Cooling, we have provided remarkable comfort solutions for over 35 years. Your family’s comfort is our primary concern. Our technicians are NATE certified. We have a list of loyal customers, offer affordable products and services, and have a large service area. Our services include HVAC repair, replacement, and maintenance. We offer indoor air quality testing as well as commercial HVAC services. We can install or repair mini-splits, humidifiers, and geothermal systems.

Contact Integrity Heating & Cooling today and see why we’ve been trusted to keep the greater Charlotte area comfortable for over 35 years.

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