Are mini-split units good for heating purposes?
Finding the right heating solution for your O’Fallon, MO home could prove challenging. After all, there are many equipment types to choose from, and each comes with its own level of safety, convenience, and efficiency. While many households are reliant upon ducted furnaces and heat pumps, ductless mini-splits are garnering attention for their low operating costs, ease of use, and overall flexibility. Having a mini-split installed is among the cheapest ways to keep your living space cool in the summer, but you may be worried about using it for heating purposes. Read on to discover just how well these systems handle cold weather.
What Are Mini-Split Systems and How Do They Work in Winter?
Ductless mini-split heat pumps have been commercially available since the 1970s. However, they’ve sparked recent interest among consumers who are actively searching for ways to reduce their carbon footprints. Like central air conditioners, mini-split systems have outdoor condensers that are installed on level, composite, or concrete pads. These units are connected to one or more indoor air handlers to service select areas or entire buildings.
In summer, ductless heat pumps are functionally identical to air conditioners. They harness warm, indoor air, pass it over refrigerant-filled coils, and cycle it back into rooms after all of its heat has been absorbed. Hot refrigerant makes its way to the outside condenser where its heat and condensation are released. Once cooled, this refrigerant cycles back inside and the process repeats. After several cooling cycles, a comfortable indoor temperature is achieved.
In winter and while working in reverse, ductless heat pumps source heat from outdoors and move it into buildings. Fortunately, many of these units can extract heat from the outdoor air even when temperatures are fairly low. This heat is funneled into buildings until the temperatures set at individual thermostats are reached.
Ductless Mini-Split Systems and Cold-Performance
The concern with ductless mini-split systems during the winter months is finding sufficient heat to transfer. When outside temperatures fall below freezing, mini-splits have to work harder to get their jobs done. This extra work decreases their efficiency and raises their operating costs.
When used for cooling or for heating homes in only moderately cold climates, some ductless mini-split heat pumps can maintain efficiency levels as high as 300%. When this is the case, these units are producing three times as much heat energy or cooling power as they’re consuming in electrical energy. Although this is impressive, a mini-split heat pump’s efficiency could drop below 70% if outside conditions become cold enough.
Ambient Temperature Mini-Split Systems
Winter weather in O’Fallon, MO is undeniably crisp. It brings temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit from December to February. During the nighttime hours and times of weather extremes, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to dip down into the teens. As such, economy-level mini-split systems aren’t a good choice for year-round climate control. While a basic, low-cost mini-split might keep your home cool in summer, it won’t provide the reliable and consistent performance you need in extremely cold weather. Entry-level mini-split systems only function at 100% efficiency or higher when temperatures are above 20 degrees. Worse still, when temperatures drop much lower, they’re always in danger of freezing.
To compare, a mid-level mini-split system will operate at efficiency levels as high as 100% when outdoor temperatures are as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. In areas where temperatures remain at or just below 20 degrees, they often need base pan heaters to prevent their outdoor condenser coils from icing over and freezing. Unfortunately, even with base pan heaters in place, temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit could cause them to freeze over and stop working.
Having a mid-level mini-split in your O’Fallon, MO home will give you the benefit of even and efficient heating throughout much of the cold season. However, during times of extremely cold weather, you may need a backup heating solution.
Low-ambient mini-split heat pumps are the best choice for homeowners in O’Fallon who are interested in using mini-splits as their sole or primary heating solutions. Low-ambient mini-splits can continue sourcing sufficient outdoor warmth to heat building interiors even when outside temperatures dip down into the negatives. These systems work at 100% efficiency at zero degrees Fahrenheit, and they’re unlikely to ice over and shut down in O’Fallon weather.
Why a Ductless Mini-Split Might Be the Most Efficient Choice for Your Home
With a mid-level or low-ambient mini-split servicing your entire home, you may be able to cut both your carbon footprint and your spending in multiple ways. According to the University of Florida, a central, ducted HVAC system could lose as much as 40% of its heating and cooling energy via ducting alone. Mini-split systems eliminate these ongoing energy losses by producing and distributing air from the same place.
With a mini-split system, each room or zone throughout your home can have its own air handler. Each air handler comes with its own thermostat, and each thermostat is controlled independently of the others. While central heating systems heat homes uniformly, this setup makes it possible to selectively heat only the spaces that you’re using. The result is less energy wasted on building areas that are unoccupied, and a year-round ability to customize indoor temperatures to each resident’s liking.
Having the right mini-split for the local environment means that your heating system will always work at 100% efficiency or higher. In comparison, ducted heating systems have annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) ratings that fall between 80% and 98.5%. This means that they only convert between 80% and 98.5% of the fuel they consume into usable heat energy. Moreover, furnace AFUE ratings don’t account for the thermal energy losses that occur in HVAC air ducts or the extra energy used to heat vacant spaces.
Using Ductless Mini-Split Systems as Supplemental Heating Solutions
In many ultra-cold regions, ductless mini-split systems are used as supplemental heating solutions. These units work well during the early stages of winter when outside temperatures are still relatively high. They also effectively support central HVAC systems in homes with inefficient envelopes, multiple levels, or lots of remote spaces to warm.
Service Remote Building Areas With a Ductless Mini-Split
Among the most popular cold-weather applications for mini-splits is heating finished basements, attic bedrooms, garages, and other areas that aren’t connected to ducted, central HVAC. If you have an in-law unit or a recent bedroom addition that isn’t serviced by your central HVAC system, you can certainly use a mini-split for winter heating. When combined with the residual heat from your central heater, the heat from a mini-split will keep most remote rooms or attached units sufficiently warm. Best of all, like central HVAC systems, ductless mini-splits also provide ongoing air filtration and humidity control.
Cost Concerns: Is Installing a Mini-Split System More Expensive?
When analyzing the pros and cons of using a mini-split for winter heating, you’ll find that ductless heat pumps cost quite a bit more than other heater types. However, in rooms or homes that lack HVAC ductwork, installing this equipment could actually prove far cheaper than paying for ductwork retrofitting. It’s also important to note that, unlike other heaters, ductless mini-splits provide year-round climate control.
Residents of O’Fallon, MO can count on us for superior workmanship and top-quality heating and cooling equipment. We provide furnace and air conditioner installation, repair, and maintenance services. We also offer geothermal heating, ductless mini-split systems, and advanced IAQ solutions. To find out more or to schedule an appointment, contact Hoff Heating & AC now.