You may have heard about ductless mini-splits and wondered about their cost, efficiency, or benefits compared to a traditional air conditioner, heat pump, or furnace. You’re not alone.
They are getting more popular by the minute. Oilandenergyonline states: In the last seven years the U.S. mini-split market has seen a 221 percent growth rate (in ductless mini-splits). And it is expected to continue to grow at a rate of 20 percent or more per year.
Mini-splits have two main components: an outdoor compressor/condenser, and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain, links the outdoor and indoor units. Usually, this conduit is covered by a Line-Hide, which offers protection.
The numerous benefits are worth considering when determining if a ductless mini-split is right for you.
At Fire & Ice, we’ve installed hundreds of ductless mini-splits and spoken with thousands of customers who have considered one.
In this article, we’ll go over ways in which ductless mini-splits can contribute to your home’s comfort. By the end, you’ll know whether it’s an option that is right for you.
Zoning with Ductless Mini-Splits
In HVAC, zoning is done to distribute conditioned air throughout the home and balance the temperature throughout. It’s about evening out cold and hot spots to create comfort in every area.
There are four methods of zoning. The first is using two thermostats in different areas of the home, such as one on the first floor and the other upstairs. The second is using two HVAC systems that control different parts of a house. The third is a single HVAC system with the main line running from the furnace to different areas of the home with manual or automatic dampers to control the flow of air.
The fourth is ductless mini-splits.
Why Might You Want to Zone?
With one central air conditioner or heat pump, you can shut off a portion of your ductwork to force the air to go where you want it. You would need dampers on the ducts. To get that air in one place, you’re taking it from somewhere else. You’re making a different part of your home colder or hotter. It’s guesswork by trial and error. It’s expensive, and it’s not always practical.
And then a lot of times hot and cold spots in your home are not necessarily a ductwork issue. Oftentimes it’s an insulation issue. If we’re considering a room above a garage, the walls may lack insulation. Ditto on the ceiling and the floors.
And you can’t run ductwork in a garage because there’s too much risk of car exhaust, which contains carbon monoxide, being circulated back into the home. There are code-specific requirements that say ductwork can’t be done because of safety. You would have to create a separate zone for that.
Let’s say you build an addition, and maybe you can’t get ductwork out there. Or maybe to get ductwork to that new area would be super invasive. You would have to tear up drywall. You’d be tearing up ceilings or floors to run a duct.
Ductless mini-splits are perfect solutions to those problems. It’s easy to target an exact area. A ductless mini-split system is a zoned system.
Rooms That Benefit the Most from Ductless Mini-Splits
A common application is a master bedroom or bonus room that’s above a garage. It’s under-insulated and susceptible to outside temperatures. Getting a duct out there is difficult, and ducts can’t be run in garages.
Maybe you want the temperature in your master bedroom at 65, but you want the house to be 70 degrees. If you set the thermostat to 65, the whole house cools, not just one room. With a ductless mini-split, you’re not running up your electric bill to try to cool your master bedroom. The rest of the house won’t be freezing cold as well.
If you were to build an addition, then you are increasing the load on the total system if you were to add ductwork. (Even if you don’t add ductwork, the overall square footage has changed, and your system may become under-sized, which means the whole house suffers.) If that maxes out your current system, maybe supplemental heating and cooling is the solution.
A lot of people want to convert a three-season room into a livable space. A ductless mini-split head would help with the temperature balance.
There are a lot of people who convert garages to gyms. You can work out in comfort.
For people who now work from home, the office may be teeming with monitors, a printer, and other electronics. Want to keep it cooler without resorting to a room air conditioner?
The biggest benefit of a ductless system is that it can be a one-to-one zoned comfort.
8 Benefits of Ductless Mini-Splits
- Ductless systems are more efficient than air conditioners or heat pumps. The biggest reason for this is you’re controlling one room at a time instead of the whole house. Maybe you have a three-bedroom house, and all three people like to be at different temperatures. One person likes it at 68, another likes it at 70, and another likes it at 75. Now you can keep the house at a moderate temperature and cool those rooms separately. Instead of wasting energy trying to cool the whole house, you’re able to just cool the bedrooms.
- It’s environmentally friendly because it’s so efficient. If a room doesn’t need to be cooled, you can shut off that part of the system. It requires less energy.
- The dual split vane design is designed for directional airflow. If it’s mounted offset on a wall, you can have the vents point the other way so you don’t lose 30% of the airflow as it hits the wall first.
- They offer flexibility. They can heat and cool. Just like a heat pump, they can make you comfortable year-round. And, as a bonus, when it’s in air conditioning mode, it removes excess humidity from your house.
- Some models have i-See Sensor Technology, which directionally points the airflow to where the heat source is. If you’re working out, you can have that air blowing on you. You can also program the air to blow away from you automatically. The sensor also provides features such as Auto-Off and Energy Saving Mode, both of which are designed to save money.
- It’s not mandatory that they are installed on walls. Floor and ceiling heads give mini-splits versatility.
- They are scalable. You can heat/cool as many rooms as you want, from just one to a whole house.
- As mentioned before, they are versatile enough to heat/cool the problem areas of your home without ductwork. Your central air conditioner and furnace can do only so much. Ductless mini-splits can focus on the areas where they are deficient.
Ductless Mini-Split Energy Efficiency
Ductless systems are more energy-efficient than standard HVAC units for the following reasons:
You can switch off heads in rooms that aren’t in use. This lowers your energy use and electric bill.
Leaky ductwork can make your traditional HVAC unit work harder because the conditioned air isn’t always going where it was designed to. According to energy.gov, duct losses can account for more than 30% of energy consumption for air conditioning, especially if the ducts are in an unconditioned space such as an attic. You avoid this problem entirely with a ductless mini-split.
Most air conditioners use one- or two-speed compressors that cycle on and off to keep your home at the programmed temperature. As a result, they use more electricity. Ductless air conditioners use variable speed compressors that continuously make adjustments to keep the home at a consistent temperature. Since they don’t switch on and off throughout the day, they’re more energy-efficient.
And if you want to compare them to a window AC, a traditional “window shaker” has a SEER of around 10. Mini-splits start at around 13 and go into the high 20s.
(The SEER is a measure of air conditioning and heat pump cooling efficiency, which is calculated by the cooling output for a typical cooling season divided by the total electric energy input during the same time frame. The higher the SEER rating, the more efficient it is. The minimum standard SEER rating is 13 for air conditioners. Most modern air conditioners have a SEER that ranges from 13 to 21.)
Disadvantages of Ductless Mini-Splits
One downside is you will have this big thing on the wall. There’s no question that your new cooling/heating unit will stand out, and for some homeowners, that’s a deal killer.
But consider this: When you visit your best friend’s home, and have been there dozens of times, do you remember where the ducts and vents are? Probably not, unless you work in HVAC. You’ll remember if the house was too cold or warm, but not the vents. You will get used to your new cooling/heating system soon enough.
You might need to consider electrical requirements. You may have to have someone upgrade your electric panel, install a sub-panel, etc. to ensure the ductless can operate. If your main unit is on one side of the house, but the panel is on the other side, how do you get the electric line across the house? That can add hundreds, thousands of dollars to the project.
A ductless mini-split can have up to 8 heads. A word of caution: If you have a system with 8 heads, you’ll have Line-Hides wrapping around the house, which might detract from your house’s aesthetics. And the farther the run, the less efficient it becomes. You might be better off installing one set with four heads on one side of the house, and another on the other side of the house.
What Does a Ductless Mini-Split Cost?
Below we've listed typical costs. All costs listed include labor and fees.
A single-zone/one-room heating and cooling solution will range between $3,700 and $6,000.
A dual-zone/two-room system will run between $5,500 and $9,000.
A system that provides heating and cooling for multiple zones/three to eight rooms starts at $8,500.
The lower price range represents single-head systems that need about 15 feet of line and minimal additional installation work going into a home’s woodwork or installing a condensate pump. (When the units are in air conditioning mode, they dehumidify the air, and the water they collect needs to be directed outside by the pump.)
The upper end of the price range would include multi-head systems with more complex installation and mechanical requirements, and a more powerful outdoor unit powering the various indoor units.
We include Line-Hides with every installation to protect the refrigerant lines and give the entire system a neater look.
Installing a Ductless Mini-Split in Columbus, Ohio
The biggest reason people should consider ductless mini-splits is that they attack the problem - a room is too warm, or too cool - head-on. Instead of closing vents or stuffing newspapers down them, trying to do the airflow corrections themselves, you can take total control.
You can be comfortable in every room.
That’s our goal, too: to work with you to find what’s comfortable for you. We are experts in HVAC. You are the expert in personal comfort and your home.
If you’re ready to talk to us about installing a ductless mini-split system, we’re ready, too. To get started, enter your zip code in the graphic below to see if you’re in our service area.
We look forward to hearing from you.
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