Most everyone has heard of and seen window air conditioners. For years they have been the end all be all for consumers who want relief from the heat but either can’t afford a traditional split system air conditioner, or perhaps their home just doesn’t have the duct work installed to route the central air. Window air conditioners also offered a relatively low price as well as an easy install. In most cases the install could be done in around a half-hour. All there is to it is setting up the mounting bracket, mounting the air conditioner, securing it, and then extending the curtains to block the rest of the window. With the smaller window units this can be done with one person, but with the larger BTU sizes you may need a second person to help while you secure the air conditioner.
A mini-split system, or a ductless air conditioner, are quite a bit different then your window units. With a mini split you get a mix between the window unit and a traditional split system. I like to think of these systems as the in-between or the compromise. With the mini split you get quite a bit more power then you would find in a window air conditioner. In some cases the split systems can go as high as thirty-six thousand BTUs. (That’s enough cooling power to cool around twelve-hundred square feet.)
Along with the extra power of a mini-split system you also get a much more efficient system. Air conditioner efficiency is measured by what’s known as Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) or it can also be measured by Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER). These two numbers provide a measurement on how efficient your air conditioner is. When looking at window air conditioners the typical SEER you’ll see is around ten to twelve. Ductless mini split systems are whole other story with a SEER number coming in around fifteen to twenty, and in some cases even as high as twenty-five. That means that a ductless system is significantly more efficient then your standard window air conditioner which will result in you saving energy costs month after month of use.
There are two big downsides to ductless mini split systems. The first is the cost. A window air conditioner can be as cheap as one-hundred dollars or as expensive as five-hundred dollars. A mini split system will usually START at around five-hundred dollars and can top out at around fifteen-hundred dollars. This price can scare a lot of folks away from purchasing a ductless system, but there is still more expense after that.
Along with the high price point of ductless systems the installation can be quite difficult. So difficult in fact, that it is recommended to hire a professional HVAC technician to come to your home and install the system. A mini split system comes with three main parts that you will have to install. The first is what’s known as the air handler. The air handler is what is mounted on the inside of your home either on your wall, floor, or ceiling. This is the unit that intakes the hot air and releases the cold air into your home. The second part is known as the condenser. The condenser is the largest of the parts and has to be mounted on the outside of your home. Some users opt for a concrete platform while others opt for mounting brackets drilled into the side of their home.
Here is where things begin to get a bit tricky. The third component of your ductless system is the copper refrigerant tubing. This is the pipeline that the refrigerant will flow through back and forth between the condenser and the air handler. (Remember folks, that air conditioning is an endless cycle of the refrigerant flowing back and forth and changing states from liquid to vapor and vapor to liquid.) Installing the tubing can be difficult as you have to ensure that you do not bend or break any of the copper tubing. If you do so then your system will be leaking refrigerant and will not be able to cool your home. Along with all of that, you will have to drill a two to three inch hole in your wall for the refrigerant pipe to be routed to the condenser. You will then have to secure the pipe to the condenser and the air handler and make sure that there is no possible leakage.
We’re still not done yet though folks. Most ductless systems come pre-charged with nitrogen instead of refrigerant. The nitrogen will have to be vacuumed out of the system and then replaced with the refrigerant. Before that is done though, it is best to check your lines and connection points for any leaks. The most common practice here is to take soapy water in a spray bottle and spray it against the connection points. If you see any bubbles then you have a leak. Otherwise, you’re good.
Now it comes time to vacuum out the nitrogen and replace it with the appropriate refrigerant. If the wrong refrigerant is used then you can permanently damage your air conditioner. Also, as of January 1st, 2018 HFC refrigerants are now highly regulated and you will need to be 608 certified in order to purchase. Technically, you can still purchase single pound or two pound cans of refrigerant without a license, but even then you have to make sure you know what you are doing before vacuuming and charging your system.
See why we need a professional HVAC technician? A professional install will end up costing you even more on top of the cost of the ductless system, but it will ensure that your system is setup correctly and will provide cooling and heating for your home for years to come. You could be looking at a few hundred dollars for an install, or something much higher depending on who you have come out to install.
So, Window or Ductless?
That is the question, and the answer is going to depend on a few things. The first thing I’m going to ask you is what do you want out of your new air conditioner? Are you looking for relief from the heat while you are sleeping? Do you want something that’s not going to be too expensive and will let you sleep through the night? If so, then a window unit is most likely the best bet for you. Today you can go on Amazon.com and choose between various five-thousand BTU models that will keep your room cool through the night. Most of these range between one-hundred to two-hundred dollars. This will give you that restful night’s sleep all the while not spending too much on a new system.
Now let’s look at another scenario. Let’s say your home has a traditional split system installed but for whatever reason the air flow just isn’t providing enough cool air to the upstairs of your home. My family and I had a similar problem with our large bedroom over our garage. The bedroom was rather large as it covered the entirety of our three car garage so a standard five-thousand BTU unit would not be good enough. We either had to go with a much larger window unit or we could go with a ductless system. In this scenario we ended up going the window route (Frigidaire FFRE1233S1), but a ductless would have been a great fit as well… perhaps even a better fit. I like to think of window air conditioners as a temporary solution that will have to replaced every few years, whereas ductless system is a more permanent solution to cool and heat your home. So, if we had gone the ductless route I may not have had to replace window after only four years. As an example, the Pioneer WYS012GMFI17RL would have been a great alternative that would have lasted more then four years.
The last option that I want to bring up is cooling your whole home. Let’s say you have a thirteen-hundred square foot home that you are looking to cool and for whatever reason the traditional split system air conditioner is not an option. It could be price or it could simply be that your home is older and doesn’t even have duct work installed. There were quite a few farm houses I visited that had absolutely no duct work. A lot of people in these situations end up going the window air conditioner route. I would argue against this. As you get into the larger square footage the ductless mini split systems become more and more optimal. Yes, you’re going to pay more, but you are getting more power, more efficiency, and more longevity then your typical window unit. In this same example of a thirteen-hundred square foot home I would recommend Pioneer’s WYS036GMFI17RL. Also, if you do decide to purchase a ductless unit don’t forget that Amazon actually offers a professional install service that contracts out a fully trained professional to come to your home and do the install. The install link is on the same page that I linked above. This is great for those of you who are intimidated by a ductless install.
Well folks, what do you think? What will you end up getting? I hope this article was able to steer you in the right direction and to also give you some pros and cons of each type of air conditioner. Regardless of which one you decide with the end result will be the same. Your room or home will be cooled. It’s just a matter of preference and what you want out of your air conditioner.