How Does an HVAC Split System Work?

Why is it Called Split System?

When homeowners are looking for year-round comfort in their homes, they are likely to consider a split system as one of their HVAC system options. HVAC split systems are by far one of the most common options for homeowners who want air conditioning in their homes. It is referred to as a split system because it is divided into two primary parts. The evaporator is located inside an indoor unit and will provide cooling for your room. The condenser pushes the heat outside and is contained in an outdoor unit.

Packaged systems are an option over split systems, though they are not as common. Below you will see how each system differs and the pros and cons of each.

Packaged HVAC System

Packaged systems are HVAC units that contain heating and cooling in one package. The single unit will house both the evaporator and condenser and these are often contained in a box that sits close to the outside of the home and is connected to the distribution through a hole in the wall. Packaged systems are not commonly used in residences and are most often used on commercial buildings, either placed on the side of the building or mounted on the roof. The one-container design of these systems can make them easier to maintain and install, but their outdoor location makes them more prone to damage, especially in areas that see heavy snow and ice accumulation.

Split HVAC System

Your split HVAC system contains the indoor unit, which houses your evaporator coil, and an outdoor unit, also known as the condenser unit. The systems will usually be placed opposite each other for easy connection, just separated by an exterior wall of your home. The indoor unit of a split system will draw in the warm air in your home, cool it down, and send it out into your room. Through this process, the refrigerant in the system will heat up and transfer to the outdoor unit, where it will then be cooled down, and the excess heat will be expelled into the outside air.

Types of Split HVAC Systems

There are different types of split systems that you can use in your home. Some will be better suited for larger homes and some for smaller areas. Others work better in more temperate climates, and some are designed to provide greater comfort even in the coldest temperatures.

Ductless Mini Split AC Systems

Another type of split air conditioning system that is growing in popularity is mini splits. Indoor air handlers are the indoor units on these systems and are often wall-mounted in one or more areas of your home. Small pipes will connect the indoor handlers to the outdoor unit. These systems can be single-zone or multi-zone and often have remote controls for each air handler.

These systems are extremely energy efficient, provide more significant energy savings, some brands are easy enough for a DIY install, and can help improve the indoor air quality in your home by removing the need for ductwork. These systems are often found in homes without a current central air conditioning system or home additions.

Central Split HVAC Systems

Central split systems are one of the more commonly found systems in a home. In these systems, the indoor units will often be located in a basement or utility closet, and the outdoor unit will be outside the house in a not aesthetically distracting location. With these systems, cold air is pushed out through a series of ducts, and the amount of cool air can be controlled by vents and a thermostat. You will often find these air conditioning systems paired with a gas furnace.

Heat Pumps

One of the newest and most energy-efficient options in areas that see more mild winters are heat pumps. Split system heat pumps provide both heating and air conditioning in one system. The system consists of an indoor unit and an outdoor unit that is connected by copper piping. The outer unit will function as a heat exchanger and compressor, and the indoor unit will contain the coils and fan. The inside unit's fan will help push the air through your home’s ventilation system.

Heat pump systems will transfer heat, working one way during the warmer months and reversing in the colder months. Heat pumps are an excellent option for those looking for a greener HVAC option and one that is incredibly energy efficient. The main drawback to these systems is that they are not always the most efficient option in extreme cold.

Which Climate is The Split HVAC System Best For?

The climate in your region will also play a role in determining which type of split system will best suit your home and comfort needs. While almost all types of systems can work at any temperature, certain types will have to work harder when the weather gets more extreme, which can make them work less efficiently and drive up your energy costs.

Warm Climate

The best option will be a heat pump if you live in an area with warmer temperatures throughout the year and mild winters. Heat pumps use less energy and can easily keep your home at a comfortable temperature throughout the year by providing cooling power in the summer and heating in the winter. You can use your heat pump split system with your current ductwork or choose a ductless mini split system if there is no ductwork in the home.

If you live in a warmer climate and only need to cool specific areas of your home during the year, a multi-zone ductless mini split is also a great option.

Cooler Climate

If you live in a region that is colder throughout the year or sees significantly colder winters, then a central air split HVAC system would likely be your best option when paired with a gas furnace. Though many models of heat pumps are getting more efficient at warming a home in colder climates, they are still not as efficient as natural gas furnace options. Pairing your natural gas furnace with a split central air conditioning system will allow you to keep your home your desired temperature no matter how high or low the temperature outside goes.

You can also choose a dual fuel system option when you live in colder climates if you are looking to maximize the efficiency of your system. With a dual fuel system, an electric heat pump will warm the indoor air temperature when the temperature is moderately cold in the winter and reverse to cool it down in the summer. On significantly colder days, the gas furnace will take over heating and more efficiently warm the air in your home to the desired temperature.

What's the Difference Between a Traditional Split and a Mini Split?

Split systems use an interior unit and an exterior unit to provide air conditioning for your home. In some cases, these systems will connect directly with the ductwork currently in your home, and at other times no ductwork will be involved. That is the primary difference between a traditional split system and mini splits.

Central heating and cooling systems found in residences are, more often than not, split systems. They will have an inside component containing the evaporator coil and an outside unit that can be a condenser. A mini split will also have an indoor and outdoor component, but its indoor component takes the form of an air handler, which performs the same functions as the interior portion of a traditional split system. Mini split systems will not need to connect to ductwork which makes them ideal when there is no ductwork currently in the home.

Advantages of a Mini Split System

Mini split systems come with many advantages that make them the ideal option for some homeowners looking to add a cooling capability to their homes. Some of the most significant benefits of choosing a mini split system include:

  • Greater energy efficiency: With a ductless system, you will not have ductwork which can increase energy losses. Also, you can choose a multi-zone system that can allow you to put handlers in different areas of your home and control them individually. That way, you will only use energy when you need it.
  • Better temperature control: With a traditional split system, you will set one temperature, and your system will run to try and get the home to reach that desired temperature. With a ductless mini split system with multiple air handlers, you can control the temperature in each space individually with remote control. This will allow household members to customize their room temperature to their comfort level.
  • Easy installation: Installing ductless mini split systems is easy and can (with some brands) be DIY for many homeowners with basic electrical knowledge. The ease of installation can also help to lower your overall upfront costs. Many types of ductless systems come packaged with a kit that includes all you need for setup.
  • Quieter operation: With most ductless mini split systems, the indoor air handlers feature a quiet operation, which means you will have less noise than a window AC unit or portable air conditioner. The noise you hear during operations should be no louder than would come out of vents in a ducted system.
  • Improved IAQ: Ductwork is one of the main places where allergens and pollutants collect in your home, and if not kept clean, the ductwork can push these contaminants back into the air supply. With a ductless system, you won’t have to worry about dust and debris from your ductwork getting into the recirculated air in your home and damaging your indoor air quality.

Disadvantages of a Mini Split System

While there are many advantages to having a ductless mini split installed in your home, some drawbacks will need to be considered before making your decision. Some of the cons of mini split systems include:

  • They can affect the aesthetics of your room: While air handlers can be mounted on the wall and out of the way, they can affect the design of your room and will need to have space around them to ensure that they have proper airflow.
  • They can be more costly to repair: Ductless mini split air conditioners are designed to last long, but when they require repairs, they can be more expensive, especially if you have multiple air handling units that need repairs. Maintenance can also be more costly as there may be more parts to inspect. HVAC maintenance visits run an average of $150 to $300 per visit and then costs for repairs if needed.
  • They require multiple units to cool the whole house: Mini splits are best suited for adding air conditioning to new additions of a home or for homes that do not have ductwork installed. Typically one handler will not provide enough cooling power for the entire house, and you will need multiple air handlers if you want to cool a larger space.
  • Choosing the right size can be challenging: Choosing the correct-sized system can be difficult if you use it for your home's primary cooling system. This is especially true if you have an open floor plan. If your system is too small to accommodate the square footage of your home, it will overwork and become less efficient.

Find the Perfect Cooling System at Superior Home Supplies

At Superior Home Supplies, we know that there is the right HVAC system for each homeowner’s needs and offer a wide range of Energy Star-rated HVAC appliances to help keep your home comfortable through every season. Whether you think a traditional split air-conditioning system will work for your cooling needs or want to enjoy greater control over the temperature in your home with a multi-zone ductless mini split system, we have the top-rated systems you want with the features you need. Check out our range of cooling appliances or contact one of our sales representatives to find out which option will provide the comfort and efficiency you are looking for.

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