If you’re interested in making your HVAC system as energy efficient as possible, you may have already looked into ductless mini-split air conditioners. These small but effective units have been exploding in popularity lately due to their convenience and superior efficiency when compared to old-fashioned forced air systems. However, even if you’ve already made the decision to install mini-split AC units in your home, there’s more you can do to ensure that the system is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Whether you’ve just installed your first mini-split air conditioner or you’re just considering making the change, these tips can help you get the most out of your new AC system while keeping your power bills as low as possible.
What is a Mini-Split and How Does It Work?
Ductless mini-split system air conditioners are a variation of the standard split system ACs used in most central air HVAC systems. Like regular split systems, mini-splits break the integral parts of an air conditioner into two separate units: one with the compressor and condenser coil, and one with the blower fan and evaporator coil. We won’t delve too deeply into the specifics of how air conditioner technology works, but the flow of liquid refrigerant back and forth between these two units is how the system transfers heat away from your home, replacing it with cold air. The compressor, two coils, and blower fan are a part of any air conditioner, whether it’s a single unit or two different ones.
Here’s where the two types of split system air conditioners diverge, however. Regular forced air split system AC units cool down your home by using the blower fan to push cold air through your ducts, allowing a single evaporator unit to move air through the entire house. This has been the standard set-up for decades and it’s worked pretty well in the past. That being said, air conditioning system efficiency has long been held back by the inherent downsides of ductwork. The unit has to work extra hard to push enough cold air to reach every vent in your house, and efficiency is lost when air gets caught in corners or escapes through tiny pinholes in the ducts themselves. Dust that builds up in the ducts can also severely affect the efficiency of the system, requiring homeowners to have their ductwork cleaned every four or five years to avoid increases in their electricity bills. In a place like Santa Rosa where keeping the AC running all summer is kind of a necessity, keeping your system running as efficiently as possible is a huge concern.
That’s exactly the problem that mini-splits were invented to fix. Like standard split system air conditioners, mini-splits have a single unit with the compressor and the condenser coil. However, instead of a single evaporator unit that blows air through the ducts, the compressor unit is connected to multiple evaporator units placed throughout your home. These units are often called air handlers, and they blow cool air directly into the room instead of using ductwork. Although this system does require a high initial investment to install an air handler in each room, circumventing the ductwork allows it to have a significantly lower operating cost. Ductless mini splits use much less electricity than forced air systems, resulting in lower power bills every month. As a general rule, switching to a mini-split system can cut your heating and cooling bill by about 30%, especially if you make sure to install the system with the goal of maximizing its efficiency.
How to Choose the Right Mini-Split for Your Home
When it comes to mini-split installation, you have a few different choices you’ll have to make before you can hand things over to your contractor. Luckily, a good HVAC contractor will be able to take a look at your home and help you make some of those decisions. The first thing you’ll have to do is size the system to fix your house. This is an extremely important step with major consequences for the efficiency of your AC system, so it’s not to be taken lightly. If you install an HVAC system that’s either too powerful or too weak for the dimensions of your home, you could see severely reduced efficiency as well as more frequent repair bills.
When we talk about the “size” of an HVAC system, we’re really talking about the output. The heating or cooling power of any air conditioning unit is measured in AC tons, where one ton is equal to about 12,000 BTUs of output per hour. That means a 5-ton air conditioner has a cooling capacity of about 60,000 BTUs per hour, a 10-ton AC has a capacity of 120,000 BTUs per hour, and so on. You can get a general idea of how much output your home will require if you use an air conditioner size calculator online, but your best bet is to have your HVAC contractor help you out. A professional will use a much more complicated formula that includes the square footage of your home, the height of your ceilings, the number of windows, the size of the kitchen, and other factors that could affect the temperature inside.
When finding the best mini-split for efficiency, you should also take placement into account. Different air handler models are placed in different spots and that can affect how the system works. Most mini-split air handlers are wall-mounted and we’d generally recommend this setup, but it can be difficult if your walls are particularly thin or have high windows. Some air handlers are ceiling-mounted, making them a great alternative if you can’t use the wall-mounted ones, although the heating function tends to be less efficient when the units are placed in the ceiling since heat naturally wants to rise. There are also concealed duct mini-splits, which are more like a hybrid system. These air handlers are mounted in a dropped ceiling, attic, or crawlspace and use very short ducts to transfer air into the room below. Including ducts means that these units are somewhat less efficient, although you can heat or cool multiple rooms with a single air handler this way.
Maintenance & Upkeep Tips for Maximum Efficiency
If you work with a good HVAC contractor, you won’t have to worry about setting up your mini-split correctly – a professional can handle the installation for you. However, there are still plenty of things you should keep track of after the installation has been completed. If you just let your new ductless air conditioner run all summer long without paying any attention, you could find that the initial savings on your power bills gradually fade away as the system loses efficiency. Proper upkeep and maintenance is the best way to make sure your new mini-split system runs smoothly for years to come while continuing to save you money on electricity every month.
One of the most important things you can do to maximize the efficiency of your system is to stick to a filter replacement schedule. Every air handler in your system will have its own filter that cleans the air passing through it. This allows the air conditioner to actually purify the air as it cools it, but it does mean you’ll have to swap or clean the filter periodically as it gets clogged with dirt and dust. When the filter is blocked up, the unit has to work much harder to force air through it, drawing more electricity as well as putting more wear and tear on the internal parts. Filters generally have to be either cleaned or swapped out about once a month, but you should check the packaging for specifics when you buy them. Some air filters are designed to last a little longer than others.
AC cleaning is also an important part of making sure your mini-split runs as efficiently as possible. Every air handler has built-in vents where the cold air comes out, and those need to be cleaned periodically. Any dust, dirt, or pet hair that collects on the unit will cut down on the airflow coming from the vents, causing the same problems as a dirty air filter. Luckily, a quick dusting is generally enough to keep the vents clean, and you can usually unclip the faceplate if it requires a more thorough cleaning. The internal parts of the unit need to be cleaned as well, albeit much less frequently. We typically recommend bringing an HVAC technician in to service your air conditioner once a year, right before the weather warms up. Not only will they thoroughly clean every piece of the system, but they’ll also top off the refrigerant and take a look to make sure no further maintenance is required. It might seem like overkill, but an annual service appointment is the best way to protect yourself from costly repair bills a few years down the line.
Tips to Optimize Running Cost & Save Money on Electricity Bills
There are also some things you can do throughout the summer to emphasize energy-efficient cooling. If you focus on the right things, you can run your air conditioner efficiently all summer long without having to worry about racking up high electricity bills. One of the most important things you can do is put some thought into your thermostat settings. Mini-split air conditioners typically have built-in zoning, which means every air handler has its own thermostat inside. This allows you to set different temperatures or even schedules for different rooms. Zoning is extremely important for efficiency because it breaks your home up into sections instead of forcing your system to control the temperature of the whole house all the time.
Even a little bit of zoning can make a huge difference. Think about running your air conditioner overnight, for example. Having the AC running during those hot summer nights is sometimes a necessity, but it’s extremely wasteful to cool down the entire house when you’re just going to be in your bedroom all night. With mini-splits, you can keep your bedroom nice and cool all night while turning off all the units in the rest of the house, saving electricity. You can extend this general premise to the rest of the day as well. Try keeping track of where you go throughout the day to see if there are any rooms you rarely use during certain times, and keep the AC off in those rooms during those times.
If your mini-splits have smart technology capabilities, a bunch of other options are opened up to you. You can even set up your system to track your phone, keeping the air conditioning off while you’re out and turning it back on shortly before you arrive so you come home to the perfect temperature. The more granular you get with these settings and schedules, the more money you’ll save every month on your electricity bills. It’s also worth contacting your utility company to see when the peak usage hours are for your area. The cost of electricity can sometimes be higher during those hours, so keeping the AC switched off for an hour or two a day can make a huge difference if you avoid those extra charges.
The Benefits of Installing a Mini-Split System with Valley Comfort Heating and Air in Santa Rosa
At Valley Comfort Heating & Air, we have plenty of experience installing and servicing ductless mini-split systems of all types. We’re more than happy to help you out with every step of the process, from sizing and installation to your yearly service appointments. You can get in touch with us today through our website here, by stopping by our physical location in Santa Rosa, or by giving us a call at (707) 360-6499. We have satisfied customers all throughout Marin, Sonoma, and Napa Counties and we’re more than ready to earn your business.