Innovations in HVAC equipment have made it possible for every Phoenix, AZ home to have a fixed, whole-house cooling solution. Absolutely critical in the region, modern air conditioning maintains comfortable, habitable temperatures indoors even when outside conditions are downright unbearable. Unfortunately, a surprising number of locals are still relying on inefficient window air conditioners or evaporative coolers. Understanding the difference between a mini-split AC and a central AC system could be key to perfecting your home cooling plan.
How Central Air Conditioning Creates Safe, Uniform Temperatures Indoors
Installed in homes with HVAC ductwork, central air conditioners are usually governed by a single thermostat that’s installed in a central area. These units have outdoor condensers that are positioned on stable, composite or concrete pads. They also have a single air handler inside of the building that contains their evaporator coil.
When central air conditioners are turned on, warm indoor air is cycled over their refrigerant-filled evaporator coils. This refrigerant absorbs the air’s heat and then travels to the outside condenser unit where the heat is released by the condenser coil. This method of heat transfer is both effective and efficient. The chilled air that results from this process is routed through ductwork and distributed to all or nearly all rooms in the building via air registers or air vents.
Zoned Central AC Systems
Some Phoenix homes have zoned HVAC systems. With central HVAC zoning, dampers and bypass ducts are added to ducting so that air delivery can be customized to suit the needs of individual residents. While standard central AC creates a single, uniform temperature throughout all areas, zoned systems can be used to selectively cool only the spaces that are being used. HVAC zoning works well for buildings with more than one story. It’s also perfect for households with residents that have dramatically different temperature preferences.
What Mini-Split Air Conditioners Are and How They Work
Window air conditioners or evaporative coolers compromise resident safety. When using them, it’s necessary to vent these units through open windows. Venting kits and window-mounted air conditioners themselves create easy and all-too-visible points of ingress for would-be intruders. These units are also noisy, highly inefficient, and incredibly costly to operate. Worse still, most can only cool a single room effectively. Notwithstanding these things, there is often good reason to use them. Most of the people who do so live in houses that don’t have the ducting that’s required for central cooling.
Although it will provide the greatest cost benefits over the long run, retrofitting an older home with HVAC ductwork is an expensive alternative to a window AC. Homeowners who aren’t willing or able to pay the hefty upfront cost of these projects simply make do with the same equipment that they’ve relied on for years.
Many ductwork retrofitting projects also come with spatial and aesthetic drawbacks. After all, it’s rarely possible to conceal all of the ducting that’s installed post-construction. Certain configurations can make building interiors both look and feel smaller.
Introduced in 1959, ductless mini-split systems have been providing reliable, whole-house cooling in buildings that don’t have ductwork for many decades. Moreover, recent refinements to this cooling equipment have made it even more efficient than many options in central cooling systems. Although ductless mini-split air conditioners have a higher upfront cost than central ACs, the cost of installing a ductless unit in a home that lacks ducting is a lot lower overall.
Like central air conditioning systems, ductless mini-splits have evaporator and condenser coils to facilitate heat transfer. Both system types source warm air from the interior of buildings, extract its heat, and then release it outside. Like central AC, ductless mini-splits have a single outside condenser unit that’s installed on a concrete or composite pad. The difference lies in air distribution. While central units route air through long networks of ducting, mini-splits have multiple air handlers throughout the living space. Each air handler delivers the desired amount of chilled air in each zone or room, and each air handler has its own thermostat that’s controlled independently.
Having a Mini-Split AC Installed
Compared to ductwork retrofitting, mini-split installation is a simple and minimally invasive project. Building interiors are divided into zones according to their layout and residents’ climate control needs. A single hole is drilled in the exterior wall of each zone. This hole typically measures about three inches in diameter or less. Copper refrigerant tubing and electrical wires are passed through these holes to connect all air handlers to the outside condenser unit. Finally, air handlers are wall-mounted and their respective thermostats are put in.
Using Mini-Split AC Systems to Supplement Central Cooling
If you live in a Phoenix, AZ home that already has central cooling, mini-split systems could still have something to offer. Many locals are using mini-split technologies to cool down rooms that aren’t properly serviced by their central cooling equipment. For instance, if you recently refinished your basement to create a game room, home office, workout room, or den, you could use a mini-split to keep this space cool and comfortable enough for its intended activities.
Mini-split systems are great for cooling down tech-heavy spaces too. If you own a lot of computing equipment or have a home theater, a mini-split will deliver enough cold air into your storage area to prevent your electronics from overheating. People also use mini-splits for cooling in garden rooms, attic bedrooms, and in-law units.
You could even install a mini-split system in your garage or in any freestanding workshop or work shed that you have on your property. Just like central air conditioners, mini-split systems offer temperature regulation, humidity regulation, air filtration, and ventilation.
The Impressive Efficiency of Mini-Split Systems
Mini-split air conditioners and heat pumps are currently generating a lot of buzz due to their high levels of efficiency. In areas like Phoenix where summertime temperatures are incredibly high but wintertime temperatures are only moderately low, mini-split heat pumps provide reliable, whole-house heating and cooling. During summer, mini-split heat pumps are functionally identical to ACs. In winter, they operate in reverse so that warm outdoor air is funneled inside. In these conditions, some mini-split systems can have efficiency levels as high as 300%.
As homeowners increasingly show their concern for the natural environment via their spending decisions, mini-split systems are an increasingly popular choice. Therefore, if you’re looking for a way to modernize your home, increase its value, and add to its overall appeal, replacing or supplementing your central AC system with a mini-split could be a worthwhile choice.
AC Filter Maintenance
Another important distinction between central air conditioners and mini-splits comes in relation to AC filter maintenance. Central air conditioners typically have just one to two air filters. Moreover, these filters must be changed every 30 to 90 days. By inspecting your central HVAC air filter monthly, you can make sure that this component isn’t coated with a thick layer of debris that negatively impacts your air conditioner’s performance.
Given that mini-split systems have multiple indoor air handlers, there are multiple filters that must be checked and changed. Mini-split systems can have between one and eight air handlers, and each air handler has one reusable filter. Rather than changing your air filters every one to three months, you’ll need to clean them every two to three weeks. After a complete year of use, these washable components should be swapped out for new ones.
We’re committed to helping homeowners in Phoenix, AZ make informed decisions about their cooling systems. We offer heating, air conditioning, and indoor air quality services. We also install, repair, and maintain ductless mini-splits. To find out more about owning a mini-split system or to schedule an appointment, get in touch with Emergency Air Heating Cooling & Plumbing!