Question? Just ask us!
Free Encyclopedia of Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, Repair
InspectAPedia ® Home
AIR CONDITIONING & HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS
A/C - HEAT PUMP CONTROLS & SWITCHES
A/C DATA TAGS
A/C DIAGNOSTIC FAQs
A/C TYPES, ENERGY SOURCES
AGE of AIR CONDITIONERS & HEAT PUMPS
AIR CONDITIONER BTU CHART
AIR CONDITIONER COMPONENT PARTS
AIR FILTERS for HVAC SYSTEMS
AIR FLOW MEASUREMENT CFM
AIR HANDLER / BLOWER UNITS
BACKUP HEAT for HEAT PUMPS
BLOWER FAN CONTINUOUS OPERATION
BLOWER FAN OPERATION & TESTING
BOOKSTORE - Air Conditioning "How To" Books
CAPACITORS for HARD STARTING MOTORS
CIRCUIT BREAKER SIZE for A/C or HEAT PUMP
CLEANING & Legionella BACTERIA
COMPRESSOR & CONDENSING COIL, A/C
CONDENSATE HANDLING, A/C
CONTROLS & SWITCHES, A/C - HEAT PUMP
COOL OFF HEAT Thermostat Switch
COOLING CAPACITY, RATED
COOLING COIL or EVAPORATOR COIL
DATA TAGS on AIR CONDITIONERS
DEFINITION of HEATING & COOLING TERMS
DIAGNOSTIC GUIDES A/C / HEAT PUMP
DUCT SYSTEM & DUCT DEFECTS
DUST, HVAC CONTAMINATION STUDY
EDUCATION, HVAC SCHOOLS
ELECTRIC MOTOR DIAGNOSTIC GUIDE
EVAPORATOR COIL or COOLING COIL
EVAPORATIVE COOLING SYSTEMS
EXPANSION VALVES, REFRIGERANT
FAN, AIR HANDLER BLOWER UNIT
FAN AUTO ON Thermostat Switch
FAN, COMPRESSOR/CONDENSER UNIT
FAN CONVECTOR HEATERS - HYDRONIC COILS
GAS DETECTION INSTRUMENTS
GAUGE, REFRIGERATION PRESSURE TEST
HEAT LOSS (or GAIN) in buildings
HEAT LOSS (or GAIN) INDICATORS
HEAT LOSS R U & K VALUE CALCULATION
HUMIDITY LEVEL TARGET
INSPECTION CHECKLIST - OUTDOOR UNIT
INSPECTION LIMITATIONS, A/C SYSTEMS
LOST COOLING CAPACITY
LOW VOLTAGE TRANSFORMER TEST
MANUALS & PARTS GUIDES - HVAC
MOTOR OVERLOAD RESET SWITCH
MOLD in AIR HANDLERS & DUCT WORK
NOISE AIR CONDITIONER / HEAT PUMP
ODORS in AIR HANDLERS & DUCT WORK
OPERATING COST, AIR CONDITIONER
OPERATING DEFECTS, AIR CONDITIONING
OPERATING TEMPERATURES, AIR CONDITIONER
PORTABLE ROOM AIR CONDITIONERS
PRESSURE READINGS, REFRIGERANT
REPAIR GUIDES A/C / HEAT PUMP
REPAIR & DIAGNOSTIC FAQs for A/C
REFRIGERANTS & PIPING
RETROFIT SIZING for A/C or HEAT PUMPS
SEER RATINGS & OTHER DEFINITIONS
SPLIT SYSTEM AIR CONDITIONERS & HEAT PUMPS
THERMOSTATS, HEATING / COOLING
THERMOSTATIC EXPANSION VALVES
WATER COOLED AIR CONDITIONERS
WINDOW / WALL AIR CONDITIONERS
WINDOW / WALL A/C SUPPORTS
Guide to ductless split-system air conditioners: This article describes split system air conditioning & heat pump systems. We review the major system components, switches & controls, and typical applications for split system cooling systems, and we discuss use of the remote thermostat control, where to find and how to clean the split system air filters, how condensate is disposed-of, and what to check first if your split system air conditioner is not working properly.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2014 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
Split System Air Conditioner & Heat Pump Systems: controls, operation, diagnosis, repair & component parts guide
A split system or "ductless" air conditioning (or A/C & heat pump) system dispenses with duct work entirely, using a wall-mounted indoor evaporator/blower unit and a separate outside compressor/condenser (below left and right). In this split system air conditioning design, one compressor/condenser may serve multiple wall-mount indoor units.
The ductless or split and mini-split system air conditioners used in our illustrations are Sanyo brand, but there are quite a few split system and split system mini air conditioners currently on the market, including models by Carrier, Friedrich, Frigidaire, Goodman, LG, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Sanyo, and Samsung. The basic components, installation, and maintenance procedures here apply to all types of mini split system or ductless A/C and heat pump units, but of course you should also read the manufacturer's installation and users' guide for your unit as well.
This website discusses these air conditioning and heat pump terms and problems: Air Conditioners: Central Air Conditioning Troubleshooting & Repair Guide: How to Inspect, Diagnose, & Repair Central Air Conditioning: Defects in A/C compressors, air handlers, duct work, and controls. We explain how to inspect & repair central air conditioning systems and for homeowners we also answer basic HVAC questions such as what are the basic air conditioning components? We provide guidance in determining air conditioning cooling capacity & energy efficiency, Troubleshooting air conditioning compressor problems, Diagnosing air conditioning air handler problems, Air conditioning condensate problems, Duct system inspections, defects, repairs, Cleaning air conditioning equipment & A/C refrigerants.
Split system air conditioners and heat pumps may use a remote control device to turn the equipment on or off and to set the desired temperature. You will also find some operating switches and controls on the indoor wall-mounted cooling unit air handler, for most split system cooling units and heat pumps, the user is expected to use the remote control.
Remote control thermostats such as the unit shown at left are usually used with air conditioning or heating split systems using an outside compressor/condenser unit and one or more indoor wall-mounted cooling or heating units..
The thermostat controls in the hand-held remote control communicates with a wall-mounted air conditioner or heater using infra red signals. The open finned area at the bottom of the remote A/C control (at the left in our photo) permit ambient air to enter the control for purpose of sensing the air temperature.
A control such as this Sanyo (TM) unit can be quite sophisticated and include automatic set back temperatures, timers, etc.
On the remote control for a split system A/C or heat pump unit there are typically two levels of operating controls or settings.
Also see THERMOSTATS. And at A/C - HEAT PUMP CONTROLS & SWITCHES we describe all of the controls and switches found on residential and most commercial air conditioning and heat pump systems. Other controls that affect a split system air conditioner or heat pump will include
You can see the outdoor service switch (circled in red) in our photo at left. Depending on the installation, this box may contain fuses, a circuit breaker, or a simple pull-out that can kill power to the unit.
If your split system A/C unit is not cooling, remember to check this switch to be sure that power is being delivered to the unit.
Watch out: at installations using aluminum wire to bring power to the outside compressor/condenser unit the electrical connections between the aluminum wire and the lugs inside the service switch can fail, leading to overheating, loss of cooling, repeated cooling outages, and even an electrical fire. Extra care in making aluminum wire connections such as using an approved antioxidant and proper connection torquing significantly reduce this hazard. Details are at ALUMINUM WIRING HAZARDS & REPAIRS.
Split System Air Conditioner Air Filter Maintenance - How to Clean a Split System Air Conditioner Filter
Wall-mounted split system air conditioners as well as window air conditioner units include one or more removable air filters that are designed to be simply rinsed clean using cold water.
You can wash these plastic mesh filters in the kitchen sink using a dish sprayer but I prefer to perform the operation outdoors (shown below). Outside avoids messing up the kitchen and eliminates any risk of drain clogs.
Watch out: We have read of washable air filters that can be sent through your dishwasher. We do not recommend this step - as you risk clogging the dishwasher or its pump with dust and debris that wash off of the air filter.
We took two photos (shown below) of a pair of washable air filters pulled from the indoor cooling unit of a wall mounted split-system air conditioner used in our lab.
Holding up the two washable air filters and trying to peer through them, even in the dim afternoon light, that the clean filter (on the right) is almost transparent, while the dirty air filter (at left in our photo) is completely opaque.
This simple visual test can confirm the state of a washable air filter.
Watch out: these washable filters are pretty tough, but we offer these additional care recommendations:
Take care not to tear or damage the filter screen. Torn, the air filter will allow dust and debris to accumulate in the cooling system - leading to reduced cooling, frost or ice formation, and eventually the cost of a professional cleanup job.
The plastic filter is much thinner than the larger pleated paper or fiberglass filters used in the air handler of central air conditioning systems or heating furnaces. That means the filter should be inspected and cleaned with diligence - monthly during a season of daily use would be smart.
Additional ultrafine particulate filters on some Split System A/C and Heat Pump Units
Some split system air handlers include an extra internal filter intended to reduce ultrafine particulates such as from tobacco smoke. These filters are optional and might slightly reduce the air output from the unit. Fujitsu advises as follows:
Watch out: if you take a look at this filter you'll see it looks like fragile cardboard - it is not washable but rather is a disposable filter that is replaced as needed.
Some split system air handlers also include a negative ion generation feature also intended to remove some odors and ultra fine particulates from the air flow. Quoting:
The negative ions system includes an internal filter sheet that should be replaced every few years. (Say 3 year intervals). 
Proper slope is important for split system in-wall condensate drains
Our photo (left) shows a white flexible tube used as condensate drain tubing for a split system air conditioning system being installed in a New York Home. (click photo to see an enlarged, detailed version). Photo courtesy Galow Homes.
Even now the drain is not perfectly sloped (note it's a bit high at that second cripple stud from left) but it was much worse before we re-routed the drain. The air conditioner installer had the drain line sloping up-hill in the area I've circled in the photo.
Having already had condensate drain line clogs and backups and leaks from the indoor air handler into the building wall at another split-system air conditioner where the condensate drain was improperly sloped and clog-prone, I was not going to let it happen again at this installation.
The installer thought I was being unreasonably demanding. But then, he was ignoring the plumbing code (1/8" per foot slope for condensate drain lines) and apparently didn't recognize the potential costs in rot, insect damage or mold if we simply let the condensate drain clog (due to an improper slope and dust that will enter the line) followed by leaks into the building wall up at the air handler.
The condensate drain line and refrigerant tubing (black-insulated in the photo) were installed and the wall was prepared for blown-in insulation. Once the wall was insulated and drywall was installed, repairing an improperly-sloped drain line would have been much more costly and disruptive.
You'll see that we also installed nail plates (Nail Stops) to protect the condensate drain and refrigerant tubing from being punctured by screws or nails to be used when the drywall was installed.
A closeup of Simpson Strong-Tie's NS2 6-inch nail stop (Protecting Shield Plate Nail Stoppers) is shown at left.
We use nail stops to protect electrical wiring (see ELECTRICAL OUTLET, HOW TO ADD & WIRE) as well as plumbing piping from nail or screw punctures. 
Our photo at left shows the termination of the condensate drain line for this spit system air conditioner.
The white plastic flexible tubing ran through the building wall, was tied to the refrigerant lines behind the Sanyo inverter unit (compressor condenser unit) and then allowed to fall freely onto the rubber roof where condensate drains off the roof and into a gutter and downspout system for final disposal.
Since this system is a cooling-only unit, it does not operate in winter and we were thus not worried about the risk of freeze-up of the condensate disposal drain line.
At Installing Insulation on Air Conditioning & Heat Pump Refrigeration Lines we describe how insulation should be installed on the refrigeration lines both inside the building (and in building walls or other cavities) and outside at the compressor/condenser or A/C inverter unit.
For A/C compressor/condenser (inverter) outdoor units that are mounted above ground on the building wall, also see Proper Support for Wall-Mounted Exterior Air Conditioner / Heat Pump Compressor/Condenser Units
Avoid gaps and missing insulation along the refrigeration lines
Proper placement and securing of insulation on air conditioner or heat pump refrigeration lines is important to avoid condensation leaks into the building. One, or on some systems both refrigeration lines can be cool or cold under some operating conditions.
The cold copper tubing in contact with warm humid air causes moisture in the air to condense onto and then drip off of the refrigeration lines.
The result can be leaks into the building, as our photo at left illustrates. The drip stains on the attic floor may well indicate a point at which leak stains or even mold appear on the ceiling below.
Our photograph illustrates the importance of not compressing refrigeration. In our photo at below left, see the drip stains below the condensate lines at each location where the insulation was compressed by a too-tight plastic tie.
That same accumulation of water in a wall or ceiling inside which the dew point may be reached on the refrigeration lines is asking for a costly mold, insect, or rot damage problem later on.
Missing insulation on the refrigeration lines outdoors is not a catastrophe - at least for a short un such as at this split system compressor/condenser unit. Perhaps a little loss in efficiency of the system operation in some weather conditions.
On a long refrigeration line run, say between an attic air handler and a ground level compressor/condenser, the effects may be more significant.
Details about refrigeration piping insulation are provided at REFRIGERANT PIPING INSULATION
Watch out: The same split system air conditioner installer we described above at A/C Condensate Disposal for Split System Air Conditioners violated the manufacturer's recommendations against compressing the insulation on the refrigerant lines not just outside or in the walls, but also inside the wall-mounted unit itself.
During the first season of use of the newly-installed Sanyo split system air conditioner the building occupants noticed water stains and rippled wall paint extending down the wall below the indoor air handler cooling unit.
Our photo (left) shows where the refrigerant lines rise in the wall to enter the wall-mounted half of the split system air conditioner (that larger white area below the left end of the unit) and the blue tape marks where we first saw condensate water dripping from the unit.
We found that there was no insulation whatsoever on the refrigeration lines that ran horizontally along the rear bottom of the unit. The result was condensation on the refrigeration lines that did not drip into the unit's condensate tray but rather fell into the plastic bottom where water leaked out onto and into
The "fix" for this condensate leak was the installation of foam insulation along the refrigerant lines inside the unit, from their point of exit from the building interior wall surface to their point of connection to the cooling coil.
Details about how we found and fixed this condensate leak from the air handler are at at REFRIGERANT PIPING INSULATION.
Watch out: inadequately-supported outdoor window air conditioners or inadequately-supported wall-mounted outdoor compressor/condenser units (referred to as the "inverter unit" in some literature) pose a potentially fatal hazard should one of these units fall from the building onto someone below.
Details about the need to support window, through wall, or wall-mounted air conditioning & heat pump equipment are found at WINDOW / WALL A/C SUPPORTS
Fujitsu provides some helpful advice about troubleshooting weak air flow from the indoor wall-mounted component of a split system air conditioner or heat pump. The following are adapted from that source: 
Causes of no air flow or very very weak air flow from the A/C - heat pump unit
Causes of weak air flow from the wall-mounted split system A/C or heat pump
How to diagnose poor or inadequate cooling or heating from a split system air conditioner or heat pump
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about split system A/Cs or heat pumps
No FAQs have been posted for this page. Try the search box below or CONTACT US by email if you cannot find the answer you need at InspectApedia.
Question: it looks as if smoke or steam is coming out of our wall-mounted split system air conditioner/heat pump
We saw smoke or maybe it was steam (since it didn't smell) coming out of our wall-mounted split system air conditioner/heat pump - is this dangerous? - Anon.
Fujitsu has pointed out that at least on their mini split system heat pump/air conditioner wall mounted units a white steam coming from the air handler indoors may be perfectly normal. 
Reply: How to fix or replace a remote control thermostat control for an air conditioners or heat pump
A remote control air conditioner thermostat (like the one in our photo) control communicates with a wall-mounted air conditioner or heater using infra red signals. The open finned area at the bottom of this Sanyo control (at the left in our photo) permits ambient air to enter the control for purpose of sensing the air temperature. A control such as this Sanyo™ unit can be quite sophisticated and include automatic set back temperatures, timers, etc. About how to diagnose and fix an air conditioner remote control unit:
Replacing the hand-held remote control for an A/C system:
If you mean that you need to replace the hand-held portable remote control for your air conditioner, a new unit is best bought from the manufacturer themselves as that assures complete compatability with all of your air conditioners features.
How to troubleshoot & fix an air conditioner or heat pump remote control
If you mean that you think the remote control problem is inside of the wall-mounted A/C of a split system air conditioner or heat pump then I have some different advice. Basically, since the problem is usually in the hand held control unit, start there with these diagnostic and maintenance tips:
Check the remote control batteries: Start with replacing the remote control's batteries, then turning it back on and testing it's ability to control the A/C unit.
Watch out: a simple mistake like putting the batteries into the remote control with the (+) and (-) ends pointing the wrong way is enough to keep the control from working.
Check the air sensor port on the remote control and the control resting location: if the remote control seems to communicate with the wall unit but temperature response is not what you want, check that the openings that allow room air to enter the remote control are not blocked with dust or debris. Also consider where you are leaving the remote control. If you place the control directly in the cool air path of the A/C unit it will be "satisfied" sooner than you may wish. If you place the remote control too far away, out of the room, or in a dead air space or under a magazine, clearly it's not going to be able to respond well to the actual room temperature.
Also see THERMOSTATS, HEATING / COOLING.
Questions & answers or comments about split system air conditioner operation, installation, maintenance, & repair
Try the search box just below or if you prefer, post a question or a comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Search the InspectApedia website
HTML Comment Box is loading comments...
Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.