Ductless Mini-Split Systems
Mini Split Air conditioners are a popular and powerful alternative that bridge the gap between window air conditioners and central ac split systems.Mini splits generally cost more than window air conditioners but less than central ac units in initial purchase price. Their installation burden is much the same as well. They are harder and more costly to install than most window air conditioners, but they are not as expensive or time-consuming to install as central air conditioners, though they do require a licensed HVAC professional for installation. Finally, in comparison to window air conditioners and central air conditioners, mini splits tend to be more energy efficient than the window units and less so than the central units.
Single and multi-zone ductless “mini-splits” are typically installed when adding new or reworking existing ductwork is not an ideal choice. Used in residential HVAC applications, these systems can be installed and operated for substantially less than traditional ducted air conditioning HVAC systems, while offering easy maintenance in most cases.
So what is a mini-split? Like a refrigerator, a mini-split system use electricity to pump refrigerant and transfer heat from one space to another. Because refrigerant is naturally much colder than indoor temperatures, it absorbs heat from the inside and transfers that heat via heat pumps to the outdoors. The refrigerant’s physical properties do this naturally, so the user pays for the electricity to pump refrigerant via copper tubing from indoors to outdoors. Because heat is moved, rather than created (as with electric baseboard or resistant heat), these systems offer energy consumption efficiencies. For heating a facility, the process is reversed, with heat transferred from the outside to the inside.
How to Properly Maintain a Ductless Mini-Split System
Installation of a ductless mini-split involves running copper tubing through a 3" or 4" opening in the wall or ceiling in order to connect the indoor and outdoor components. Once installed, routine maintenance for multi-zone ductless systems includes six key stages:
• It is important to keep the primary filters clean. Some indoor units (“evaporator units” or “air handlers”) will require only annual cleaning of the mesh filters. In warehouse spaces or laundry areas, it may be important to clean them monthly. Facility managers (fms) should consider the environment, the presence of airborne dust and debris, and hours of operation.
• The indoor air quality (IAQ) filtration components on most systems can be easily removed and cleaned. Some systems are programmed to alert an fm to clean the IAQ filter after 400 hours of operation. When present, it is also important to keep plasma IAQ filtration clean.
• It is very important to make sure evaporator coils are clean. Though indoor air handler coils are amply protected by various filtration levels, it is good to examine coil cleanliness annually. If evaporator units are mounted where pollutants and airborne debris are common, it may be necessary to clean coils every year or two; coils typically require cleaning every other year.
Most often, evaporator coil cleaning entails removal of the front cover and visual inspection of the coil. It may be necessary to vacuum the coil with a soft bristle brush attachment; this will remove most accumulated dust. Chemicals such as household bleach can be used but should be diluted with water so that fluid solutions will not damage nearby materials or electronic components. (The technician should turn off main power to the equipment.)
The next step is to see that the drain pan is free of moisture (if the drain line is sloped properly and kink free, the drain pan should be dry). Accumulated moisture in the drain pan can encourage mold growth and mildew. Here, too, a diluted bleach solution can be used. Finally, the technician should be sure all equipment is dry before reactivation.
• Are the fan wheel and blower assembly in balance? It is very uncommon for this to be a problem, but units can be challenged by heavy accumulations of airborne grime and debris, such as in kitchens of fast food restaurants.
• Is the condensing unit in top shape? Refrigerant lines should be checked for apparent bumps or dents. Are the insulation wraps in good condition, or have they deteriorated from exposure to UV radiation? Is the unit mounted solidly on its base? Has the base moved, or is it slipping for any reason?
• Finally, technicians need to check the operation and cleanliness of the outdoor condensing unit. If cleaning is required, electrical power to the entire system should be shut off. This can be done at a main panel or at the outdoor disconnect located near the condensing unit.
Those performing maintenance should also make sure the unit’s horizontal discharge coil is free of debris. These systems rarely attract debris, but if grass clippings enter them due to mowing nearby, or if an abundance of wet leaves collects around the unit, these should be removed.
To clean condenser coil fins, a garden hose and soft nylon brush can be used. The two copper tubes that exit the system carry refrigerant to and from the indoor evaporators. These tubes should be wrapped separately with 3⁄8" pipe insulation. The technician can inspect insulation for signs of wear or damage. If signs of refrigerant or oil leakage are visible, that needs to be repaired.
Ductless mini-splits can provide ample space conditioning without requiring a major renovation. And to heat and cool multiple zones in their buildings, fms may find multi-zone, ductless mini-splits to be a suitable solution.