Split System Air Conditioning – Is It the Energy Efficient Choice?

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For decades, the Split System Air Conditioner has been the staple choice for most homes in Adelaide. It’s easy to install, maintain and in recent years, split system air conditioner manufacturers have even improved it’s design.

Today’s split system air conditioners even come in various colours, slim-line and very sleek designs that can greatly accentuate the interior decor of your home.

In this post, we will look at how this system works, with a primary focus on its energy efficiency.

When choosing an air conditioner for your home, it is important to go with one that has the lowest running cost. The cost savings over the lifespan of the air conditioner can be quite monumental. Jim’s Heating and Cooling offers a range of split system units for sale that are sure to keep your Adelaide home cool for less. Save on installation now and on your running costs in the long-run with a split system unit from our team.


What is a Split System?


Most people will be quite familiar with what a split system air conditioner is. It is a type of air conditioning that comes with a compressor that usually supports between 2 to 4 wall units. In some higher end models, a single compressor can even support up to 8 wall units.

The compressor does all the cooling and heating work, and performs as the main “processor” for the air conditioner. The conditioned air is then blown into a room or space via the wall hung fan units.

For split system air conditioner, a wall unit is required to be installed into each room that requires air conditioning.

Newer models of split system air conditioners are capable of producing both cold and warm air, and are known as reverse cycle split system air conditioners.

Being able to perform both heating and cooling, makes a reverse cycle split system air conditioner an all-in-one air conditioning system.

Other Air Conditioner Types

Before looking at the energy efficiency of the Split System Air Conditioner, a quick overview of other types of air conditioning is necessary so we can have a meaningful comparison.

There are generally 3 types of air conditioning available for home. Besides the split system air conditioner, there is also the Ducted Reverse Cycle and the Evaporative Air Conditioner.

Both of these are ducted air conditioners that use a network of ducts and air vents to distribute air throughout a home. This is in contrast to split system air conditioners that use wall units to blow air into a room or space.

Let’s take a quick look at each type of air conditioning. Thereafter, we will delve into the energy efficiency of the split system, and determine if it is the most energy efficient system for your home.


The Ducted Reverse Cycle Air Conditioner

The ducted reverse cycle air conditioner is another very popular type of home and office air conditioning.

It is also commonly known as central air conditioning. This is because it distributes conditioned air through a network of ducting and air vents, and the main compressor units are usually located out of sight.

An internal and external unit works in tandem to produce the warm or cool air (reverse cycle), and distributes the air through the ducts and out into a room or space via air vents. All the ducting is completely hidden in the roof, wall and floor spaces of the home, revealing almost nothing.

Ducted air conditioning is almost “invisible” and hence takes on a very neat, minimalist design. Which is highly desirable for most home owners.


The Evaporative Air Conditioner

Evaporative is becoming more popular in recent years, as home owners demand better quality air in their homes.

An evaporative air conditioner cools warm air in a room using the natural process of evaporation. Warm air is sucked into the air conditioner, passed through damp cooling pads, and blown out again as cooled air.

The air produced by an evaporative air conditioner is not cold and crisp like that from a refrigerative air conditioner (ie. ducted reverse cycle or split system). It is more like a natural cool breeze which is not as cold, but feels fresher.

Due to the evaporative process, the air produced by an evaporative air conditioner has a higher moisture content, and is thus easier to breather and gentler on the skin. For this reason, it is deemed to be of a better quality and more natural.

Families with young babies or children, or with members that have respiratory sensitivities would generally favour this form of air conditioning.

Another benefit of evaporative air conditioners is that you can even keep your doors and windows open while you use it. This creates a very natural environment as the cool breeze circulates throughout your home.

Split System Air Conditioner – Is it energy efficient?

Split System Air Conditioners used to consume a high level of power and thus cost quite a bit to run long term.

There have been many reports over the years of home owners being hit with astronomical power bills, for having used their split system air conditioners lavishly.

The reason split systems consume the amount of power it does, is due to the fact that it needs to power both the compressor and the wall units. So depending on your usage model and intensity, the running cost could be rather high.

For instance, if you leave the air conditioning on in all rooms for long periods, the power costs will be high. As electricity is required to keep the compressor and all wall units operational.

However, in recent years, split system air conditioner technology has advanced significantly, allow them to achieve unprecedented levels of energy efficiency.

Almost all top brand manufacturers, like Mitsubishi Electric, Toshiba, Carrier and Samsung, have invested heavily into R&D, to improve the energy efficiency of their split system models. The results were impressive.

Today, split system air conditioners have some of the highest energy star ratings and their long term running cost has decreased significantly.

It may still not be the most efficient type of air conditioning, but it does deliver a host of unique benefits, along with excellent power efficiency.

Energy Star Rating – How To Read The Label

When comparing the energy efficiency of various types of air conditioners, it is essential to look at energy star ratings.

The energy star rating is a joint initiative of Australian, State and Territory and New Zealand Governments. Through it’s Equipment Energy Efficiency (E3) Program, it helps improve the energy efficiency of a range of appliances and equipment.

Manufacturers are required to attach these label to their appliances. These ratings represent a factual, tested indication of the energy efficiency levels of each appliance. Buying more efficient models helps households and businesses can consume less energy, save money on their energy bills, and help to reduce emissions.

These labels are actually very simple to interpret. There is actually a highly complicated process of testing involved, but that is done by manufacturers and validated by the authorities. All that a consumer needs to know is, the more energy rating stars an appliance achieves, the more efficient it is.

These labels allows you to compare apples to apples, by looking at the Capacity Output and Power Inputs, so you can compare appliances kW to kW.

When comparing air conditioners, just note the kW system size you are going for, and compare the number of energy stars between the models. This way, you will have a good reference point on which model is more efficient.

Split System Air Conditioners, regardless of the manufacturer, has consistently achieved between 4-6 star ratings.

The existence of this energy star rating program, has encouraged manufacturers to focus on energy efficiency, resulting in the launch of many highly efficient split system models in recent years.


How Efficient Is Split System Compared To Other Air Conditioning Types


This is a question home owners will ask at some stage of their evaluation. And if you are considering an air conditioning purchase, you should take a close look at this as well.

Even though the Split System Air Conditioner has improved in it’s power efficiency considerably over the years, it is still not the most energy efficient air conditioner type.

Let’s take a look now at how the split system air conditioner compares with ducted reverse cycle and evaporative – in terms of energy efficiency and running costs.

Split System Air Conditioner
Vs Ducted Reverse Cycle


As mentioned earlier in this post, the split system air conditioner has seen significant advances in energy efficiency. But so has the ducted reverse cycle.

At the same time, top manufacturers have also focused on energy conservation features for ducted reverse cycle air conditioners.

The result – Ducted Reverse Cycle air conditioners have also become highly efficient in recent years.

So how do they stack up? How should home owners decide between a split system air conditioner and a ducted reverse cycle – in terms of energy efficiency.

The answer is simple. Base your comparison on your own usage intensity and pattern.

Obviously, the basics apply. The more you use your air conditioner, the more power it consumes. And overworked compressor will consume exponential amounts of electricity to produce the kind of cooling or heating demanded. This works the same way whether it’s a split system or ducted reverse cycle.

Usage pattern is also important. Split Systems are ideal for standard sized homes with 2-3 bedrooms. Since each wall unit is controlled separately, you could get by with very low running costs on a split system, if you don’t always turn on all the wall units at once. The more wall units you run concurrently, the harder the compressor works, and the more power it consumes.

Similarly for ducted reverse cycle, the more zones you activate, the more power it will require to generate the heating and cooling to each zone. And since it’s a central air conditioner, it can hit it’s kW system limits if many zones are turned on at once. When this happens, it will require a lot more power to deliver efficient cooling and heating to all zones. Driving the running cost up significantly.

So depending on your home usage pattern, a split system air conditioner may or may not give you the lowest running cost.

Comparing apples to apples though, most models of split system air conditioner and the ducted reverse cycle both should have a fairly similar level of efficiency. This is due to the fact that energy conservation measures such as Inverter technology, has been implemented in all recent models of both air conditioning types.

All said, the ducted reverse cycle possibly cost marginally more to run – given that it has an external anbd internal unit that needs to be powered on constantly – even if only one zone is active.

However, before you jump to a decision, keep in mind that you need to evaluate more based on your own usage pattern.

Split System Air Conditioner Vs Evaporative

While it was a hard call comparing whether the split system or ducted reverse cycle is more energy efficient, the answer is clear when compared with Evaporative.

Evaporative air conditioners are undisputedly the most energy efficient. Due to the fact that it does not cool air using a refrigerative process, it consumes far less power than a split system air conditioner or ducted reverse cycle.

One of the top manufacturers of Evaporative air conditioners, Seeley International (a 100% Australian owned company), has provided that evaporative air conditioners are in fact 90% cheaper to run than ducted reverse cycle air conditioners. Below is an informative chart from it’s Breezair Evaporative sales factsheet.

Note that it states that an evaporative air conditioner could save you up to $346 per year on running cost – when compared with a 20kW reverse cycle air conditioners (split system or ducted).

For this reason, many home owners have decided on Evaporative. It does give better quality air at very low running costs.

A downside to Evaporative though, is that it is not reverse cycle. Meaning, it does not produce warm air. Hence, it cannot provide heating for your home. You will need to install separate heating.

So in terms of costs, with Evaporative, you will need to factor in the upfront cost of installing a separate heating solution (ie. ducted gas heating, wall furnaces or wood heaters). You will also then need to take into account the running cost of gas that is required if you are going with a ducted gas heater. And then compare that with the running cost of the other types of air conditioner systems.

All in all, if you are fine with having separate heating, you would still see lower running costs with an Evap/Separate Heating combo, versus the all-in-one reverse cycle air conditioners.

Again,  a lot depends on your own usage pattern, and how much you use.


How To Decide?

So is a Split System Air Conditioner ideal for your home? Is it a good choice if you want an air conditioner with low running costs? Is it energy efficient?

As you have read in this post, the answers to these questions depend on your personal usage and heating and cooling objectives.

In terms of energy efficiency, it is comparable to a ducted reverse cycle. In fact, it is in the same category, the reverse cycle air conditioner. The ducted reverse cycle powers up both an internal and external unit, and could arguably consume more power. However, the split system also runs with wall units. And the more wall units are turned on concurrently, the more power it consumes.

Hence, it is not a definable line between the ducted reverse cycle vs the split system air conditioner.

What we do clearly see, is that the Evaporative is far more efficient to run than the other two air conditioner types. With running costs almost 90% lower than reverse cycle air conditioners.

So if going for the lowest running cost is your game, then Evaporative will be the clear choice. Keep in mind though that you will need to install separate heating. So do account for the upfront and running cost of the heating system, for a meaningful comparison.

Split System Air Condition
– The Best Scenario

To help ensure you make the right choice, we will now present the best scenario for when a Split System air conditioner is most ideal for a home. If your conditions match what is stated below, then a split system air conditioner might be the perfect match for your home.

Standard, Single Storey 3-4 Bedroom Home

If you have a large multi-storey home with complex layout and hard to reach spaces, a split system is not for you. You will find a ducted reverse cycle or ducted evaporative more suitable to provide the coverage required for your larger home.

It would be cost-prohibitive to try to cover all the rooms, on multiple levels of a home with split system.

You may need to install multiple split systems, incurring significantly higher upfront costs. And the maintenance of that many wall units would be a hassle and considerable ongoing cost.

However, if you have a standard size, 2-3 bedroom single storey home, then a split system air conditioner might be ideal for you. Since you do not have harder to reach spaces, you can install a wall unit into each room and the living or dining room. That will sufficiently cover your home and you can control the air conditioning separately for each wall unit.

1-2 Room Concurrent Usage

A split system air conditioner is particularly suitable if you are a lower usage household. Meaning, you typically only turn on the air conditioning for shorter periods, and in 1 or 2 rooms concurrently.

The split system air conditioner is highly suited to this usage pattern and will deliver a fairly low, acceptable running cost.

Features & Control Focused

If you are like some home owners who value a wide range of features and like to play around with their climate controls, then split system is also a good choice. Split systems have the widest feature sets, since a majority of the consumer features are presented on the wall units. Features such as 3D sensor, air purifiers & ionisers, airflow controls and wind vane angles, are all delivered through the wall units.

A ducted reverse cycle would be short on all these features. So if you like features and controls, then split system is what you would go for.

Need Help? Contact Jim’s Today!


At Jim’s Heating and Cooling, we recognise that purchasing air conditioning for a home is a major decision. We consider it our mission to help home owners evaluate what they exactly require, and help them find the perfect match for their home.

When making a purchase decision, you should consider how much heating and cooling you require. And if you are find with installing separate heating. You should also consider your home layout and size, to determine which type of air conditioner suits your home more.

In addition, your personal preferences, and the issue of air quality, would all weigh on your choices.

Jim’s supplies and installs just about any brand and model of air conditioning. Hence, we will be able to provide an unbiased, professional opinion to you. Send us your house plans and we will recommend the best combination of heating and cooling for your home.

Our expert consultants will draft out the ducting plan and best installation approach, to deliver the best installation experience for you.

Submit a quote request today using the form on this page. Our consultants will be in touch with you shortly.