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Ductless Mini Split AC: The Pros & Cons in California

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It’s an undeniable fact that the California summers are getting hotter and hotter each year. What are people doing about it? Installing air conditioning in their homes!

You might be wondering if ductless, or mini split system air conditioning is the best choice for your living space. Lots of Californians use central air conditioning as their main source of cooling because of the existing ductwork in their structure.

Ductless AC is energy-efficient and may be the right choice for staying cool during those heat waves. Let’s discuss the benefits and drawbacks of ductless air conditioning in a climate like Central California which gets pretty toasty in the peak of summer.

What Is Ductless AC & How Does It Work?

Ductless air conditioning is a type of cooling system that doesn’t require ductwork, naturally. It delivers climate-controlled air directly into your living space from the indoor head unit.

A ductless mini split AC system has two main parts: an outdoor compressor/condenser and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, and suction tubing, links the outdoor and indoor units.

Ductless AC units are often used in homes or businesses that don’t have ductwork or only have ductwork in some areas. They can also be a good choice for adding cooling to a specific room or area of your home that doesn’t get enough airflow from your central AC system.

Air Conditioning Science

Mini split AC follows the same cooling principles as central AC. Using pressure and valves, refrigerant is passed between the outside and indoor unit. The indoor air handler contains a fan that moves air across evaporator coils containing cold refrigerant. As the air inside your home passes over these coils, heat is absorbed and sent back outdoors.

Cool air is now blown into the area where the AC head is installed. The cycle continues until the desired indoor temperature is reached. If you’re into thermodynamics, PBS has a great explainer video here.

Benefits of Ductless Mini Split AC

There is lots to like about mini split air conditioning. Trying to save energy is chief among them! Consider these positives if ductless air conditioning is on your radar.

Leading Energy Efficiency

Ductless AC systems don’t lose any cooled air through ductwork, so they tend to be more efficient than central AC systems. In fact, ductless AC systems can be up to 40% more efficient than older central air conditioning.

Metal ducts expand and contract over time with seasonal temperature changes. Eventually this can lead to cracks and seams where cool air is lost during operation. Ductless AC doesn’t need to generate as much blowing power either, since the cool air is being disbursed directly into an adjacent living area.

You’re also only cooling the areas you want to. So cool air is never being blown into parts of your home that aren’t in use, needlessly cooling a room.

If you’re thinking of replacing your entire HVAC system with a heat pump, there are rebate programs available that incentivize energy-efficiency. Heat pumps can heat and cool your home, and are worth considering if your furnace is due for replacement. Learn more about heat pumps here.

It’s a Scalable Cooling System

Need only 1 room cooled, great! Want to keep multiple parts of your home chilly—no problem! The limitations of your cooling is dependent on the number of inside units, or AC heads, that your ductless system has.

This makes it easy to scale your cooling system to whatever capacity you need. If you’ve got a home addition that isn’t ducted into your central AC, then a single head might do the trick. But if your entire top floor gets warm in the Cali evenings, you can install a head in each bedroom.

Heads can be added as does your want for cool air. Or as your budget sees fit. So you can install ductless AC in the places that need it most and add indoor units later down the road.

Versatile Climate Control

A ductless AC system with several indoor units is called multi-split ductless air conditioning. A single condenser (or outdoor unit) can pair with multiple indoor units to supply cool, on-demand air to multiple areas of your home. This is also referred to as multi-head split system AC.

In most cases, 1 outdoor condensing unit can power up to 5 indoor heads. Or in other words, 1 ductless AC outdoor unit can cool up to 5 rooms in your home.

Multiple indoor AC heads allow you to cool each part of your home individually. So there’s a lot of versatility in what part of your space you want cooled and it’s easy to vary temperatures between indoor units. Each unit is controlled individually.

A ductless mini split AC system gives you way more cooling versatility compared to central ducted air conditioning, even compared to multi-zone central AC.

Can Install Almost Anywhere

Not every California architect was thinking about HVAC ducts when they designed a home. Some parts of a house just aren’t duct-friendly. For some homeowners, it’s either totally impractical or way too expensive to add ductwork to certain areas of their living space.

Ductless AC is here to save the day! Because mini splits can be installed almost anywhere, there are a lot of options when choosing where exactly you want cool air. As long as there is a flat space for the outdoor unit to sit (custom pads can be installed), it’s usually possible to add AC to any room.

Quiet Cooling

Ductless AC units typically operate at around 25 decibels, which is about as loud as a whisper. No whirring, humming, or grinding to interrupt dinner conversation or keep your little ones up at night.

Even though indoor heads from a mini split system are mounted right onto the walls or ceilings of your interior, the sound of operation shouldn’t ever be noticed beyond a very subtle hum.

Drawbacks of Ductless Mini Split AC

There are a few potential drawbacks to ductless air conditioning that you should keep in mind. For some homeowners, a mini split air conditioner just isn’t the best choice. These factors may deter you from going ductless.

Higher Initial Installation Cost

Ductless AC units can be more expensive to purchase and install than central AC units. Part of the reason is that a central air conditioner can piggyback on a lot of the work already done for your furnace. Central AC can use an existing pass-through to connect the indoor and outdoor units. And existing ducts channel cool air to living areas.

If you’re targeting a multi-split ductless AC system, the chances are it will be more expensive than a central unit if your home has existing ductwork. To cool just a single room, it’s worth speaking with your HVAC specialist and getting some product/price comparisons.

However, ductless AC units are almost always more energy-efficient, so they can save you money on your energy bills in the long run. Not to mention that most homeowners converting to heat pumps (which also cool your home) are eligible for rebates in California.

Visible Indoor Units

While ductless AC manufacturers are certainly evolving modern, sleek designs that fit in with contemporary indoor styling, there will be mounted head units in the rooms that require AC.

You may opt for concealed bulkhead installation, which hides the indoor head within your ceiling. But this is not always available and a more expensive install.

Our AC specialists will always help you select a mounting location that minimizes the aesthetic impact but also functions to cool your space efficiently. In certain rooms, it may be impossible to “hide” your ductless indoor unit. But after some time, your new cooling accessory may just become part of the atmosphere!

Bottom line: because ductless AC units are installed directly in the room being cooled, they are visible. Some people don’t mind the look of the indoor unit, but others may prefer the hidden ductwork of a central AC system.

Not Great in Super Hot Weather

Let’s be clear, the actual cooling capabilities of a ductless mini split air conditioner are the exact same as a central air conditioner. They remove heat using the same principles and could have identical components.

Ductless AC has fewer cooling points than a traditional home with vented ducts. Generally, a ducted home should have at least 1 air vent for every 100 square feet, which means multiple sources of cool air for each bedroom or living room.

A mini split system may struggle to keep up when the temperature outside is really hot. We’re looking at you, Fresno in July! If your home has a ton of windows (without drapes or blinds) or most of your windows face south, a single indoor ductless AC head may not be enough in the dead of the California summer.

But remember, you can always opt for a multi-split ductless installation.

Is Ductless Air Conditioning Right For You?

Ductless air conditioning is a great choice for many homes and businesses in California. If you’re looking for an energy-efficient way to cool your home or business, ductless AC could be the perfect solution.

If you don’t yet have air conditioning or have recently added some indoor space to your structure, ask yourself a few questions to decide if ductless mini split AC is the right choice:

  • Do you have existing ductwork in your home or business?
  • Are you looking for a more energy-efficient cooling system?
  • Do you need to cool a specific area or room or your entire home or business?

As the temperatures in California rise year after year, one thing is becoming more true than ever—the open windows approach just doesn’t cut it! Ductless air conditioning is a popular choice for energy conscious consumers and homeowners that only truly need cooling in specific places.

Whatever your choice, Lee’s Air, Plumbing, & Heating is the team to call for warrantied, expert installation of air conditioners in California. We’ll help you weigh the pros and cons and make the best decision for staying cool in Cali.

Written by Thomas Howard

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