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How to Choose the Best Ductless Air Conditioner [Buyer’s Guide]

CEO Khai Intela
No one should have to sweat while simply sitting around their own home. The cost of running a central air conditioner has the power to make many people question whether they might be better off...

Ductless Air Conditioner

No one should have to sweat while simply sitting around their own home. The cost of running a central air conditioner has the power to make many people question whether they might be better off just dealing with sweat and discomfort.

Your home is your personal space where you should be able to unwind and be comfortable. In the summer, air conditioning is frequently required for that to be possible.

For a growing number of consumers who want to avoid high monthly energy costs and a complicated installation process, ductless air conditioners offer the solution. While there are a few different types of air conditioners that work as alternatives to central A/C, today we wanted to highlight ductless air conditioners and what you should know if you are currently shopping for one.

What is a Ductless Air Conditioner?

Ductless air conditioners, often referred to as mini-split air conditioners, have a few primary components:

  • An outdoor condenser that pumps cool air to the indoor components.
  • An indoor unit that you can mount somewhere on the wall or ceiling that releases the cool air into the house.
  • A conduit that connects the two, which includes the power cable, tubes of refrigerant cooling, and a condensate drain.

The end result is a cooling unit that works a lot like central air, but doesn’t require the installation of ducts in your walls or attic. If you know it’s time to invest in a new air conditioner, but you live in a home where duct work’s never been done, or you’re ready to switch to a cooling solution that provides more energy efficiency, then ductless air conditioners are the most logical choice. But those aren’t the only reasons to go with this type of air conditioner.

The Benefits of Ductless Air Conditioning

While the upfront costs of a ductless air conditioner tend to be higher than those of a central air conditioner or window AC unit, there are a few key reasons that many people prefer them.

  • Better Energy Efficiency: Ductless air conditioning performs better than other A/C options in terms of energy use. In fact, if you buy an Energy Star-certified unit, you can save up to 30% on your overall energy bills.

  • Easier Installation: While most customers will still want to call in an HVAC professional to help with installation, mini-split air conditioners are far easier to install than central air conditioning units that require ductwork. It’s still wise to consider the help of a technician, but if you’re handy, you can probably install your ductless unit on your own.

  • Better for Allergies: Dirt, debris, and moisture from condensation can build up in ducts over time. This may lead to some serious health concerns for allergy sufferers. Getting your air ducts cleaned is a complicated and expensive process, but one you never have to worry about with a mini-split air conditioner.

  • Quiet: While central air is pretty quiet, window air conditioners are known for having a louder decibel level when running. Ductless air conditioners, on the other hand, cool just as well as a central air conditioner and can do so without adding much noise to your life.

  • Greater Control of Temperature: Central air cools the whole house. Window units cool the room they’re put in. Mini-split air conditioners can cool either one room or several, based on your need. If different people in the house have different opinions on the best temperature, you can quell arguments and save on cooling costs all at the same time, something that you can’t do with central AC units.

Mini-Split Air Conditioner

Some customers who already have central air choose to install a ductless mini-split air conditioner as well to use less energy while getting comparable results. And for anyone who wants to skip dealing with the ductwork central A/C installation requires, it’s the obvious choice.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Mini-Split Air Conditioner

If you’re coming around to the idea of investing in a ductless mini-split air conditioner, there are a few main factors you should keep in mind during your search to ensure you get the best unit for your needs.

Cost

The upfront cost is the main downside of buying a ductless air conditioner. Even the most affordable models will cost you close to $1,000, while higher-end ones come out to around $5,000.

If you want a ductless air conditioner that’s powerful enough to cool a large room or want a multi-zone unit that can handle multiple rooms, expect to pay closer to that high end of the price range. If you want one that also comes with a heat pump for the winter, that will add to the cost as well.

In addition to the sticker price of the unit itself, you have two main additional costs to factor in — installation and ongoing energy costs.

Some ambitious DIYers may have the skill to install a mini-split air conditioner themselves, but most customers will need to hire an HVAC specialist to help out. Before purchasing a ductless AC unit, take some time to call around to your local HVAC professionals and get a feel for how much installation will be adding to the cost and how the pricing may vary for different types of models.

The second category is mostly good news. Your energy costs with a mini-split air conditioner will be lower than with any other type of air conditioner providing the same amount of cooling. But naturally, it will use more energy than not using an air conditioner, and one with more power and more zones will use more energy. Be prepared to expect an uptick in your energy bills if you haven’t been using anything for cooling before installation.

Number of Zones

You’ll find single-zone ductless air conditioners designed to cool one room and multi-zone models that can take on several rooms. As you’d expect, the cost will go up for each zone you add. But if you live in a house with several rooms you need to keep cool, then making sure you get an air conditioning unit with the right number of zones is important.

One of the benefits of zones is that you can control each one distinctly. A quad-zone air conditioning unit, for example, can be set to four different temperatures based on the preferences of people in each of the four rooms. The same goes for dual-zone and triple-zone units.

Having multiple zones can help you eliminate a lot of wasted energy by allowing you to customize the temperature of different rooms. Or you can turn the A/C off entirely in any room that’s not currently in use. This cooling strategy will not only save you money but is something that you are unable to do with central air conditioners.

Power / BTU Requirements

The power of all air conditioners is measured in BTUs. The higher the BTUs, the greater the space an air conditioner will be able to effectively cool. In many cases, you’ll see a specific room size provided in the specs of a product as well, but you can also do the calculations yourself based on the BTU information they provide.

In general, here’s how BTUs translate to room size:

  • 150 sq. ft. - 5,000 BTUs
  • 250 sq. ft. - 6,000 BTUs
  • 300 sq. ft. - 7,000 BTUs
  • 350 sq. ft. - 8,000 BTUs
  • 400 sq. ft. - 9,000 BTUs
  • 450 sq. ft. - 10,000 BTUs
  • 500 sq. ft. - 11,000 BTUs
  • 550 sq. ft. - 12,000 BTUs
  • 625 sq. ft. - 13,000 BTUs
  • 700 sq. ft. - 14,000 BTUs
  • 1,000 sq. ft. - 18,000 BTUs

You may not find those numbers to be exact, but if you live in a place where temperatures frequently get over 90°, you should add about 30% to the number of BTUs needed for the space. But these numbers should provide you with a good starting point in determining the best ductless air conditioner for your living space.

Energy Efficiency

Many ductless A/C units are Energy Star certified, which lets you know right off the bat that you have a lot of options that perform well regarding energy efficiency. As you’d expect, if you want to cool a larger space or more rooms, then the amount of energy you use will increase. But the option of cooling just the space you’re using at any given time will help you keep your use low.

If you’re trying to decide between multiple models and energy efficiency is an important consideration for you, check out the SEER rating. Every mini-split air conditioner will provide the rating in their specs, and the higher the number is, the better the A/C unit will perform in regard to overall energy use.

Voltage

A lot of ductless air conditioners use the standard 110-120-volt outlet, but some larger models require a higher voltage. If you purchase a model that needs a 220 or 240-volt plug, then you’ll have to work with an electrician for an upgrade to ensure you don’t blow a fuse or even cause a fire. This is an important factor to consider when shopping for an A/C unit. If you’re looking to save on installation costs, then you will need to consider the type of volt outlet the unit requires.

Ease of Installation

You’ll likely need to call in an HVAC contractor with experience installing ductless vents to do the installation for you. In fact, some mini-split air conditioner manufacturers make professional installation a requirement if you want to take advantage of the product’s warranty.

Talk to your local contractors about their experiences in the past installing different types of mini-split air conditioners. It may be that there are some they’ve worked with that are a real pain to install and will cost you extra, and others they know are high quality and a simpler job for them that will save you money.

If you do decide that you’re up to the task of installing it yourself, then make sure to do some research to get a feel for what will be involved. In many cases, the reviews of different models will give you an idea of how complicated the installation process will be. If you have any doubt that you’re up for the task, then your safest bet is to go ahead and call in a professional.

Durability

Obviously, an investment as big as a ductless air conditioner is one that should be for keeps. You don’t want to have to deal with expensive repairs or worse, replacing the whole thing, for many years to come.

Some ductless units come with warranties, so you know you can count on the product for longer or at least get it fixed with minimal cost and trouble. Reviews and brand reputation can also give you a head's up to how long units have lasted for other customers. To get a better idea of the best brands, please read the brand section below.

Extra Features

  • Additional Uses: Many mini-split air conditioners include a heating feature as well, and some also come with a dehumidifier function. Depending on the climate in which you live, it would probably be wise to consider a unit that will provide heat in the winter months.

  • Remote Control: Some come with a remote control for greater convenience. This is a feature that we would strongly suggest you take advantage of.

  • Programmable Timer: Programmable timers can help save money by making it easier to set the A/C to keep the space to certain temperatures at certain times of day.

  • Reusable Filters: Filters can get expensive. One you can clean and reuse can end up saving you a lot of money over the life of the product.

Ductless Air Conditioning

Popular Mini-Split Air Conditioner Brands

Some of the brands you’ll come across when looking for ductless air conditioners are familiar names in the appliance space. Others that specialize in air conditioners may be new to you. To give you an overview of the reputations different brands have when it comes to their mini-split air conditioners, we looked at what people were saying about their purchases online.

Friedrich

Friedrich’s ductless air conditioners receive mostly positive reviews. Customers say they cool the amount of space advertised, cool that space evenly, and even work well during high heat. Some reviewers had issues with installation, but others found it easy. A few mentioned that the air conditioners were fairly quiet, and one said the purchase had saved them a lot of money in comparison to years with a window unit. On the whole, the reputation of their ductless AC units is solid.

Ductless Air Conditioning System

Mitsubishi

Reviewers of Mitsubishi’s mini-split air conditioners are happy with their purchases. They say the units are quiet, cheap to run, and cool their living space well. While there aren’t a lot of reviews for their various mini-split units around the web, the customers that took the time to provide one have been satisfied with the system they bought.

LG

LG’s mini-split air conditioners earn solid reviews from customers who say they’re quiet and cool effectively. Several also mention how attractive they are - they’re designed more with appearance in mind than many competitors’ models, and a lot of them include a frame that customers can fill with the picture of their choice. In addition, several reviewers mentioned appreciating the convenience of the remote controls that come with their units. For beauty, convenience, and effectiveness, they’re a smart choice.

Pioneer

Pioneer makes a range of mini-split air conditioners that get uniformly positive reviews. Customers say they offer a good value for the price, work quietly, and keep things cool. All reviews point toward a reliable performance if you go with Pioneer.

Senville

Senville’s mini-split air conditioners get predominantly positive reviews for working well and being a good value for the price. Some reviewers mentioned having some difficulty with installation, and a few complained that the warranty isn’t ideal - the company will send you parts, but you have to cover labor and shipping yourself. Most reviewers are satisfied with their purchase, particularly for what it cost in comparison to comparable products.

Conclusion

Ductless air conditioners can save you money on energy costs, save you the trouble of dealing with a complicated duct system, and help you stay comfortable in your own home. While you do have to be willing to make the upfront investment, the right model will allow you to cool the spaces in your home where comfort matters most to you at an affordable rate over time. Don’t suffer in heat this summer, check out your ductless air conditioning options.

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