Answered: FAQs About Ductless Air Conditioning

ductless air conditioner drawing

Have you heard of ductless air conditioning systems, or “mini-split” units? While newer to the American market, as they were first popularized in other countries where smaller scale and urban living is more common, these systems have been steadily gaining in popularity throughout the last decade or so here. This is mainly because these systems can easily solve tricky HVAC issues in older homes with no ductwork and in new additions or outbuilding spaces that require climate control.

In short, these systems are amazingly flexible, extremely efficient, and certainly worth serious consideration by homeowners here in our service area in northwestern Lancaster County and beyond. Especially if you dread looking at ugly old window units all summer long, this post is for you!

Read on for answers to questions that we often hear from customers, and learn why a new ductless air conditioning system might be great for your home.

What is a Ductless “Mini-Split” Air Conditioning Unit?

It’s true that this equipment goes by many different names depending upon the manufacturer or even among the installation pros. You may hear the terms split systems, mini-split heat pumps, or multi-split systems, but the concept remains the same with all ductless cooling/heating equipment – it doesn’t rely on a network of ducts in your home’s walls, ceilings, and floors to keep you comfortable indoors.

Ductless systems feature a compressor/condenser unit located outside that’s connected via conduit containing power and refrigerant lines to an indoor air handler unit mounted on the wall or ceiling. Each room to be cooled (or heated—mini-split units generally perform both functions, just a like a traditional electric heat pump unit)—typically requires its own, individually-controlled air handler unit. The benefit here is that if some areas of your home need to be kept at different temperatures than others, it’s no problem.

How Much Does it Cost to Install a Ductless Air Conditioning System?

Based on current industry survey data, a new mini-split system generally costs homeowners about 30% more than a traditional ducted system. Of course, it is not easy to answer this question with a one-size-fits-all number. For instance, some older homes may require electrical upgrades before a system of any type can be installed, and that adds cost to the project. The sizing of your system, along with the number of air handler units your space will require also affects pricing.

The best way to determine how much a new mini-split system will cost for your unique home is to gather some complimentary estimates from professional HVAC contractors.

How Many Square Feet Can a Mini-Split Cool?

The answer to this question requires a little mathematical calculation. Mini-split systems are extremely customizable to create an efficient and right-sized solution for your specific home and the rooms you want to heat and cool. The best way to figure out how many system components – air handlers inside and compressor/condenser units outdoors – is to know your square footage and then calculate BTUs needed in the system as a whole. You can then begin shop single room and/or multi-room systems.

What Size Split AC Unit Do You Need?

Use this handy guide to estimate the BTU capacity your system may need. Remember that environmental conditions in your home like high ceilings and poor insulation can increase your BTU needs, which is why it is always important to work with a professional HVAC contractor to properly size your system for the best efficiency.

Square Footage of Your Room                   BTUs Needed

Up to 400 sq. ft.                                            9,000

400 to 500 sq. ft.                                           12,000

500 to 750 sq. ft.                                           18,000

750 to 1,000 sq. ft.                                        24,000

1,000 to 1,250 sq. ft.                                      30,000

1,250 to 1,500 sq. ft.                                      36,000

How Long Do Ductless Air Conditioners Last?

15 years is the typical lifespan of a cooling system, but many last longer. Lots of factors, including how heavily you use your system and whether you keep up with regular maintenance will affect equipment longevity. The good news is, most manufacturers provide generous warranties on parts, which may cover much of that typical lifespan. For instance, one of our preferred brands, Daikin, offers 10 and 12-year limited parts warranties so you can install a new system with confidence.

Are Ductless AC Units More Efficient?

In a word, yes. Ducted systems tend to have much more energy loss, mainly because they are not zoned in the way that ductless systems are. (And if you have old, leaky or uninsulated ducts, your losses may be even greater than the typical 25% loss expectation.)

Determining just how efficient and money-saving a ductless system may be in your home can require some complex calculations. Our friends at Fujitsu have a great online tool that can provide general guidelines to help you as you begin to research mini-split system options.

Should I Install a Mini-Split System?

As we’ve already touched on, there are lots of good reasons to install mini-split systems, but they’re not necessarily right for every home. For instance, if you live in a newer house that came with ductwork built in, you’ll want to continue using that ductwork with replacement home comfort systems over time. If your system is not adequately heating and cooling all areas of your home, it’s possible a supplemental mini-split system could help solve problems, but you will want to consult a licensed HVAC contractor about troubleshooting your existing system before investing in new equipment.

What are the biggest benefits of a Mini-Split system over a ducted system?

1. Cost Effective Operation

Mini-splits can save you serious money over the long term, especially if you currently rely on window units or room air conditioners to cool specific areas of your home. Even the newest, most efficient room air conditioners cannot match the energy efficiency of modern central air conditioning systems, and energy efficiency means lower utility bills.

2. High Efficiency

Ductless air conditioning systems are incredibly efficient. The way to prove this is to compare what are known as SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) and EER (energy efficiency ratio) ratings of mini-splits to traditional systems and room air conditioners – this information is usually included by manufacturers. Ductless mini-split systems will typically have the best numbers (the higher, the better) in terms of SEER and EER since they don’t suffer the same energy losses as systems reliant on ductwork tend to.   

Additionally, many mini-splits offer supplemental heating in the winter, which can save homeowners with oil and gas furnace or boiler systems on expensive fuel.

3. No Ducts = Better Indoor Air Quality

Did you know that indoor air quality can sometimes be lower than the quality of the air outside your home? If you have a ducted HVAC system and do not regularly have the ducts professionally cleaned, dust, bacteria, mold, and other harmful substances could be circulating throughout the air your family breathes. Mini-splits don’t have ducts, which means they neither require professional cleaning nor do they spread particulates and dirt throughout your home.

Any drawbacks compared to traditional central AC?

The main tradeoff with mini-splits has to do with the cost required to initially install the system. The equipment, while state of the art and very energy efficient in most cases, can be quite expensive compared to similar ducted central air conditioning systems, as we touched on above.

Of course, if your older home does not have preexisting ductwork, or you’re planning a new addition that would require the installation of ductwork and upgrades to your existing ducted AC system, the gap in pricing may be less extreme.

Garden Spot Mechanical is Your Local Ductless Air Conditioning Resource

Need help determining whether a mini-split system can solve your home air conditioning woes? We’re here to guide you through the purchasing and installation process. Garden Spot Mechanical has been proudly serving Manheim, PA, and the surrounding region since 2006. Get in touch today for a friendly quote on a new ductless system!