Ductless Mini-Splits: A Comprehensive Cost Breakdown

Ductless Mini-Splits: A Comprehensive Cost Breakdown
Arne Jacobsen
Residential Sales Professional

I have been in heating and air conditioning trade for 44 years. In that time, I have installed, serviced, designed ductwork, sold, and sized thousands of residential heating and cooling systems.

About This Article

Ductless mini-splits can be a great solution for your home heating and cooling needs. We break down the costs and help you understand what contributes to this pricing.

You may have heard about ductless mini-splits and wondered about their cost, efficiency, or usefulness compared to a traditional air conditioning or furnace. You’re not alone.

Ductless mini-splits are an ideal solution for certain heating and cooling problems. They give you a high level of control over your home temperature while reducing costs.

There are several important factors to consider when determining if a mini-split is right for you. We’ve installed hundreds of mini-splits and spoken with thousands of customers who have considered one.

Below, we’ve laid out the factors that go into the cost of a ductless mini-split, and how each contributes to your home’s comfort. By the end, you’ll know how much a mini-split can cost, as well as whether or not it’s an option that is right for you.

RELATED: Mini-Splits 101: What They Do and How You Benefit

Types of Outdoor Mini-Split Units

When you think of a mini-split, you’re probably thinking of a single wall unit. This is the most common type, but is far from the only one.

The biggest factor that affects the cost of a mini-split is the number of “heads” that it has. A head is an individual indoor unit that is connected to the outdoor unit and provides cooling or heating to a room or area.

Residential mini-splits generally go up to five heads. The more heads you have in a system, the more complicated it becomes to properly install, service and maintain the system.

But wait, I can hear you saying, isn’t a mini-split for something like a basement or attic, not whole homes? Why would I ever want five heads?

Many homeowners won’t need these extra indoor units if they have the ductwork installed for a traditional HVAC system. However, there are homes without proper ductwork, and these homes generally don’t have convenient areas in which ductwork could be installed. In these situations, their only option might be a ductless system.

BTUs and Tonnage

Related to the number of indoor units is the “tonnage” needed to supply them with the proper power.

BTU stands for British Thermal Unit. It’s a measurement of heat. It is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

A calculation taken by an HVAC representative at your estimate will let you know the tonnage needed to properly heat or cool your home. An example would be: 36,000 BTU heat gain / 12,000 BTU per ton = 3 ton capacity.

Calculations aside, if your mini-split is intended for a single room, you’re probably ok with a 0.5-ton unit that has a single head. On the other hand, a large house can run up to 5 tons of capacity.

This has implications for the equipment needed and installation practices to ensure proper heating and cooling throughout the ductless system.

For reference, a traditional heating or cooling unit will generally run from 1.5 tons to 5 tons. In this way, a mini-split system can provide more options on the lower end. The result can be a system that is more efficient and more catered to an individual room or area of your home.

indoor-ductless-unit

Type of Indoor Head

Indoor units are not all made the same way. Mini-splits come in a few distinct varieties:

  1. Wall units, which are mounted at or above eye level against the wall.
  2. Floor units, which run even to the ground in a room.
  3. Ceiling cassettes, which are nearly flush with the surface of your ceiling in a roof. The air is pushed through a vent in this ceiling cassette.

The carpentry, electrical work, or other elements of the installation can differ significantly between these types. In general, ceiling cassettes will be the most expensive. While they are the least obtrusive, they also usually require additional work to install properly.

In addition to installation, condensate drainage is a factor in cost, and this can be affected by the placement of the indoor unit. If an indoor unit can utilize gravity to drain its condensate to an outdoor drain, no additional equipment is needed. However, if the condensate needs to be forced out to a drain because it can’t leverage gravity, a condensate pump is required.

Not only is a condensate pump an additional upfront cost, but it can be an ongoing maintenance cost as well.

Distance From Indoor to Outdoor Units

In a typical minis-split installation, 15 feet of line is provided to travel between the indoor and outdoor units. This line contains the drainage pipe as well as electrical hookups for both indoor and outdoor units.

In instances where 15 feet isn’t enough to travel between the two units, or where multiple heads collectively need more length, the price can increase to accommodate this need.

At Fire & Ice, we also provide a line cover as part of our standard installation and price. This cover does a few important things:

  • Protects the line from wear and tear of the elements
  • Allows the line to blend in with the side of a home better
  • It can be painted for further modification to match a homeowner’s needs

A line cover is a good idea that many installers don’t include standard in their installations. If you’re worried about unsightly HVAC lines running along the side of your home, or the collective effect of the elements, this can be a great solution.

Does the Mini-Split Heat?

Some homeowners get mini-splits to run during the hot summer months to cool a room that lacks ductwork (basement, attic,etc.). Others want to use a room or area year-round. This is often the case for areas like guest houses, finished basements, or garages that double as workrooms. In these cases, the mini-split needs to be able to both cool and heat.

A mini-split that heats functions just like a heat pump, in that it can heat or cool depending on the time of year.

This type of unit will cost more than one that only cools, but will also provide year-long comfort.

Control Options

Nearly all mini-split heads come standard with remote controls these days. Since mini-splits are variable-speed to manage cooling or heating levels, these remote controls give you a lot of control over each area they service.

More and more modern systems are also coming with the option to synchronize your mini-split to a phone app. For example, many of the Mitsubishi models we install here at Fire & Ice come with Kumo Cloud, Mitsubishi’s HVAC app. This app gives you detailed control over as many indoor units as you have, and “smart” features such as setting alerts and automatic shutoffs.

The app ownership can also be transferred if you sell your home, giving the system longevity.

The biggest benefit of these systems is that it gives you “zone control” over different rooms, or zones, in your home. You can cool one room, heat another, and leave others off if you have a multi-head system.

house cut-out with mini-splits

Cost of a Mini-Split

The total cost can vary significantly depending on the factors above, but you should expect to pay about $5,000 per zone. This works out to a total range of approximately $5,000-$20,000. The most typical single-room mini-split systems will run toward the lower end of that range.

This range includes installation costs, which are often left out of cost listings that you’ll see online. The installation can be very complicated, involves specialized equipment and tools as well as flammable and combustible materials, and can run in the thousands of dollars depending on the system. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples with this when you get quotes.

The other things to watch out for in pricing are the qualifications of the installing company. Trane and Mitsubishi merged recently, and as certified Trane Comfort Specialists, we ensure everything is installed to manufacturer code. The difference between a great installation and a mediocre one is years off of the lifespan of your system, as well as a reduction in efficiency and comfort.  It’s possible to find cheaper installations, but there’s a very large risk of it costing more in the long-run due to lack of 24/7 support, certified installation and service, and the proper training to ensure you’re getting the efficiency you deserve from your system.

Stated differently: If it’s less expensive, there’s a reason for that. Make sure you understand why before weighing all of your options.

Otherwise, the lower price range represents single-head systems that need no more than 15 feet of line and minimal additional installation work with going into a home’s woodwork or installing a condensate pump. The upper end of the range would include multi-head systems with more complex installation and mechanical requirements, and a more powerful outdoor unit powering the various indoor units.

Benefits & Next Steps

Now that you know the costs, what are the reasons you might want to consider a ductless system? There are several:

  1. Efficiency: Mini-splits can operate up to a 33 SEER Rating! This is much higher than even high-efficiency air conditioning systems.
  2. Zone Control: The cost savings from this can be immense. You can heat the game room in your basement while cooling the guest room in the attic, turn units on and off as you go about your day, or automate them with your phone so that you never have to worry about your energy usage.
  3. Environmentally Friendly: Related to the two above, this is some of the most environmentally friendly HVAC equipment on the market.
  4. No Ductwork: Particularly for homes without existing ductwork, the cost to properly install ductwork can exceed that of a heating and cooling system.
  5. Even Heating/Cooling: Modern systems can sense hot or cold spots within a room and adjust accordingly to provide optimal, consistent comfort throughout a zone.

RELATED: Ductless Mini-Split vs. Central AC/Heating

Interested? Then it’s time to schedule your in-home appointment to discuss all of your options with one of our Comfort Specialists, get an exact quote for your home, and make the decision that best suits your budget and comfort needs.

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