Are you having difficulty making your four-season room, addition, or garage comfortable? Do you just want to be able to control the temperature in each room? Then a mini-split might be the answer to your problems.
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 prevalent; 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.
At Fire & Ice, we’ve installed hundreds of ductless mini-splits and spoken with thousands of customers who have considered one. We understand your concerns as well as questions you may have about installing one in your home.
What is a ductless mini-split?
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 condensate drain, links the outdoor and indoor units. Usually, this conduit is covered by a Line-Hide, which offers protection.
This article will explain how 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.
Rooms That Benefit the Most from Ductless Mini-Splits
A typical application is a primary bedroom or bonus room above a garage. It’s under-insulated and susceptible to outside temperatures. Getting a duct out there is complex, 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 cold as well.
If you were to build an addition, you are increasing the load on the total system if you 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.) Supplemental heating and cooling may be the solution if that maxes out your current system.
Many people want to convert a three-season room into a livable space. A ductless mini-split head would help with the temperature balance. A lot of people convert garages to gyms. So you can work out in comfort.
The office may be teeming with monitors, a printer, and other electronics for people who now work from home. Want to keep it cooler without resorting to a room air conditioner? The 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. For example, 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 wants it at 75. So you can keep the house at a moderate temperature and cool those rooms separately. Then, instead of wasting energy trying to cool the whole home, you can 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. So, for example, 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. The units can heat and cool. So, just like a heat pump, they can make you comfortable year-round. And, 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. So you can have that air blowing on you if you're working out. You can also program the air to blow away from you automatically. The sensor also provides Auto-Off and Energy Saving Mode features, both of which are designed to save money.
They don’t need to be installed on walls. Instead, floor and ceiling heads give mini-splits versatility.
They are scalable. You can heat/cool as many rooms as possible, 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. However, 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. Again, doing 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 adjust to keep the house 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 approximately 13 and go into the 30+ range.
(The SEER measures air conditioning and heat pump cooling efficiency), 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.)
Zoning with Ductless Mini-Splits
In HVAC, zoning distributes conditioned air throughout the home and balances the temperature. It’s about evening out cold and hot spots to create comfort in every area.
There are four methods of zoning. The first uses two thermostats in different home areas, one on the first floor and the other upstairs. The second is using two HVAC systems that control different house parts. The third is a single HVAC system with the mainline running from the furnace to other home areas with manual or automatic dampers to control airflow. 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, but you're taking it from somewhere else to get that air in one place. So 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. Often it’s an insulation issue. So, for example, 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. So there are code-specific requirements that say ductwork can’t be done because of safety. So you would have to create a separate zone for that.
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.
Disadvantages of Ductless Mini-Splits
One downside is you will have a big thing on the wall. However, there’s no question that your new cooling/heating unit will stand out, and for some homeowners, that’s a non-negotiable.
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 eight heads, you’ll have Line-Hides wrapping around the house, which might detract from your house’s aesthetics. And the farther they run, the less efficient it becomes. So you might be better off installing one set with four heads on one side of the house and another on the other side.
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 start at about $5,000.
For additional cost information, we recommend you read our article on the cost of a ductless mini-split here.
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 robust 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.
Why Should I Consider a Ductless System?
You should consider ductless mini-splits because they attack the problem of a room being too warm or too cool. Then, instead of closing vents or trying to do the airflow corrections themselves, you can take total control of the issue and be comfortable in every room in your house.
Our goal is 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. So if you’re ready to talk to us about installing a ductless mini-split system, we’re ready, too. Enter your zip code in the graphic below to see if you’re in our service area.
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