No matter who you are and how new your home is, sooner or later, you’re going to have to invest in a new air conditioning unit. At Air Plus, we know that this represents a huge cost for our customers and the last thing they want to do when faced with a system that has failed in 100 degree heat is to research, so this month we wanted to discuss what options there are out there if you have to buy a new system.
What we’ve found over the years (well, decades) is that the majority of homeowners and business owners want reliability above all else in an HVAC system – a little maintenance each year in exchange for a long service life.
The truth is, most any reputable system on the market will do that, even a window unit. But, if you are looking at upgrading your current model due to the relative difficulty of finding refrigerant or maybe you’re updating an older home from a series of window air conditioners to a more modern and efficient one, here’s the two major contenders in the industry today –
The Mini-Split (Often referred to as Ductless) and Central Air.
So what is the Mini Split?
The Mini Split system uses a wall or ceiling mount to removing heat to the outside unit via piping instead of ducting. What makes Ductless systems so useful is that they can be retrofitted into homes or buildings that never were originally built with air conditioning in mind. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons that Mini Splits are gaining in popularity, and here are some more:
- Less Energy Wasted – As you can imagine, ducts, no matter how well insulated, lose some cool air as they travel from the actual cooling unit through the ductwork to the area of the house where that duct “dumps.” Nobody wants cool air in the attic, but the fact is, most of us have them. Depending on how well your ductwork is insulated, the figures we regularly see suggest cooling (and energy!) losses up to 30%, depending on the run. With the Mini Split, this simply doesn’t occur, since the air in question isn’t moved, the heat in it is removed.
- No Ductwork – We’ve already mentioned that Mini Splits were Ductless, but the “hidden” advantage here is that ducts get filthy. Mildew, dust, particulate, you name it – they are all in ductwork. While it isn’t terribly difficult to clean ducts out, if you have to install them to convert from a window A/C system to a Central Air unit, there may simply be places in the structure where ductwork cannot pass or be piped. In the case of larger buildings, firewalls and structural components of certain walls may force you to plumb ducting in creative (and expensive) ways.
- Heating and Cooling – Many of the Mini Split units on the market today have the ability to both heat and cool, acting more as a heat pump than a traditional A/C unit, and when you factor in how installing one of these units in a home can update the entire heating and cooling system in one job, the price, efficiency, and value of these units grows exponentially. Since we are in a temperate area, this gives Ductless unit owners the ability to easily choose what they need and make a simple adjustment to keep their home at the perfect temperature.
- Easy Installation – As a result of the overall simplicity of the design, installing a Mini Split can save thousands of dollars when it comes to installation. With no ductwork to run and limited penetration for the cooling pipes, Air Plus can install Mini Splits in a fraction of the time versus a Central Unit that must have the ductwork installed.
- Room–by-Room Control – Think about this – with Central Air, the entire house is cooled to the same temperature, but the majority of us live in only three rooms. The spare bedroom doesn’t need to be 72 degrees unless it is being used, right? The guest bathroom? See? Mini Splits give you complete control over the temperature in a room when you need it to be cooled or heated.
- Cutting-Edge Design – For us, one of the biggest selling points of the Mini Split is that it is so imminently practical and up-to-date. While Central Air units have a wall-mounted thermostat, Mini Splits come with a remote that allows you to cool exactly what you need, when you need it. The added bonus, especially if you are upgrading from window units, is that the Mini Split gives you back your windows and brings even older homes into a modern design age. The additional security that comes from not having an easily removed window unit “locking” the window is another huge benefit.
So what about Central Air?
Central Air is still the king of them all. The vast majority of all homes built in the last 50 years have had this built into them from the beginning, and for good reason. The premise is sound – place a cooling unit to the side of the house, pipe out hot and dirty air and bring in fresh outside air, force it through a cooling stack, and then push it on through the house. In many ways, it is a lot like our own respiratory system.
At Air Plus, a huge volume of our business involves keeping Central Air units running in tip-top shape, and we regularly see some of these units that are well into their second decade with proper maintenance. Based on the technology today, there is no more efficient way to cool an entire home than with a Central Air unit. If you are raising a family and every room in the house is used every day, then the Central Unit is the smartest money you can spend. For empty-nesters or younger couples, the Mini Split might be a smarter choice.
So why is the Central Air unit the king of cooling?
- True Climate Control – Central Air units pump the entire house to the same temperature. In terms of efficiency, some may see this as costing more, but in terms of the thermal mass of the object, that means that the thousands of cubic feet that make up the inside of a home retain that temperature longer than smaller “pockets” of cooled air from a Mini Split or a window unit. As technology has expanded, the ability of single-thermostat systems to cool specific zones in a house have given Central Air units even better temperature control than systems build just two decades ago.
- Whole–House Filtration – This is an area where Central Air units really shine. Since the air in the entire house is being circulated, it can all be filtered. Dust, dander, particulates, even (with the right filter) microorganisms all can be filtered out of the home’s air supply and those filters are easily changed and monitored. Even better? These systems do this by design and the air is physically cleaned before being pushed into the house.
- Built-in – As a result of being built into the framework of a home, Central Air units are less intrusive and considerably quieter than any other system. All the equipment except the ductwork is outside of the home or tucked away in the attic so as to render it practicably unnoticeable. This gives several advantages, but the key one is that you’ll only rarely notice is running.
- Easy adjustments – The single thermostat allows you to adjust your desired temperature effortlessly but again, technology allows you to set up and program cooling times and zones. The highly integrated nature of a central air system permits fast-acting and precise climate alterations to occur. The incredibly user-friendly console makes any adjustment as simple as pressing a button.
In the end, the decision to install or upgrade is always one of cost versus benefit. Is a Mini Split the right choice or is a Central Air unit the better decision?
In either instance, they should both be considered upgrades over window units, and they both add to the value of your home. If you are planning to be in your home for many years and consistently use only a few of the rooms, then the mini split may make more sense. In the case of a growing family that uses every room in the house, the central air unit wins hands-down.
Cost Based Comparison
We’ve looked closely at both central air and mini-splits, but now it all comes down to dollar signs. Which one is cheaper? Well, the answer depends on your long-term needs. Consider both central air and mini-splits as permanent purchases that should pay for themselves in the long run. Sure, central air seems more expensive at first, but it can add value to your property. If you ever want to sell your house, a central air conditioner represents an awesome perk for a prospective buyer.
At Air Plus, our recommendation is to do your research and if – or when – you have questions, give us a call. The time to get educated about your cooling options is now, not when your system finally gives up the ghost. As always, we’re happy to talk cooling with you, so feel free to give us a call at 858-505-8711 or 619-276-8165 to discuss how your lifestyle can dictate which air conditioner is best for you and your home.