One of the newest technologies to hit the U.S. HVAC market in recent years is the mini-split air conditioner. These systems have been popular in Europe and Asia for years, but have just started to gain a lot of interest in our country. Traditionally used for climate control in small spaces, mini-split systems offer energy efficient cooling that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, and the units are much better looking than the portable units that hang out of windows.
But did you know that mini-split systems can provide heating as well? Much like the traditional large and bulky heat pumps we see in backyards, mini-split systems operate on the same principle of heat transfer, just on a smaller scale. They are a great option for heating homes and apartment in certain situations. Keep reading to learn more about this promising technology.
What is a Mini-Split System?
A mini-split system is like a mini traditional air conditioner without the ductwork. You have probably seen these systems when out and about and not even noticed them, as they’re very unobtrusive. Like a traditional air conditioning system, there is an indoor and outdoor component – the outdoor component contains the compressor, while the indoor component is the air handler. These two connect via tubing that requires only a small hole cut into the wall of your home.
These systems do not have ductwork, which means that an air handler is installed in every room in the home that requires climate control. While this may seem complicated, it becomes very convenient for those living with the system because each air handler is controlled individually. So, if one person wants their room to be 72° F but another prefers a balmy 80° F, a mini-split system makes that possible.
It Can Heat Too? How?
Not too long ago we wrote a blog post, Get to Know: Heat Pumps. This post has a full run-down of what a heat pump is and how it helps to keep your home warm in winter. In a nutshell, though, air conditioners can sometimes run in reverse – the roles of the condenser and evaporator coils can be switched to pull warmth out of the air, then use that warmth to heat the air that will eventually blow into your house.
You may wonder how this can happen on such a small scale. Mini-split units look tiny compared to the traditional air conditioners and heat pumps that we’re used to seeing in our homes. The answer is that, while they’re extremely efficient, they also don’t have to work quite so hard to blow air through ductwork. The air is released into your home very close to where the heating and cooling is taking place, which means less power is required to meet the necessary climate needs for your room.
They’re Only Good for Mild Climates, Right?
When it comes to traditional heat pumps, they are only efficient in climates that do not experience extended periods of frigid weather. They work best in temperatures about 40° F, as they need the air to have some warmth to make the heat transfer process work. This is fine in Alabama, but for other parts of the country, it means heating pumps aren’t a fantastic choice for winter climate control.
With mini-split systems, however, not every system needs a mild climate to work properly. In fact, many systems are now capable of heating the air even if outdoor temperatures drop to a very low level. There is at least one mini-split system out there capable of heating down to -13° F!
If you are considering a mini-split system for heating and are worried about efficiency during colder months, the best thing to do is shop around. There are so many systems available that can meet a range of needs – you’re certain to find one that will work for your situation. Unless you live in Antarctica, in which case a furnace may be a better option.
Why Are They a Good Option for Heating?
Mini-split systems are becoming more and more popular mainly because of their flexibility. For families who live in small spaces, or for those who are in older homes that cannot be easily fitted with ductwork, mini-split systems can efficiently heat and cool their homes without being obtrusive. They are installed high on a wall, close to the ceiling, where most people don’t even notice them. Installation only requires a small hole to be made to the outdoor portion of the unit, so it is a low-maintenance process that won’t involve tearing down the ceiling or placing ductwork in awkward places.
They are also a great option for spaces that have been added as part of a renovation or for separate areas like a garage or workshop. Having a mini-split system would eliminate the need to use something like a space heater or a window unit to provide a comfortable environment.
If you’re interested in learning more about how a mini-split system might work for you, give us a call at (205) 871-8111. We’re happy to help answer your questions and find a solution that fits your home and lifestyle!