Get Rid of That Ugly Window AC: Install a Mini-Split Ductless AC System
Window air conditioners are ugly, but installing or expanding a central air system is expensive. Mini-split ductless AC systems offer a compromise.
The name is kind of a mouthful, so what are these systems exactly? In short, they combine the best features of window ACs (less expensive; can be used to cool just one room) with the best features of central air systems (more powerful cooling; less noticeable than window units). They’re more energy efficient than either one.
Mini-split systems are ideal for homes that cannot have central air because they have ductless heating systems such as radiant panels. They’re commonly used for additions or multi-family housing. They offer the flexibility to air condition only the rooms you choose without having to resort to large and clunky window units. However, they’re generally not a whole-house solution for homes with existing ductwork.
How Do Mini-Split Ductless Systems Work?
Like central air systems, mini splits have both an indoor and outdoor component. There’s an outdoor compressor and an indoor air-handling unit. If several rooms need to be cooled, the outdoor compressor can be attached to multiple handling units.
The indoor handling unit(s) can be hung on a wall, mounted flush into a drop ceiling or suspended from a ceiling. The look is more attractive than a window AC because the units are sleeker and more high-tech in appearance. The units don’t block the window, of course, and they can be installed in less conspicuous areas of the room.
With mini splits, each room or zone has its own thermostat, which allows only the rooms that are being used to be cooled. If you add on a sunroom that needs to be cooled only on occasion, for example, a mini-split allows for that control.
Pros and Cons of Mini-Split AC Systems
As with any product, mini-split AC systems have their pros and cons. We’ve covered some of the pros, but here’s some additional information:
- Energy savings - According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, mini-split systems avoid the energy losses associated with ductwork in central air systems. Duct losses can account for more than 30 percent of energy consumption in central air systems. Mini splits are also more efficient than window units.
- Great for additions - Extending the duct work in an addition is not always feasible. Sometimes the existing system won’t support cooling the additional space. Mini splits provide an alternative for cooling the new room or rooms.
- Easy to install - Mini split systems are easier to install than most other types of space air conditioners.
And now for the disadvantages:
- Cost - Mini splits are expensive. Most cost $1,500 to $2,000 per ton (12,000 BTUs per hour) of cooling capacity, according to the EPA. That’s about 30 percent more than central air systems, not including ductwork, and about twice as much as window units that offer a similar capacity.
- Look - As we’ve mentioned, mini splits are sleeker and more attractive than window units. But some people don’t want any kind of unit mounted on the wall or ceiling. They prefer the look of central air systems.
- Quality of installers - Because mini splits are far less common than central air, you might have a hard time finding a quality installer in your area.