Ductless air conditioning—A better way to keep cool

Consider a mini-split system for your home cooling

By Steve Maxwell

Ductless Minisplit System

Photo by Steve Maxwell

6 comments

If you’ve considered upgrading your existing system or adding air conditioning to your home, you’ve probably realized there’s a large gap in the available options for home cooling. At one end of the spectrum are the small, relatively inexpensive window air conditioners that seem to have moved along noisily with few advances in technology since they entered the mainstream market in the 1940s. At the other end are large, quiet (as long as you’re inside) central systems designed to hook into existing central ventilation ducts.

What do you do if you want something in between? What’s available for houses that have no ducting? Isn’t there a more efficient way to cool your home?

Positioned between the extremes of window-mounted units and central systems is an air-conditioning technology that’s still new to most Canadians. Ductless air-conditioners, also called mini-split systems, are a newer approach to air conditioning developed in Japan, which use a type of heat pump technology to efficiently deliver cooling action to independently controlled zones in your home.

Ductless air-conditioners are called mini-splits because the two main halves of the equipment are separated by distance. One half is the compressor, which sits outdoors all the time, just like the compressor on a central air-conditioner. The other half of the ductless system, the indoor air-handling unit, is wall-mounted and connected to the compressor via a pair of hidden pipes. This is the unique feature of the mini-split approach.

Think of the indoor component like a radiator that delivers cold instead of heat. It can be located as far as 75 feet from the compressor and without losing power or efficiency. Noise and vibration never get anywhere near the inside of your home, and cooling action can be delivered high up on any wall for maximum benefit.

Typical mini-splits include two or three indoor air-handling units to deliver cooling throughout your home. Hook up is technically easy, requiring no ductwork and only a three- or four-inch hole drilled through an exterior wall.

Besides offering an air conditioner option that’s sized to fill the gap between central systems and window air conditioners, ductless systems have another advantage, too. They save money through lower electricity consumption. This happens in two ways.

Since the cooling action of a mini-split is delivered to several independently controlled areas in your home, it’s possible to selectively cool different zones depending on the time of day. By focusing cooling action in bedrooms at night, for instance, and living areas during the day, you can save substantially by reducing the amount of total air cooled. And added to this there’s another energy advantage, too.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, typical residential duct systems can lose a staggering 25 to 40 per cent of the heating and cooling energy supplied to them by a furnace or air conditioner. This happens because of leaks within the ducts, especially those drawing warm air back into the system to be cooled. Add to this the fact that the metal ducts themselves must also be cooled before you feel any benefit, and you’ll see where the energy losses come from.

Operating without all that sheet metal has its advantages. For duct-free houses heated with electric baseboard heaters or radiant in-floor heating, mini-splits offer cooling action that simply can’t be achieved with central air. Ductless systems also eliminate the risk of criminal intrusion into the home that window air conditioners create. Some systems are even designed to operate in reverse, supplying heat during cool weather. For homes without ducts, this can mean getting rid of those baseboard heaters, resulting in year-round energy savings.

At the moment, ductless, mini-split air conditioners are relatively new, and this means that a higher profit margin is built into their sales and installation. Currently, the cost-per-unit of cooling capacity is roughly one-third more than you’ll pay for central air. Despite the premium you might pay for new technology, the energy savings of mini-splits mean they’re worth considering. This is just one of a handful of technologies that let us do more with less energy while enjoying a better life in the bargain.


6 comments

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m4mike1983@gmail.com

Ductless Airconditioner

Apr. 16, 2015

5:42 am

This is a nice info you shared here, but I'm looking for air conditioner discounted prices, or some rebates on air conditioner prices. But instead of that I stop here and read out your blog and find it really interesting.

http://www.cosmopolitanmechanical.com/ductless-air-conditioners-products.html



g_ho@live.com

TorontoDuctless

Apr. 10, 2014

1:39 pm

Great Article Steve! I actually made a ductless heat pump purchase based on this article about a month ago. I have a new home in Mimico area and we use hot water for heat so ductless was a natural choice. I just wanted to say that you were right...these units can get very expensive if you want all the bells and whistles. The unit I chose is the BRAND NEW 2014 Samsung Whisper model. This thing looks totally different than all the units that I researched last summer when we put the offer down on the house. The head unit is more of a triangle than a box shape and apparently you get more air coming back to the unit so it heats/cools faster than the rest. To be honest we bought it because my wife like the look better than all the other units (sound familiar fells?). Since you guys seem to want pricing I was able to get the 12000btu model for $300 off the list price by purchasing a bit early in the season (total about $3300). It was the most expensive unit they had (thanks honey for telling the sales guy thats all you were interested in yikes!!). I took the advice of the other guy here and bought from the local ductless guys unitedenergy.ca. Ask for Herb his direct line is (416)4639708. There is your shout out buddy thank you for a flawless job cant wait to get the switchover to cooling mode!!!

- Sincerely George in Mimico



josesulliss@gmail.com

DuctlessToronto

Oct. 10, 2012

4:12 pm

I am a homeowner in Toronto, and I have hot water heat like many homes do. Personally I prefer it. Another advantage is that you have to use ductless air conditioners and heat pumps. In my home I have one Mitsubishi Mr Slim 15000btu unit that is cooling only and one Samsung "Silver Nano" ductless heat pump that kicks out around 18000btu of heat all the way down to -20. Very nice indeed. I agree with woodnut they are cheap to run compared to burning fuel usually. If you want a good ductless company in Toronto try www.unitedenergy.ca 4165033159, I bought both my ductless units from them and have never had a problem with the installation in 8 years. If I remember I paid around $3000 for each of them. My neighbour went with a cheap guy off a flyer last summer for his installation and had nothing but problems this summer with the extreme heat. Great article I LOVE my ductless ac's!

-Jose



patthecarver@hotmail.com

May. 28, 2012

2:36 pm

I have electric baseboard heat right now. I installed these this winter and finished a bunch of other energy audit upgrades. So far I am impressed with them, the house has never felt as warm as it does right now. If I move to a new house that has baseboard heat this will be the first thing that I will be installing.



brlawrie@hotmail.com

woodnut

May. 28, 2012

7:22 am

While mini splits are great for cooling, as your article states,my advice is to get one with HEATING and cooling capacity,especially considering the difference in price. The reason is simple. I have a 1300 sq ft house, slab on grade, in floor heat with an oil energy efficient furnace. Oil cost per month for heat in the winter ranged from $350.00-450.00. Cost for mini-split heat pump (15000 BTU) $72.00 per month,



steve@workshopsupply.com

Make'n Tools

May. 28, 2012

6:20 am

These are wonderful pieces of home equipment. I've been traveling to Taiwan for several years now and the room I stay in has had one of these for at least 3 years and they've been available in the retail stores for many more. It's frustrating Canada takes so long to allow products like this in but that's CSA for you... it costs so crazy much and takes so crazy long to obtain CSA approval that many companies don't bother until the product is mature in other markets. Don't get me wrong... CSA is known world wide for the highest standard in safety and that I'm proud of. It's also the most costly and often prevents more up to date products from being tested in our country.



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