Mini split A/C unit in bedroom

Mini split A/C unit in bedroom. Photo by Maura Taylor.

If you lived in Zihuatanejo thirty years ago chances are you didn’t have air conditioning, so if you wanted a respite from the heat you jumped in the ocean or took several showers a day.   Although it’s this simplistic, and at times bohemian, lifestyle that attracts us to Zihuatanejo, nowadays escaping the heat can be as simple as the click of a button.

Granted, most homeowners in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo will argue that even with air conditioning in their home it hardly ever gets used, and that is true.  As we are blessed here with a mild climate and almost year-round ocean breezes, most interiors will only need to be air conditioned maybe a few weeks out of the year.   If a home is constructed in a way that takes advantage of natural coolants such as air flow, landscaping and a light colored exterior, there should be limited need for air conditioning.  However, on those few days a year where the heat and humidity exceed the norm it’s nice to know that you have a convenient way to cool off.

One of the obvious disadvantages to air conditioning is high energy consumption, often resulting in elevated utility costs.  Also air conditioners tax heavily on the local energy grid and with an increasing population, energy conservation should remain a key concern for all of us.  Certain air conditioning systems are available which reduce the amount of energy that is consumed when the units are in use.   Also if used in conjunction with overhead ceiling or standing fans, cool air is distributed more evenly throughout allowing the air conditioner to run less and cool more efficiently.  If you’re trying to keep a small room or area cool, many new models of room air conditioners are available locally that have a high EER (energy efficiency ratio) and some even carry the Energy Star label.

As most of us are already familiar with the window or room air conditioners, we are going to focus this article on the mini split a/c system that is both easy to install and can be purchased locally.  The mini split is a completely ductless system which consists of two main components:  an outdoor unit (compressor/condenser), and an indoor air-handling unit.  Some models can have as many as four indoor air handling units (for four zones or rooms) connected to one outdoor unit.   A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain, links the indoor and outdoor units.  The conduit only requires about a three inch hole to pass through the wall, allowing for easy installation.  Conduits come in a variety of lengths, so there’s plenty of flexibility in terms of where the outdoor compressor can be placed and hidden inconspicuously.

Mini split systems are more energy efficient than both central air conditioning and room air conditioners.  Its cooling capacity is much more efficient than that of central air conditioning as it eliminates the energy loss that occurs when forced air passes through ductwork.  As the conduit only needs a small hole to pass through to the compressor there is little energy loss, unlike a window air conditioner which looses much of its efficiency through poor insulation.  Additionally, the air handling units run virtually noise free, as they are housed completely separate from the outdoor compressor.

Mini splits also offer more flexibility in interior design options. The indoor units can be suspended from the ceiling, recessed into the wall or completely hidden from view.  Most indoor units have thin profiles and usually come with sleek jackets.  Most models offer a remote control to make it easier to turn the system on and off when it’s positioned out of reach.  A thermostat regulates each air handling unit, which in turn saves on energy consumption while maintaining a comfortable room temperature.  Split-systems can also help to keep your home safer since there is only a small hole in the wall.  Through-the-wall and window mounted room air-conditioners can provide an easy entrance for intruders.

The mini-split system generally runs about 5,000-6,000 pesos per ton (12,000 BTU per hour) of cooling capacity plus an installation cost of approximately 1,500 pesos plus, per air handling unit.  A ton (12K BTU) of cooling capacity will cool a small room up to approximately 10 feet by 15 feet.  It’s best to have the dealer correctly size each unit and judge the best location for its installation.  Oversized or incorrectly located air-handlers often result in short-cycling, which wastes energy and does not provide proper temperature or humidity control. Too large a system is also more expensive to buy and operate.

There are several different manufacturers and models to choose from which are available locally at selected dealers.  You can also purchase lower capacity units at the Commercial Mexicana and Bodega supermarkets; however you will generally get better technical support and customer service from an authorized dealer.

Considering its reasonable cost, easy installation and overall energy efficiency, the mini-split system can be an ideal option to keep your interior cool and your budget intact.