Ductless mini-split AC systems (also called mini-split heat pumps) have become very popular in recent years, thanks to several advantages over window and portable air conditioners, and the relative affordability of these compact AC units compared to whole-house air conditioning.
A ductless mini-split air conditioner may be just the answer if a single room or area in your home needs better cooling and heating.
In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of ductless mini-split air conditioning, show you how these heat pumps differ from traditional air conditioners, and give you expert advice on how to buy and install a ductless mini-split AC.
What Is a Ductless Mini-Split AC?
As the name “ductless mini-split” implies, this air conditioner doesn’t have ductwork, is relatively small, and is split into two main parts. It has an outdoor compressor and an indoor condenser/air handler unit that, in most cases, mounts on a room’s wall or ceiling. Less common indoor condenser/air handlers are freestanding or built as a cassette that can be recessed into the ceiling.
Is a Mini-Split Better Than a Conventional Air Conditioner?
When it comes to cooling a single room or area in a home, renters and homeowners have traditionally opted for a portable air conditioner or one that plugs into a window or wall. For more about these, please see Buying the Best Window Air Conditioner or Room AC Unit.
Or, another answer for some homeowners is a central air conditioning system. Though this cools an entire house, it is the most expensive solution, costing $3000 to $7000 or more in most homes.
A mini-split air conditioner falls between these two main types of air conditioning, offering some of the advantages of both.
• First, it both heats and cools. A mini-split AC is actually a heat pump that will both cool and heat. It uses refrigeration technology for both cooling and heating. In the heating mode, it extracts heat from the cold outside air and delivers it to your rooms. This process is much more energy efficient than creating heat from electric resistance or burning fuel such as gas or oil.
• Because it uses heat-pump technology, it operates more efficiently than a conventional air conditioner or furnace. This stated, in a particularly cold climate, some mini-split AC units may heat as effectively or affordably as a gas furnace. So, if you live in such a region and you’re thinking about buying a mini-split for heat, be sure to get one that has the capacity to meet your heating needs. See more about this in Mini-Split Output, Size & Efficiency, below. Mini-Split Advantages Over Room Air Conditioners Mini-split AC units are more expensive than window, room, and portable AC units. In fact, they can cost twice as much, or more (see How Much Does a Mini-Split Cost?, below). But, to make up for the cost, you get these advantages:
• A mini split AC is less intrusive than a window or wall air conditioner. The component that goes in the room mounts at the top of the wall or the ceiling instead of filling-up a window or penetrating the wall. As a result, you don’t have an ugly AC unit poking through the wall or sitting in the window where it obstructs your view, blocks natural light, and presents a security issue. This isn’t to say that a mini-split is inconspicuous. The condenser unit mounts on the room’s wall or ceiling, usually in clear view, though some can be recessed into the ceiling.
• A mini split AC is quieter inside the house. Like a central AC’s compressor, its noise is outdoors, not in the window or room AC unit where it’s a loud nuisance. In fact, the outdoor compressor can be located as far as 50 feet away from the indoor unit—so you can position the noisiest part out of earshot. This stated, the wall-mounted unit of a mini-split AC does have a fan for circulating the heated or chilled air, which can be noisy in the room. How Mini-Splits Differ from Central AC Like the mini-split, a conventional whole-house central air conditioner has an outdoor compressor and an indoor condenser/air handler (often the furnace). In addition, it has a system of ductwork that distributes and cycles conditioned air throughout the house. Ductless mini-split air conditioners are different in these ways:
• They target a specific cooling or heating need. The beauty of a ductless mini-split AC is that it’s small, flexible, and meant to pinpoint heating and AC needs. Because it will heat or cool a single room or area, you can make that area more comfortable without wasting energy by heating or cooling the entire house.
• A ductless mini-split is far easier and less expensive to install than whole-house air conditioning because it doesn’t involve routing ductwork throughout the house.
• The absence of ductwork reduces energy loss that otherwise occurs through leaky or uninsulated ducts. Energy.gov estimates that this alone saves more than 30% of heating or cooling costs, and ENERGY STAR certified ductless mini-split heat pumps use 60% less energy than standard home electric resistance-based heating systems (Source: Energy.gov) because they transfer heat instead of generating it.
• Ductless mini-split heat pumps go where ducted systems can’t easily go. They are ideal for serving any room that isn’t easily reached or served by the home’s existing heating and cooling system. For example, they can cool and heat a converted attic or basement, a bonus room, or a garage workshop without the mess and expense of retrofitting ductwork.
• Mini-split units can add cooling to a home that doesn’t have a ducted central forced-air heating or cooling system, such as a home with radiant heat.
• Mini-splits can cool and heat without increasing the load on an existing AC system. They are great for any room that was added after the home’s central forced-air system was installed—especially if the room cannot be connected by ductwork to the home’s forced-air system.
• A mini-split AC unit isn’t all or nothing. In other words, it doesn’t just blast away at full speed when it’s on. It has variable compressor that speeds up or slows down based upon need. As a result, it saves energy. Back to top How Much Does a Mini-Split AC Cost? Variables such as BTU output, SEER, and HSPF affect the price of equipment. The more powerful and efficient the system, the more it will cost. Inexpensive mini-split systems are available for as little as $700, or you can pay as much as $7000 for a top-of-the-line system. To figure the cost of a unit for your home, you’ll need to narrow-down the capacity and complexity of system you want. Equipment Costs According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of a 12,000 BTU one-ton unit with one indoor component and a SEER rating of 21 will run from $1000 to $4,000, depending on the maker and type of mounting. This stated, the cost of a system can run as high as $14,500. Installation Costs For installation labor, expect to pay from $800 to $1500 per zone or area. Unless you buy a mini-split system specifically designed for DIY installation (see more below) and you have the tools and skills to install it, expect to pay from $300 to $1,000 for installation. You can buy the Mr. Cool mini-split DIY air conditioner shown below through our online store at The equipment and installation labor are not all you’ll need. You might also need to upgrade electrical, and you’ll probably need a concrete pad to support the outdoor compressor. Many systems require a dedicated electrical circuit, which can cost from $250 to $400 to have professionally installed. If adding this circuit calls for upgrading your electrical panel, expect to pay an average of $1,100 for the panel upgrade. The outdoor unit for most systems must stand on a small concrete pad. This will generally cost from $75 to $150. You can also locate the compressor on a mounting bracket attached to the wall.
With most mini splits, the basic equipment is relatively easy to install for an experienced do-it-yourselfer. But the refrigeration line sets are a different story—they must be charged by a professional HVAC person. For this reason, it’s usually best to have a pro install the entire system.