Mini Splits & Ductless Units
Updated: Aug 1
Ductless units, AKA "Mini-Splits", are rapidly growing in popularity, and with all the new features coming out, it's easy to see why. They're inexpensive, easy to use, and energy efficient. Their compact size allows for easy installation, and it takes up significantly less space than a typical furnace and air conditioner. Just like standard air-source heat pumps, these mini-heat pump units can heat and cool, with some models including a dehumidification feature.
Here at Greene's Plumbing, Heating & Electrical, we believe that an informed buyer will make the best decision for their situation. You know your home, family, budget, and needs best, so our goal is to give you all the facts and reputable sources to make an educated decision. When discussing ductless systems, it is important that we lead with a disclaimer. These units work great in certain environments, but not in others. If it is placed in an environment it was not built for, it may not run properly, and could turn out to be more of an inconvenience than anything else. Here, we will discuss what mini-splits are, where to place them, and how much to budget if you are planning to get one.
What Is A Mini Split?
Mini-Splits are a compact heat pump unit that hang on an outside wall of your home. They heat
and cool, have a small outside condensing unit, and
are designed for smaller spaces
that cannot, or struggle to, be conditioned by central air or heat.
Some examples of common places we see ductless units are office spaces, bedrooms, living rooms, pool houses, cabins, mobile homes, and basements.
For more information, follow this link: Energy.gov | Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioner.
How Much Space Do They Take Up?
Our Mitsubishi units are 35.5 inches wide, 12 inches high, and 9.75 inches deep. Make sure you have space available, not only for the unit
itself, but for the required space around and underneath it. These dimensions may vary depending on the brand and model, but here is a standard example.
Ensure you have at least 6 inches between the top of the unit and the ceiling. There should be 4.75 inches of wall space on either side, and no less than 4 feet of space directly under the unit (specific to Mitsubishi).
With this basic information in mind, you should think about where you need mini splits the most. In
those parts of the home, where would you be able to place them while abiding by these rough guidelines? The biggest issue we run into is having adequate space underneath. Most people place their units in hallways, above windows, or on walls with very little furniture.
Pioneer, a mini-split manufacturer, has a great list of tips for positioning your ductless unit. You can find it here: PioneerMiniSplit.com | Tips For Positioning A Ductless Mini-Split .
You can also try this article by Total Home Supply | Where Should You Install Your Mini Split?
How Much Do They Cost?
When you're looking at the cost to install any kind of equipment, it helps to understand two things:
How much is the unit itself?
How much time/labor does it typically take to install it?
You'll need to know how many wall units you need. Think about which areas you want to heat and cool. You can combine some spaces if they're open and next to one another, or they may need split up if they are larger spaces (like in a long garage space). These combined and broken down spaces are called "zones" and you will need one wall unit for each zone you have. When you have multiple wall units, this is referred to as a multi-head system. One outside condenser unit is designed to support multiple indoor units, so calculate your costs accordingly. Because we deal in Mitsubishi, we will be basing our average costs off of this brand and the pricing options we will have available as a certified dealer. (Diamond Dealer & Ductless Pro)
One standard outside condensing unit will cost around $750 to $1500, depending on the sizing requirements (based off our standard model).
One standard indoor wall-hung unit will cost around $450 to $800, again, depending on sizing and capacity needs (based off our standard model).
In addition to these units, the material list will include items needed to connect the indoor and outdoor unit, like line set and wire, something to set the outdoor unit on like a mounting pad or a harness, and then a disconnect and surge protector, among other things. This equipment is all standard to make it work and protect the unit from any preventable damage. Additional materials that can be added for cosmetic reasons would be leveling stone, as opposed to whatever is already present, like mulch, dirt, or gravel, and Hide-A-Line, which covers the line set on the outside of the home.
Overall, material costs for a standard Mitsubishi single-head system will land anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000 (according to our pricing model). These prices may vary depending on the company you hire and the area in which you live.
Labor is going to vary depending on your situation. The easiest set up would be an outdoor unit directly outside of the indoor unit, with minimal distance between the two. The further away from each other they are, and the more indoor units that need installed, the more labor the install is going to take. Standard labor costs run anywhere between $1600 and $3000 on average. Again, this could be lower or higher depending on labor rates in your area.
Obviously, the labor will cost less if you DIY it. Depending on where you live and the local labor rates, as well as your own mechanical ability, it may or may not be worth installing yourself. Going through a company protects you when something goes wrong later, and grants the opportunity for more benefits with your unit. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Manufacturer / Dealer Agreements
Depending on what brand you are looking for, dealers are going to be the key to finding the right unit at the right price. If you are planning to install the unit on your own, be prepared for limited options. Quality brands do not quality units in hardware stores like Home Depot.
Hiring a recognized dealer of the brand you're looking for will ensure you get someone fully trained and knowledgeable on the equipment. In addition, when a company is a certified dealer, it means they have access to exclusive low prices and the best warranties available.
To make sure you are getting the best deal, be sure to ask if the company you have hired is a certified dealer. Usually, the warranty on a unit installed by a dealer will be 5-10 years more than if you had gone with a non-dealer or installed it yourself.
Manufacturers do this because of the expertise and training their dealers go through. It builds trust between the manufacturer and the company, decreases mistakes during the installation process, and decreases the potential for mechanical failures.
You are also less likely to have replacement parts available if the unit was purchased from a store instead of through a dealer. It's important that you look at brands that will not need completely replaced for just one bad part. Parts go bad all the time, whether by fluke or lack of care, and without access to individual parts, you may be out an entire unit for something that could have been replaced. Unfortunately, the stores that sell these units do not typically carry spare parts for them. They might carry new filters, but other than that, you're usually out of luck. Be sure to check for access to these parts for whatever brand you are choosing.
Dealers will have access to their manufacturer's line of parts. They can get these parts for good deals and will be aware of any recalls or warranty information that might save you money on the repairs. When you hire a dealer, you hire them for the install and the everything that follows. Ask about the warranties they offer on their work when you call the company. Most service companies will offer labor warranties, and some will include standard parts warranties (industry standard is to forego this in house, since manufacturers offer decent warranties already, so do not be too disappointed if they only offer labor warranties). They are there to help you have a good experience with your unit!
Tech Support And Troubleshooting
Go to your installing company with any complaints or concerns regarding the unit. This is much easier than calling tech support or a customer service line at a corporate office. They may already have the answer to your questions or know what might be causing the issues you're experiencing and how to remedy them. Dealers are also going to have more direct access to customer and tech support. If you have any issues with your unit, the company that installed it will typically handle getting a replacement or replacement parts from the manufacturer, filing the warranty paperwork, and making the claims process significantly easier.
Troubleshooting also goes much quicker for professionals who install and thoroughly understand the equipment. They will have the tools necessary to understand what needs fixed and get you the right parts.
Installing your own unit opens you up to a lot of liability when it comes to warranties, maintenance, and troubleshooting. So while the short-term cost may seem like the better deal for your budget, consider the long term costs as well, and how it may impact your long-term budget.
If you would like to learn more about the costs associated with mini split systems, follow this link to an article by Forbes.
Should I Switch To A Mini-Split Ductless System?
In short, unless the space in question is already set up with a ducted system, switching to a ductless system is a great option to consider. For people who already have ductwork run through the home, it just doesn't make financial sense. You will spend close to the same amount installing a ductless system that you would on a new air conditioner or furnace, and while mini-splits are efficient, you would most likely need multiple units for your entire house. An efficient air conditioner or furnace would use less energy to do the same job that a multiple-head ductless system would.
If you do not have any HVAC equipment in place, or are replacing in-floor heat, radiant heat, or window air conditioners, getting a ductless system would be a great move. These units are an affordable alternative to installing central heat and air, since they do not require duct installation. They also offer homeowners the convenience of heating and cooling different parts of the home to different temperatures, should they choose to do so. Energy bills may decrease because of these units since certain units are able to be turned off when they are not needed. Just like turning lights off when you leave a room, turning a mini-split unit off when nobody is in that particular zone is a great way to cut energy costs! You cannot do this as easily with a central HVAC system.
If you would like to learn more about the logistics behind switching to a ductless system, follow this link to an article by ComfortUp (Pros & Cons of Mini Splits).
If you would like more information on mini-split ductless systems like efficiency ratings and tax credits, follow this link to Mitsubishi's website.