With summer temperatures in Denver regularly climbing well into the 90s or above, being able to adequately cool your home is a definite must. In the past, homes without central air conditioning were usually stuck using either window AC units or evaporative coolers. However, there is now a third option, and that is ductless air conditioning. Since these units haven’t been around for all that long, most people don’t know a lot about how they work. Here is a full overview of what ductless AC units are, how they work, and how they compare to other types of air conditioning.
Ductless Air Conditioning Explained
A ductless AC unit consists of two primary components, one that is mounted inside the house and one outside. This is why you’ll often see them referred to as ductless mini-splits. Outside the house is a condenser unit that functions in the same way as the condenser in a central AC system.
The condenser works in conjunction with an air handler unit inside the building to absorb heat from the air inside the structure and transfer it outside. This process functions on the principle of heat transfer. Due to the laws of physics, heat will naturally flow from a warmer area to a cooler one.
Both ductless and central AC systems cool by using an extremely cold refrigerant that absorbs excess heat from the air inside the building. The condenser’s job is to supply this refrigerant to the air handler and take heated refrigerant back outside so that the excess heat can be expelled. When the system is running, there is a constant cycle of cold refrigerant going from the condenser to the air handler and hot refrigerant flowing back from the air handler to the condenser.
Inside the air handler is a series of coils filled with cold refrigerant. When turned on, the air handler constantly draws in hot air from the room. As this hot air passes over the coils, heat naturally flows to the cold coolant, and this cools the air as it exits the air handler.
This process is the same for both ductless and central AC systems. The difference between the two is that in a central AC system, the air handler is located somewhere near the center of the building and connected to ductwork to provide cooling throughout the entire structure.
With a ductless AC unit, the air handler is usually mounted on the wall or ceiling inside a room to provide cooling to that part of the building only. In this system, the condenser is directly connected to the air handler via a conduit that contains the electrical wiring as well as refrigerant, condensate, and drain lines. In most cases, the conduit is fed into the building through a small hole in an exterior wall. Then, the air handler is mounted directly over this hole.
One of the major advantages of ductless AC systems is that they are relatively easy to install. After mounting the condenser on a concrete pad outside the building, it usually takes only a few hours to mount each air handler and connect it to the condenser. Typically, the air handlers are mounted on an exterior wall since this makes it far easier to connect to the condenser. The air handler doesn’t have to be on an exterior wall, but mounting it anywhere else will increase the time and cost of the installation.
Types of Ductless AC
Most ductless air conditioners have only one air handler, which means they can only cool one room or part of the building. However, some ductless AC systems can accommodate multiple air handlers to provide cooling for separate areas or rooms. Often referred to as ductless multi-splits or multi-zone ductless ACs, these systems can potentially cool an entire home or office depending on how large the building is and how many air handlers the system has.
A typical multi-split can usually run up to four air handlers from the same condenser unit, but some more advanced systems can incorporate eight or more air handlers. The advantage of this type of multi-zone system is that you can independently control the temperature at each air handler. Instead of needing to set your entire home for the same temperature, you can set the temperature at each air handler to be as warm or cool as you want.
As you might expect, systems with multiple air handlers tend to be quite a bit more expensive than a single zone system or even many central AC units. Still, the fact that they can potentially cool the entire building makes them a great option for any structure that doesn’t have existing ductwork. The only real limitation is that each air handler typically can’t be farther than 150 feet away from the condenser.
Many ductless mini-split systems also contain a heat pump that allows them to provide both heating and cooling. With this type of system, heat is created using a similar process as when cooling, except in reverse. Instead of drawing heat out of the building and transferring it outside, the unit takes heat from the air outside and transfers it inside. As long as the air temperature is above zero degrees, the refrigerant liquid is still able to capture some heat from the air. This process heats the refrigerant, which is then transferred to the air handler to heat the air inside the building.
Comparing Ductless Air Conditioning to Other AC Options
Generally speaking, ductless mini-splits are by far the most energy-efficient type of air conditioning available. The energy efficiency of mini-splits and central AC units is rated using the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). All AC systems are tested for energy efficiency and then assigned a SEER value based on this. The higher the SEER number, the more efficient the unit is.
As of 2022, SEER 13 is the minimum efficiency required by federal law for Colorado and all other northern states. The average central AC unit is usually around SEER 14 to SEER 16, but some go as high as SEER 27. On the other hand, most ductless air conditioners are usually at least SEER 20, and many systems are well above SEER 30.
Not only do ductless systems use less energy than central AC systems, but they also tend to be far more energy efficient than window AC units. This can make a mini-split system an ideal choice for anywhere you might need to add supplemental cooling.
Expert Air Conditioning Services
If you’re looking for ways to keep your building cool this summer, Summit Heating & A/C is here to help. We have been providing professional cooling services to customers in the Denver metro area for more than two decades and can help you determine the best option for your specific needs. We specialize in ductless mini-splits and central AC systems, and we also provide a full range of heating, plumbing, and indoor air quality services and solutions. Give us a call today to learn more about ductless air conditioning or any of our other services.