What is a Split System & Do You Need One?

There are a lot of ways to heat and cool your home. One of the most popular tools to do that in the United States is a central air split system, but what is a split system? Does your comfort absolutely require that you have one? Why are these so common?

In this article, we will answer the question: what is a split system. We'll also give you the full rundown on this particular kind of central HVAC, and how it might, or might not, fit into your life. When we're down, you should have a basic understanding of HVAC split systems and air conditioning in general.

So, What is a Split System?

Let's start simple. A split system is an air cooling (or heating) installation made up of at least two individual units. One unit is located outside. One unit is located inside. Together, these, minimum of two, units can cool a modern home in virtually any temperature conditions. So, when we say 'split', we just mean that part of it is outside and part of it is inside.

That's all there is to it. You can check out some popular examples right here.


Why do we go to the trouble of putting one part of a split system inside and one outside? Wouldn't it be easier to just put them all in one space inside or out? An HVAC split system is, essentially, a single machine, so how does cutting it in half and connecting those halves with tubes make any sense at all?

How Air Conditioning Works

To answer that question, let's talk about how an air conditioner works.

An air conditioner doesn't create cold. That's impossible. What an air conditioner actually does is to move heat around an environment. It takes the heat that's inside your home and dumps it outside. This drops the temperature of the interior air. The air conditioner will keep running this basic cycle, removing heat and exhausting it, until the interior temperature of your home reaches the temperature you set on your thermostat.

The necessary functions of this cycle mean that an air conditioner must have some mechanism inside to capture the heat and some other mechanism outside to release the heat. In a standard split system, an air handler is installed inside and a condenser is installed outside. Linked together via refrigerant lines, the two parts of this split system work effectively too cool a building.

It is worth mentioning that this mechanical operation also dehumidifies. In fact, the very first crude air conditioning systems were designed not to cool, but to dehumidify. If you're interested in the history of air conditioning and how it all came to be, we'd recommend this article.

Split System Types

There is more than a single type of split system. We'll briefly cover the most popular, so you have a good frame of reference when you encounter these systems on HVAC sites like our own.

Air Conditioner Split Systems

An air conditioner split system is the most common form of home cooling in the United States. Most homes with a central air conditioning system use a split system. This is the basic setup we've been talking about in this article: inside air handler, outside condenser, and refrigerant lines that connect the two.

Want to look at some air conditioner split systems? Check them out here.

Air Conditioner & Gas Split Systems

Before central air conditioning become common, most American homes had some kind of interior heating. This might have been a boiler and radiator system, a furnace, or just an old cast iron wood stove. An air conditioner and gas split system incorporates a modern gas furnace into the split system design. Many modern homes use this kind of central air system.

Want to look at some air conditioner and gas split systems? Check them out here.

Heat Pump Split Systems

You've probably heard of heat pumps, but do you know what they are? A heat pump is exactly like an air conditioner. The only difference is that a heat pump has a mechanism that allows it to run backwards. This means that it can cool, like an air conditioner, but it can also draw heat into the building from outside. This kind of heating has its drawbacks. Still, it's a useful tool many homeowners use as a supplement in mild regions or as their only heating source in hot climates.

Want to look at some heat pump split systems? Check them out here.

Ductless Split Systems

A ductless split system is a split system that isn't a central heating and air system. A ductless system relies on an air handler and condenser that are smaller than big, central HVAC equipment. That's because the purpose of a ductless system is to deliver air comfort into an area not serviced by duct work. This makes them a useful tool for expansions, historic homes, garages, workshops, man caves, she sheds, etc. Ductless split systems are generally available in either air conditioner or heat pump formats.

Want to look at some ductless split systems? Check them out here.

Are All Central Air Systems a Split System?

No, not all central air systems are split systems. Package air conditioners are a kind of central air system in which all the key operating components are housed in a single cabinet that rests outside the building. While these are less common than central split systems, there are still many applications in which package air units are preferred. You can learn more about package air conditioners here.

Questions or Comments About What is a Split System?

Do you have any questions you need answered that we didn't cover in this article? There are a few ways you can reach out to us. You can send us a message on our contact page here. You can also leave us a question in the Question & Answer section on any of the product listings here on our website. If time is of the essence, you can call us directly at 270-575-9595. You can also catch us on Facebook or Twitter.

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