There’s really no good way to recommend an air conditioning system to anybody without first looking into the specifics of their home. The one size fits all approach doesn’t work in the HVAC industry, since every building comes with its own unique set of needs. You have to consider the layout of the house, the location, the customer’s budget, and even local weather conditions before you can make a decision. One of the most important and relevant factors, and usually the first question we ask, is the size of the building.
As you can probably imagine, cooling a mobile home is pretty different from conditioning the air in, say, an office building or even a full-sized house. The perfect air conditioning solution for a standard suburban might be absurdly expensive overkill in a mobile home or other smaller dwelling. Mobile homes also tend to have a pretty unique layout – long and relatively narrow – that’s important to consider when trying to find the best air conditioner. After all, the design of the whole HVAC system needs to be tailored to the design of the house itself.
Typically in mobile homes, we see a kind of air conditioner called a split-system AC. The most common type of split-system air conditioner for mobile homes is a ductless mini-split, but there are a few different options to consider. Not sure where to start? Never fear, we’re here to give you all the information you’ll need to make an informed decision and enjoy cool air in your mobile home for years to come.
How Does a Split-System Air Conditioner Work?
No matter the system, almost every air conditioner will have the same important components inside. There are always two coils, called the evaporator and the condenser, some chemicals called refrigerants that pass through thin pipes between the coils, and a blower fan or two to keep air flowing through the system. Here’s a quick, not too technical rundown of how air conditioners keep your house nice and cool.
The real MVP of any air conditioning system is the refrigerant. Refrigerants are chemicals that are especially good at facilitating the transfer of heat, which is key to any temperature-changing appliance. As the name suggests, they’re used in fridges as well as air conditioners. Inside an AC unit, a motor called the compressor forces the refrigerant into the condenser coil, which increases the pressure and changes the refrigerant from a gas into a liquid. This process causes the atoms in the refrigerant to move around, creating heat. That excess heat is usually vented outside by a blower fan located by the condenser coil.
Now that the refrigerant is a liquid, the compressor then passes it through a pipe into the evaporator coil. The evaporator is essentially the exact opposite of the condenser. Instead of increasing the pressure, the evaporator lessens it and turns the refrigerant back into a gas. Just as the gas-to-liquid change created heat, the liquid-to-gas transformation does the opposite and absorbs heat. This is the key part of any air conditioner. Next to the evaporator is another blower fan. This fan pulls warm air from inside your home and passes it across the evaporator coil, allowing the now-gaseous refrigerant to absorb the heat out of the air. Now that the air is cold, it’s blown right back out into your house. It’s actually a pretty simple machine once you understand the chemistry behind it.
The big thing that makes a split-system air conditioner unique is the layout of these components. As the name suggests, a split-system AC separates the parts into two different units: an outside unit holding the compressor and the condenser coil, and an inside unit holding the evaporator coil and the blower fan. The main advantage of this setup is that it allows for more flexibility when you’re placing the air conditioner. Instead of one big unit that you have to embed in your wall, you have two smaller units you can place anywhere as long as you connect some small pipes to allow refrigerant to pass back and forth. The evaporator unit is usually placed inside the home right by the furnace so it can connect to existing ductwork, and the condenser unit is placed outside so warm air can vent out the back. Putting the condenser and the compressor outside also significantly cuts down on the noise levels inside the home, an added bonus.
As you might guess, the flexibility of a split-system air conditioner is extremely helpful in mobile homes where space is at a premium. It’s easy to see why these units are so popular in mobile home parks.
Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioners
Within the category of split-system air conditioners, there are two subcategories: standard central air systems and ductless mini-splits. In a central air system, the condenser unit is hooked up to a single evaporator unit connected to ducts that run throughout your house, distributing cold air through vents. Central air systems also typically include a furnace or heat pump to keep you warm during the winter. A ductless mini-split system, on the other hand, has just a condenser unit connected to either one or multiple evaporator units. Instead of using ducts to move cold air through the home, mini-split evaporator units just blow the conditioned air directly into the room. You can use either a single evaporator to cool the entire home, or multiple units each cooling a different room. It’s probably pretty obvious why mini-splits are so popular in mobile homes and other small living spaces like studio apartments.
Of course, there are pros and cons to any air conditioner, and mini-splits are no exception. You should do some research to figure out which system is best for your home, mobile or otherwise. Here’s a little info on both the good and bad aspects of installing a ductless mini-split system in your mobile home.
Advantages of a Ductless Mini-Split AC
Mini-splits offer a ton of advantages over a more traditional central air system, especially in a mobile home. They’re a newer technology than standard central air, which has been around forever, so there are a few advances that are baked into the units. We’ve narrowed the list of pros down to three central points in favor of mini-splits, with special regard to mobile homes.
This is a huge one, especially since HVAC systems are typically some of the biggest power drains in any home. An efficient air conditioner can cut your electricity bill down by a significant amount, so this should be one of the first things you check in any unit, mini-split or otherwise. Generally, mini-splits have some of the most advanced HVAC tech around, which can make them a lot more energy efficient than their competitors. They’re usually built with a power inverter in each unit, allowing them to convert AC voltage from the wall into DC power. This means they use a lot less power than other appliances.
Mini-split units often have a variable-speed compressor which improves the energy efficiency as well. Most central air units have standard compressors with one or two speeds, but variable-speed motors can run only as much as they need to, which also cuts down on electricity usage. This technology has been in use for decades in Japan but has only recently been making its way to the US for American consumers to take advantage of.
In HVAC terms, “zoning” refers to the ability to adjust the temperature in different sections of your home separately instead of just setting a universal temperature for the whole building. This is usually something you can’t do with a central air system because the evaporator unit just blows air into the ducts to be distributed equally throughout the house. This works pretty well in a “set it and forget it” kind of way, but if you’d prefer to have a little more control, you’re out of luck.
With a mini-split system, you can put different evaporators in different parts of your house. Each indoor unit, sometimes called a “head,” has its own temperature control and can be set separately from the rest of the house. This is great if you have certain rooms or sections of your mobile home that are especially difficult to cool. It can also help you save power at night by turning off every head except the one in your bedroom. This allows you to stay nice and cool while you sleep without forcing the system to cool down your entire house.
Ducts are an extremely useful and efficient way of transporting conditioned air through a whole building as quickly as possible. However, they can also be a real pain at times. They require fairly regular maintenance to prevent anything from building up inside them, and they’re pretty costly to install. They also take up a ton of room between floors, which isn’t normally a big deal but can become a problem in smaller dwellings like mobile homes. In fact, many mobile homes just don’t have enough space to install any ducts at all.
A ductless system like a mini-split saves you the hassle of installing and maintaining the ductwork while also allowing you more space in your home. While they do require small pipes running from the outdoor condenser unit to each evaporator head in the home, these are relatively easy to install and don’t take up much space at all. Even if your mobile home has enough room to install ducts, a mini-split system might still be an easier alternative.
If you live in a full-sized house, you can use mini-splits as an auxiliary system in areas that don’t have ducts, like garages, finished basements, and attics. Many homeowners use a hybrid system like this to keep the whole house cool while maximizing the efficiency of their air conditioner.
Drawbacks of a Ductless Mini-Split AC
As you read about the advantages of a mini-split system, you might be wondering where the catch is. After all, there are two sides to every coin. Mini-splits do have some cons to go along with their pros, and it’s worth taking a good look at both before making up your mind. Here are a few major downsides you might experience with a ductless mini-split air conditioner.
This might be a relatively minor problem, but it’s still worth mentioning. The pipes running from the condenser unit to each evaporator unit are generally installed on the outside of the house. Additionally, condensate lines and power cables also have to run from unit to unit, so you end up with a lot of cables attached to the side of your house. This can be an eyesore, especially since you really shouldn’t paint over them.
However, this can be mitigated with the addition of a line hide to cover up the lines running outside the house. The covering protects them from the elements and can also be painted to match the rest of the house, helping to hide the lines from view.
All air conditioners collect moisture and condensation during operation and mini-splits use a condensate line to run that extra moisture outside. This is pretty important since that moisture could otherwise collect inside the units and potentially drip out on your floor, which nobody wants. The system can also use the condensate line to control the humidity inside your home, like a built-in dehumidifier. In most cases, you can just use gravity to drain the moisture from inside the units down the condensate line, but that depends on the location of the evaporator unit. In some cases, you might need to install a condensate pump to force the water down the line and outside. These pumps add to the cost of installation and can be pretty loud, so it’s best to avoid them if you can. Placing the evaporator units high on the wall can make this a lot easier.
Ductless mini-split systems are a lot more efficient than central air, which saves you a bunch of money on your monthly power bill, but the initial cost of installation is frequently higher. It’s a little counterintuitive, since mini-splits are so small, but they’re surprisingly expensive. The cost rises pretty quickly when you install multiple evaporator heads too, so you’re going to be looking at a fairly expensive initial cost. The average cost of installing a mini-split system is about $12,000, although it’d probably be somewhat lower for a mobile home since that figure includes full-size houses.
However, the price tag of a central air system starts to look pretty similar to mini-splits if you consider the cost of buying and installing the ducts as well. Many houses already have ductwork built-in, but many mobile homes don’t, so you’ll have to add your own. Once you add up the cost of the air conditioner, the ducts, and the installation for both, central air systems and mini-ducts come out pretty much the same. Of course, if you do install a central air conditioner and the ducts to go along with it, you can later add a furnace or heat pump and use the same ductwork, saving yourself a ton of money on installation.
Alternatives for Mobile Home Air Conditioning
While a mini-split system is a great choice for a mobile home, it’s obviously not going to be the perfect option for everybody. Regular ducted split-system air conditioners are a good idea if your mobile home is a little bigger and already has ducts installed, but if you don’t have any ductwork, adding some is going to be extremely expensive and can sometimes be impossible. It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that there are plenty of other alternatives for air conditioning in a mobile home. While it’s always a good idea to do your own research when deciding on an AC system, we also highly recommend getting in touch with a local HVAC contractor and getting a professional opinion. A walkthrough of your home is typically all a professional will need to figure out which system would fit best for you.
If you don’t want to use either of the split-system options available, you can try a package air conditioner instead. These units are extremely popular for mobile homes because they’re relatively compact and easy to install, and their flaws are somewhat mitigated by the small size of the house. Unlike a split-system AC, which separates the condenser and evaporator into two different units, a package air conditioner holds the whole system in a single place, usually a large metal cabinet. The cabinet is generally placed on a slab of concrete outside the home, and cool air is piped into the house through a small external duct that attaches to a vent inside. In many mobile homes, a package air conditioner is placed on the roof where it’s out of the way, and the cool air is sent down through the ceiling.
The primary advantage of a package air conditioner in a mobile home is space. Because everything is kept outside, you don’t need to install even a small unit anywhere inside your home. This is ideal for small dwellings like mobile homes, where space is fairly limited. Package air conditioners also tend to be pretty cheap, with an average cost of about $4,000, around a third of the cost of installing a mini-split. However, package AC units are fairly inefficient and will cost you more per month than a mini-split. If you have a full-sized house, a package air conditioner will likely be too inefficient to cool your whole home affordably.
In a worst-case scenario, you can always just pick up a window unit. These basic AC units just go in your window and pull air from the outside, cooling it before blowing it into the room. They’re extremely cheap and require no installation other than fitting it in the window, which can easily be done by yourself. However, they’re also very loud and draw a ton of electricity, so they’re really best used infrequently. A window air conditioner should really only be used as a last resort for especially hot summer days, and you might even get better results with just an oscillating fan.
Which System is Best for You?
In general, we do recommend mini-split air conditioners for customers who live in mobile homes, mostly because of the energy efficiency and the ease of installation. Ductwork can be a real hassle to install in a space that small, and it’s pretty rare that you’d actually need a full central air system for a mobile home. While the initial cost can be high, they do tend to pay for themselves eventually as they use about half as much power as any other option.
Before deciding one way or the other, you should get in touch with an HVAC expert for a consultation. Somebody experienced in the industry will be able to tell you not just the kind of system you should go for, but also which specific unit or model would be best for you. Once you’ve narrowed your list down to a few options, a trip to see a trusted HVAC technician is a great way to make sure your final decision is an informed one. It’s also a good opportunity to get to know the contractor since all of the air conditioners out there need at least some maintenance and occasional repair.
If you’re in the northern Bay Area and you’re thinking of installing a mini-split air conditioner in your home, feel free to give Valley Comfort Heating & Air a call. We’re always happy to answer any questions you might have, and we can also get you started if you’re ready to make a purchase. You can contact us over the phone at (707) 329-3182, or get in touch with us through our website here. We’re confident we have the experience and know-how to make your air conditioning dreams a reality.