A Homeowner’s Guide to Choosing the Best Ductless Air Conditioner
When it comes to making your home as comfortable as it could possibly be, the temperature is a massive consideration. In order for you to enjoy your space, it needs to be properly heated in the winter and cooled in the summer or you’ll find yourself uncomfortable a good portion of the time. While most cold-climate homes are equipped with heating, many homeowners go without air conditioning when the temps are sweltering. This is a quandary for many since a properly cooled home equates to better sleep, improved focus, and overall better quality of life. A ductless air conditioning system may be the answer.
Is a Ductless System Right for Me?
Ductless air conditioners, also known as mini-split systems and ductless systems, are often installed as alternatives to typical central air systems (which require ducts) in homes where there is no installed ductwork. Typically, this means older homes that were installed before standard flexible ductwork became the norm in new construction. This offers an excellent way to add the modern convenience of permanent air conditioning without the high cost of installing ductwork, which can run you as much as $10,000, depending on your home.
With that being said, there are several scenarios where you may want to install a ductless mini-split system in your home even if it has built-in ductwork. Many homeowners convert from duct systems to ductless systems to increase room-by-room temperature control or to lower energy costs, as ductless options can be more efficient. There are also scenarios where the ducts, which may have been installed 50 or 60 years ago, begin to break or leak, which can lead to inefficiency and poor performance. All of these instances can be addressed with the right ductless configuration.
Steps to Take Before You Buy a Ductless Unit
The best way to determine if installing a ductless air conditioner is right for you is to speak with a professional and have an in-depth evaluation of your space and options. If you aren’t sure where to start on your mini-split journey, we’ve broken it down for you in this handy step-by-step guide.
1. Have an HVAC Professional Visit Your Home
First things first: Have an HVAC professional come to your home to perform a residential load calculation (known in the industry as a “Manual J calculation”). This takes into account all of the complexities of heating and cooling your space, including many things you’ve probably never considered—your home’s insulation performance, the color of the shingles and siding, the types of windows, the home’s orientation, and more. The calculation will produce a report of the needed BTU per hour for each room and zone, which we can then use to set you up with the right equipment. Note that buying your equipment online at ComfortUp can help you save in total costs compared with buying from your installer.
2. Measure the Rooms You Want to Cool
Though an HVAC professional will include proper measurements and other detailed information in your load evaluation, it helps if you have on hand square footage for every room you want to cool. This is by no means the end-all-be-all of information needed for picking the right unit, but it does provide you with some helpful information for roughly estimating your needs and costs at a glance.
3. Measure the Installation Location(s)
Another important thing to consider is that your ductless unit features permanently installed interior units, which are usually mounted to the wall in the areas where you want to cool (though they may also be installed in the floor or in the ceiling with a recessed cassette setup). If you have a specific installation area in mind—say, over the doorway or tucked neatly into a corner—then you’ll want to measure that space to be sure it can accommodate the unit you’re considering. Select at least two ideal installation places per room in case one location is not feasible.
4. Determine a Budget
Finally, before you seriously begin hunting for ductless mini-split systems, set a budget for the total cost of equipment and installation. To meet your budget, you may have to prioritize where you want the air conditioning installed, such as only in the bedroom and living room, to save on total costs. The equipment, installation professional, and installation type you choose will also help inform the total costs associated with your project.
5. Compile a List of Questions
As you’re going through the exploration process, you’ll likely get stumped a time or two. These are very complex systems requiring a lot of complicated HVAC knowledge, and no professional will expect you to know them inside and out. Be sure to write down all the questions you have along the way and know what to ask when your installer arrives.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Ductless AC
Now that you’ve gathered the necessary information, it’s time to begin weighing your options. There is a multitude of ductless air conditioning options on the market that vary in power, brand, cost, features, and size, so you’ll have several important things to consider when making your final determination.
The Size of the Space You Want to Cool
As we’ve already covered, the size of the space you want to cool will be a massive consideration factor when designing your ductless AC configuration. You need to select equipment that puts out the proper number of BTUs (British thermal units) to efficiently cool your space. While it seems simple—more BTUs equals a cooler space, right?—this is an area where a professional’s input is highly valued.
In fact, more BTUs aren’t always the answer, and too much can cause the unit to enter a constant on-and-off cycle, which can overwork the components. This also disrupts the removal of moisture, which can leave a room feely damp and clammy. The table below provides a rough idea of proper BTUs by the square foot, but be sure to consult a professional to ensure that you get the best option for the space.
The Number of Zones You Need
In general, ductless air conditioning systems come in two main options: single-zone and multi-zone systems. Single-zone means the unit has one indoor unit and one outdoor unit or a 1:1 ratio. It’s typically used to cool one room or one main area of your home. On the other hand, multi-zone systems have multiple indoor units (say, one in each main room) that connect to a single outdoor unit. Multi-zone systems can cool up to five rooms on a single outdoor condenser/compressor, depending on the unit. There are different scenarios that are better for different zone options. Be sure to reference our Single Zone Vs. Multi Zone Guide for more in-depth information on this consideration.
The Option to Heat with the Same System
Our customers are often surprised to find that mini-split systems provide cooling and heating. While they may not be able to replace your primary heating source, such as your boiler or furnace, they can certainly warm up your space when temps are low. If you do want your cooling system to be able to serve as a heater as well, you’ll want to select ductless equipment that accommodates both and works with a mini-split heat pump. At ComfortUp, we have a wide variety of multi-zone systems that are rated to provide heat in temperatures as cold as -13°F and some single-zone systems that can be used in conditions that are as cold as -22°F. Of course, your desire to heat some or all of your home will need to be considered in your configuration design.
The Special Features of Your Ideal Unit
At the end of the day, your ductless air conditioner is simply an appliance made with complex technology, equipped with all sorts of user-friendly features that make it great for your space. Not all ductless air conditioning units are created equal. Some features you may want to prioritize include Wi-Fi connectivity (so you can control the unit from anywhere using your smartphone) and inverter technology to help it operate efficiently. Weighing the proper brands—Gree, Mitsubishi Electric, LG, and Panasonic—and reading ductless AC reviews will help you make the best decision.
Your Noise Preferences
Another thing you should pay attention to when selecting your unit is the sound it puts out. Ductless systems are like any other home appliance, in that they’re often rated by decibel. If you’re particularly sensitive to sound, you’ll want to prioritize selecting a low-decibel unit. Gree and Mitsubishi generally make the quietest ductless systems, with units featuring as low as 19 decibels of sound pressure. To put that into perspective, rustling leaves generally produce a decibel level of about 20. Do note that, if you’re upgrading from hefty window air conditioners, you’ll most likely be switching to a much quieter option no matter what system you choose.
Your Filter Requirements
Did you know that ductless air conditioning systems serve as air filters, too? This means that they can help eliminate potentially irritating contaminants, dust, dirt, and allergens from your home, creating much better air quality for you and your entire family. The addition of an air filter in your home can help prevent the growth of mold and mildew, creating a more enjoyable and comfortable environment for all. If you’re concerned about maintenance, cost, and the environment, select a ductless air conditioner that has washable air filters. Some Mitsubishi units are made with washable filters that can last up to 10 years!
Your Preferred Installation Type
The vast majority of modern ductless air conditioning units are wall-mounted (typically they must be mounted to an exterior indoor wall for easy wiring), but more and more manufacturers are coming up with clever new installation configurations. We know that not everyone wants to have a permanent air conditioner hanging on their wall. Other options include ceiling units, which are neatly installed in the ceiling using a recessed cassette, and floor units that are generally installed near or at the baseboards for a lower, more inconspicuous look.
The Aesthetics of the Unit
Finally, don’t forget to take some time to think about how you want your ductless air conditioners to look. While there isn’t a huge variation in terms of the aesthetic from one brand or unit to another, you do have some visual options. Sleek modern-looking units are available to those who prefer a more contemporary look. Note that the aesthetic of your unit may affect your price, and you may the option to install a more basic or utilitarian-looking model for less. Compare the look of different brands if this is something that matters to you.
As you can see, deciding on the perfect ductless air conditioning equipment requires you to weigh a variety of different options. While it may seem overwhelming to take all of these considerations into account, the truth is that the process helps to ensure that you get the absolute best possible setup for your home, budget, and preferences.
When you take the time to weigh each option and prioritize what you want out of your system, you can rest easy knowing you’re making the right investment. You can also rest easy knowing that, when you shop with us, you’re getting a top-of-the-line unit that we personally recommend.