Is Buying a Ductless Mini-Split Worth It? (Pros and Cons)
Ductless mini-splits can be a great solution for your home heating and cooling needs. We talk about their best uses for you and your home.
Ductless mini-splits became a hot seller in Japan after World War II. The reasons were multifold: many Japanese homes had no yard and the houses had little space between them. The noise from a conventional air conditioning system would have disturbed your household in addition to your neighbor’s.
In 1959, Mitsubishi invented ductless mini-split heat pumps to take care of Japan’s heating and cooling needs, and their popularity spread.
For certain homes, especially those without ducts, a ductless mini split system can make a huge difference in comfort.
We’ve installed thousands of them and have talked to many customers who have heard of them, but frequently ask us the question, “Are they worth it?”
The two main objections we hear are: “They are pricey,” and “I don’t want to look at the unit that has to hang on the wall.”
If you’re reading this article, we hear you. We’d like to alleviate your concerns while we talk about how mini-splits can be the perfect answer to many heating and cooling problems.
What Is a Ductless Mini-Split?
A ductless mini-split system doesn’t use traditional ductwork. A whole-house air conditioner and furnace will distribute air throughout the home from a single unit. A mini-split indoor unit will service a single room or area with one “head.” Multiple heads can run from the outside unit.
The term “split” refers to the fact that there is still an outdoor and indoor unit as part of the system. This is in contrast with a “packaged” heat pump system, which has the heating and cooling equipment in a single outdoor unit.
The Aesthetics of Ductless Mini-Splits Can Be Disconcerting
This is the single biggest complaint we hear about mini-splits. When it’s installed, you’ll have this white rectangle on your wall.
Here’s the thing: Yes, you’ll have something on your wall that you’re not used to. But when we ask homeowners the last time they noticed the supply and return vents in that same space, they start to understand.
Nobody notices their vents until they are an issue. (Even when they’re not working, HVAC technicians do notice them. It’s a bit of an obsession.)
At Fire & Ice, we always revisit the home where an installation took place, usually two weeks after the installation. We call it a Final Quality Inspection (FQI). It’s to ensure the heating and/or cooling are satisfactory and our customers are content.
And during that time, we ask the homeowners who have had a ductless mini-split installed whether the new rectangle on the wall is still bothering them. 99% of the time, the answer is “No.” You get used to it, just as you’d get used to a new chair.
And for artistic homeowners, you can surf the web and find plenty of decals that you can use to decorate it.
And the comfort can’t be beaten.
The Front of the House Can Also Be an Issue
We do run into one more aesthetic issue. When the home calls for a mini-split on a wall that faces the front of the house, we need to connect the head to the outside unit. A conduit houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and condensate drain.
When we do the job, we cover the line with a Line-Hide, which offers protection from the elements.
The good news is that it can be painted to match the color of the house. But we have had customers who don’t want that line at the front. On request, we can set the main unit at the side of the home and run the line set in that direction. Like the indoor unit, though, you do get used to it.
Which Rooms Can Benefit the Most from Ductless Home Solutions?
The rooms where we commonly install mini-splits are great rooms, additions, weight rooms, master bedrooms on the second floor, and attics. In every case, the units are addressing a specific need. Central air conditioning and heat can take care of most of the house, but there might be that one or two stubborn spaces that don’t get the full benefit.
Usually, the room gets plenty of usage. (Putting a ductless home solution in a room that no one uses much is a waste of money and is not recommended.)
Attics are tough to heat and cool. In the summer, the heat goes up there. If a window unit isn’t doing the job and someone spends a lot of time in there, ductless can be the answer.
Another typical room for the mini-split is the addition. This is the room you didn’t originally plan to heat and cool through your main HVAC house system.
An installation issue occurs when you have a room that is an internal room, which means it has no external walls. That’s tough. If it’s on a wall that goes all the way into the basement, we can run it inside the wall and cut it into the basement, but that will entail some carpentry and drywall modifications.
Ceiling-mounted heads can be tricky because more than likely you’ll have to have some sort of frame built to hold the head. But you can run the line set in the attic.
What Floor Plans Can Benefit the Most?
Open floor plans work the best. The more rooms you have, the more heads you need, the more expensive it will be. With big, open spaces, it’s easy to put in one unit and accomplish complete heating and cooling.
Ranches are prime candidates. A Cape Cod home design usually has one big room upstairs. One head can take care of that part of the house.
The hard ones to do are when you have four rooms downstairs, and three bedrooms upstairs. All of those bedrooms are going to need a head. That gets very expensive.
We’ve done some big houses, but mostly they go into 1200-square-foot houses or smaller.
There are homes without proper ductwork, and these homes might not have convenient areas in which ductwork could be installed. (And installing an entire ductwork system is expensive.) In these situations, the only option might be a ductless system.
What About the Price of Ductless Mini-Splits?
The total cost can vary significantly, but you should expect to pay between $5,000 to $8,000 per head. If you have more than two heads, expect a quote of $11,000 and up. For a full house of ductless units, expect to pay $20,000 or more.
The most typical single-room mini-split systems will run toward the lower end of that range. This range includes installation costs. The installation can be very complicated depending on where the line set has to go.
The first question I ask homeowners is about their comfort wants and needs. Some things can be addressed by a new air conditioner that might have variable stages. And some ductless models can cool only, with no heating functionality.
Read more: Cost of an Air Conditioner
Then we give a quote for a new AC, which can range between $4,350-$12,095. That’s no small investment.
If I hear that only one room is the issue, I take a look. Usually, there will be a window air conditioner (which, while effective, takes a lot of energy to run), and/or a space heater (ditto). Oftentimes I hear that the room has always been a problem.
What ductless mini splits offer is the ultimate in energy efficiency and comfort.
Mini-splits are a great value, and they cost about the same amount of money as a high-end AC. You can own an electric, variable-speed, 24 – 30 SEER heat pump, so it will be heating much better, and it’s cooling night and day better than any HVAC system you have in place. (The high-end air conditioners offer a SEER of around 22, which is good but no match for the alternative.)
Why try to reinvent the wheel, by redoing duct work and running electric lines? It comes down to, “Which rooms do you use?” Let’s cover those, and just do multi-zones. Each head can operate as a separate unit. One can be set at 68 degrees, another at 72.
They also dehumidify in the summer. That adds to your comfort level and improves indoor air quality. With multiple operating modes, multiple fan speeds, and multiple airflow directions, this unit fits the needs of nearly any room.
Additional Features of Ductless Mini-Splits
Nearly all mini split heads come standard with remote controls. Since mini-splits are variable-speed to manage cooling or heating levels, these remote controls give you control over each area they service.
A variable-speed fan can operate at any speed from 0 to 100% and can make tiny adjustments to keep the room at an even temperature. If only a little bit of cool is needed, that’s what it delivers.
More and more modern systems are also coming with the option to control your mini-split through a phone app. For example, many of the Mitsubishi models we install here at Fire & Ice come with Kumo Cloud. This app gives you control over as many indoor units as you have, and “smart” features such as setting alerts and automatic shutoffs.
And still, there’s more. Some models come with a 3D i-see sensor, which first detects the room temperature to prevent overcooling or overheating a space. The sensor also has Absence Detection, meaning that, as soon as you leave the room, the sensor will know and will automatically switch the unit to power-saving mode. That saves money on your energy bill.
The 3D i-see sensor also has an indirect/direct mode. Direct Mode detects the location of the occupants of the room and blows the air toward the occupants. The Indirect Mode blows air away from the occupants.
How Much is Ultimate Comfort Worth?
If you have a good duct system, and all of the house’s rooms can be satisfied with a good heat pump and air handler, and you already have ductwork, then there’s no need for a ductless. If you want to upgrade or replace your current unit, you might consider upgrading the outdoor unit with a variable-speed unit.
You can also do a combination central AC and ductless mini-split if you have a full, ducted system but one room is problematic.
Ductless home solutions are a permanent solution. You are making one room at a time as pleasant as possible. There is nothing more comfortable, and there’s nothing more efficient.
Read more: Ductless Mini-Splits: A Comprehensive Cost Breakdown
Ductless Home Solutions in Columbus, Ohio
If you’re considering a ductless system, now is a great time to speak to a licensed HVAC contractor to discuss your specific options, get a free estimate, and make the decision that’s right for your home.
If you’re in Columbus, OH, or surrounding areas, Fire & Ice can help with that decision. We’d love to educate you on all your options and help you determine if a mini-split is right for you. In most cases, we offer next-day installation.
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