Installing a ductless mini split system is a popular alternative for homes where central air is not a viable option.
Many homeowners use a mini split to cool and heat a particular room, such as an addition, three season porch, a bedroom in a far corner of the house, or a garage space.
While mini splits have been very popular throughout Europe and Asia for the many years now, homeowners in US have also started to catch on to the benefits ductless ac has to offer.
Mini split installation cost
Average costs to install a mini split AC start at $2,900-3,900 for a 12,000 BTU single zone unit, and $5,200-7,300 for 2 zone system. This includes labor and materials.
Prices range depending on the capacity, efficiency and quality of a unit.
Mini splits that have a high SEER rating (16-21) will cost more upfront, but can help you save more on monthly energy bills. Energy star advises homeowners to get a system that has at least a 13 SEER rating, especially if you live areas, such as Florida or Texas.
Another factor that can increase the price of your mini split is the BTU output. The higher the BTU the more expensive the unit will be. Essentially, BTUs measure how much cool air a unit can put out in one hour. How much BTUs you will need depends on the size of the room, number of doors and windows, insulation, amount of sunlight that enters the room, etc. Its best to have a professional assess the appropriate size of your mini split.
If you have more rooms in your home, just add $2,500-2,700 per additional zone.
Popular mini split brands are Mitsubishi (Number 1), Daikin and LG.
While there are units that cost as little as $700-800, its best to get one that offers better quality, usability and will last longer without breaking. Decent quality mini split models cost $1,100-1,500 (single zone that includes one air handler).
Factors that impact the cost of installation
Labor costs to install a ductless air conditioner range from $600-1,200 for a single zone unit depending on the complexity of the work involved, accessibility, etc.
Second floor installations cost 10-15% more because they take more time, and also require more refrigerant lines, wiring and conduit.
Prices to install a multi-zone mini split that has a number of indoor units are as much as $2,000+ (labor only).
In most areas, HVAC pros charge $75-95 per hour for straight forward mini split installs. However, its also common to see rates of as much as $100-120 per hour in more expensive locations.
Get 3-4 free quotes to install ductless ac from licensed HVAC pros in your area.
How does a mini split work?
A ductless mini split cools and heats your house without using a system of ducts. One indoor unit corresponds to one outdoor compressor. This compressor carries refrigerant and power to the interior unit via a small pipe, running through a small opening. The refrigerant is delivered directly to an air handler located on the wall or ceiling of a particular room.
You can have a separate thermostat attached to each air handler, and thus set different temperature levels in different rooms of your house.
Installation is fairly easy and does not require any major construction.
Mini split AC vs heat pump
If you live in an area that has cold temperatures many months out of the year, consider installing a mini split heat pump. It works and looks the same as a mini split air conditioner, but also provides heat!
In fact, a mini split heat pump can warm your room without compromising the efficiency of the air conditioning. You just turn on each mode as needed. Because a heat pump is equally good at both heating and cooling, its a viable option for pretty much any home.
Did you know? Most mini split units on the market are actually heat pumps. Its very rare to see a unit that’s just an air conditioner.
When shopping, you need to look out whether a heat pump is high or low efficiency. A high efficiency heat pump works at much lower temperatures. For example, you can have heat pumps that can heat a room when the temperature outside is as low as -15 degrees F or -21 degrees C.
Moreover, high efficiency heat pumps don’t use heating capacity rapidly, as temperatures drop below 5 degrees F. A cheap, no name heat pump from China will usually stop producing heat at +5 degrees F. However, even at a temperature that is close to its low limit, such a unit will typically use up to 50% of its heating capacity. This means that it can only produce about half of the heat that its rated for.
On the other hand, a high efficiency heat pump is rated at 23,000 BTUs of heating capacity. It would produce 100% of its heating capacity, at temperatures as low as -5 degrees F. However, when temperatures drop to -15 degrees F, it would loose capacity, but still produce about 68% of the capacity, or 15,640 BTUs.
Moreover, high efficiency heat pumps use less electricity to produce the same amount of cold air, compared to cheap low efficiency units.
The most efficient (and probably reliable) brands of heat pumps are Fujitsu, Mitsubishi and LG. Of the three, Fujitsu makes the most efficient units.
Common uses for a mini split ac
Research on homeowners who have purchased mini split ac and heat pumps in the last 1-5 years reveals the most popular reasons for installing this system:
84% have an existing central air system with functional ductwork. They use the mini split to supplement cooling and heating needs in a particular room.
35% install a mini split in a renovated bedroom or office
30% install it in a newly built addition
40% put in multi-zone ductless ac to avoid installing ductwork
52% installed a single zone system in a room that didn’t have ductwork, to provide spot heating and cooling
Where can you install a mini split?
There are several scenarios in which you should consider getting ductless air conditioning:
1. You have an addition that you need to heat and cool, and don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on installing ductwork.
2. There is an attic, man cave, bonus/sun room, or a garage space that you want to heat and don’t want to, or cannot install ductwork.
3. You live in an old house, where structurally it would be too difficult and expensive to install a new system of ducts.
4. The house is relatively small (under 1500 sq.ft.) and ductwork cannot be easily installed.
5. Ductless works well for people that want a supplemental system when central AC temperatures get either too hot or cold.
6. If you have a large house and its too expensive to heat or cool the entire space, putting in a mini split can help you downsize and save on energy costs. Many people who either live alone or as a couple in a big house that used to have other family members like to install a mini split in rooms such as their master bedroom, and keep the central air thermostat at a minimum.
Pros and Cons
Here are the top benefits homeowners enjoy after installing ductless air conditioning.
Compared to portable AC units, which go inside the window, you can barely notice when a ductless unit is turned on and running.
Inverter driven compressor
It speeds up and slows down based on the needs of the system, instead of shutting off entirely like a traditional HVAC compressor. This can save energy, because a lot of energy is consumed during compressor start-up.
Saves energy and money
An Energy Star rated ductless unit can save you up to 30% in energy costs, compared to central air. This is because in many central ac systems, air is lost through leaking ductwork. If ducts have been poorly installed, air leaks will also happen. This would not be an issue with a mini split.
Provides additional heating and cooling support
A ductless unit can be great even when you have central air in your house. For example, if you have one room with increased heating and cooling needs, you can meet this demand without extending ductwork.
Individual room temperature control
You can set up specific temperatures in different rooms, according to your own needs. This is typically not possible with central AC. Also, there is no limit to the amount of heating and cooling zones you can have with ductless air conditioning.
To illustrate just how efficient a mini split is – late models Nissan Leaf electric vehicles, as well as Tesla EVs now come with a heat-pump heater. They get extra 10-15 miles on a single charge in the winter, compared to a traditional heater used in older models.
Newer high-end motorhomes / RVs now also come with a heat pump option and upgrades, to provide more energy efficient heating and cooling. In both examples not only energy cost is a concern, but also the AMOUNT of energy available. This is because both EVs and Motorhomes/RVs have a very limited amount of electricity to operate these power hungry HVAC systems.
Of course, mini splits come with their own set of disadvantages that are worth considering, before committing to this system.
– Designs and styles of indoor units can be limiting. Some homeowners don’t like how a mini split looks
– A mini split can cool or heat only a specific zone/area of the house
– For multi-zone units, equipment and installation costs can be very high. In fact, replacing a central air system with a whole house full of mini splits can be 2-3 more costly than a ducted system.
– Ductless units require monthly maintenance: you need to wash the filter, because accumulating debris will make the unit a lot less efficient and will ultimately lead to a much shorter service life.
How to save on the cost of a mini split
Many homeowners who are interested in installing a mini split ac are shocked by the costly price estimates from their local HVAC installers, and often back out of this project.
For example, its common to get quotes of $4,500-5,000 to install a single unit mini split in areas like Massachussets, New York, California, and many other states. A four unit system, where the equipment costs $5,000 can be quoted as high as $12,000-15,000 to install.
Clearly, the mark up on professional labor is huge when it comes to mini split installs, so the question is: how can a homeowner save money while still getting a quality system from a qualified pro?
Here are some tips that can help you save money on a mini split without compromising quality:
1. Purchase the unit yourself
Today you can get pretty much any brand ductless ac from either a local dealer or an online supplier. Even brands like Mitsubishi and Fujitsu will honor the warranty on the unit if its installed by a licensed pro. This way you don’t overpay the contractor for the equipment, because they will usually roll into a 10-15% mark up on materials, to make profit.
Its still a good idea to get equipment from a reputable manufacturer and not try to save a few hundred bucks. While a cheap unit that costs around $600 will work fine in the beginning, you will likely see problems as quickly as in 3 years. Higher end mini splits that cost at least 1,500+ can easily last 10-15 years, without requiring repairs or replacement.
2. Hire a small HVAC company
Small HVAC businesses tend to have more reasonable mark-ups on labor charges, because their overhead and operating costs are also lower compared to large companies. Also, in a small company, you will likely have the owner doing a lot of the work, plus 1-2 other guys. There are no foremen, managers, etc, so again labor costs will be more reasonable.
An owner of a small company is more likely to agree to use the equipment that you have purchased, as opposed to demanding that you go with his equipment.
Overall, a simple install of a single mini split should not cost more than $1,200-1,500, and the company will still make profit.
Pro tip: as much as you can be tempted to save on the cost of installation, its still necessary to hire a licensed HVAC pro, as opposed to a handy man.
There are just too many technical details that go into the correct mini split installation, that there is a huge chance of doing something wrong, if you lack proper skills and experience.
If a handy man screws up, your equipment warranty will not be honored, and also you will still need to hire a licensed pro to fix or replace the system.
3. Schedule the install during a less busy season.
Depending on where you live, HVAC contractors will have busy and slow seasons. In many areas, fall and winter are considered slow, During this time, many companies are willing to offer 10-15% discount on their services to get a new client.
Central AC only
$3900 - $5600
AC + Hot Air Furnace
$7900 - $10400
Central Air + Ducts
$12100 - $17900
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