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How Much Does It Cost to Run a Ductless Mini Split Understanding Overall Operating Costs

How Much Does It Cost to Run a Ductless Mini Split? Understanding Overall Operating Costs

How Much Does It Cost to Run a Ductless Mini Split? Understanding Overall Operating Costs

If you are renovating or building a new home, you should consider going ductless. Installing a ductless air conditioning system may be daunting at the outset, but it can save you money in the long run as well as quietly reduce your carbon footprint. In general, a ductless mini split costs less per month than forced-air systems because it reduces leakage and uses much less energy.

What Is a Ductless Air System?

As the name implies, this type of heating and cooling system has no ductwork. The internal part of a ductless mini split heats or cools any room that it inhabits. Unlike traditional air conditioners, a ductless unit has an outdoor component, up to four internal components, subtle conduits made of copper tubing connecting the inner to the outer, and remote controls to control the temperature. 

This modern system makes the bulky ductwork seem out of date. There’s no need for the cumbersome tunnels delivering cold air throughout a building or delivering heated air to a central unit with a ductless system. In a ductless air conditioning system, the indoor element or air handler sucks in heated air from the room. It transports it via copper tubing to the outdoor part called the condenser or the evaporator. 

The liquid element in the condenser’s coils absorbs the air’s heat, which turns the liquid to gas. The condenser sends this to the compressor, where it is expelled into the atmosphere. The cooled air, having transferred its heat into the coils, is then pumped back into the house, slowly lowering the room’s temperature in which it’s installed. 

Close up of air conditioner condenser for ductless mini-splits

Why Is It Called a Mini Split?

The reasons behind the other two parts of this mechanism’s name—mini and split—are relatively straightforward to explain. This system is called a split because the system is split between the outdoor and the indoor components. With a central air system, the air handler and compressor are packaged in the same machine that cools your home with one central unit. The split ductless system is divided into two parts, leading to one of the main benefits of a ductless mini split—it’s very quiet.

It’s called a mini split because the unit is much smaller than central air systems. If you put all the mini split components together, the air compressor and the air handler would probably amount to a typical central air unit size. But since it’s split and the larger, noisier part is outside of the building, the impression is of a much smaller, sleeker system.

The indoor component of the ductless air conditioning systems, the air handler, is only about three feet long and very slim, so it seamlessly fits into your living or working space. Without all the bulky ductwork crowding your walls, ceiling, or floors, a ductless mini split system is virtually unnoticeable. 

Where Can I Put a Ductless Air Conditioning System?

One of the great benefits of a ductless air conditioning system is that it is so versatile. You can put them virtually in any place in your home or workspace. Here are some of the options when it comes to the placement of a mini split:

Where Can I Put a Ductless Air Conditioning System

  • Wall Mount – This is the most traditional placement because it is often the most effective.
  • Ceiling-Recessed – This placement is flush with the ceiling with only a vent visible.
  • Horizontal Ducted – This is an excellent placement for specific architectural challenges.
  • Floor Mount – This is a great choice for those who need targeted heating or cooling due to uneven heat or conditioned air disbursement.

It’s crucial to choose a spot for the air handler to be most beneficial when expelling conditioned air. You should position it 8-10 feet off the ground so that it isn’t just pushing cold air toward the ceiling. If you’re installing a mini split in your bedroom, it is most providential to put the air handler directly over the headboard or at the foot of the bed to ensure maximum sleeping comfort. 

You should also consider maintenance. If your air conditioning system’s indoor portion is challenging to reach, you will have a terrible time accessing the air filters and other parts. Finally, aim for your ductless unit to provide symmetry, so, if it’s installed above a window, it should balance with that window. 

The outdoor component of this air conditioning system needs to be installed in a particular place as well. Look for a spot on a terrace or anywhere that allows for unhindered airflow to and from the condenser and compressor. It should also be in an accessible locale that enables technicians to come and service it. 

part of mini split system

Are Ductless Mini Splits Better for the Environment?

The cost of an air conditioner doesn’t just refer to how much it costs to install and pay for each month; the air conditioner cost can also pertain to how eco-conscious it is. Some of the various assets of a ductless mini split are that it’s quiet and more eco-friendly. Many ductless systems are Energy-star-rated and have some of the highest SEER ratings. 

SEER refers to the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio and assesses how much your air conditioning unit costs and how much energy it uses throughout a particular season. Since you use more heating and cooling capabilities in the coldest and hottest months of the year, these ratings change according to the season. Ductless Air Systems have some of the highest SEER ratings compared with traditional units.

Ductless mini splits also don’t use excess energy cooling down the air. They extract heat from the air without using a ton of energy, making a difference to your monthly bills and helping the environment. A traditional central air system loses 20% to 30% of heat through lousy ductwork. The impracticality of ductwork is that the cooled or heated air has to be transported from a central unit throughout a building, and a lot gets lost along the way. 

A ductless system expels cold or heated air directly into the room in which it’s installed, so there’s no opportunity for leakage. If you have severe air leakage from your ducts, you may need to consider an alternate heating and cooling system. Some of the telltale signs are that your winter and summer heating and cooling bills have recently gone through the roof, you have tangled, or kinked ducts, or you have vents in obsolete places like attics, garages, or crawl spaces. 

To absorb the air’s heat, ductless systems use a refrigerant called R410A, a more environmentally friendly chemical than other refrigerants. On top of this, most ductless air conditioning systems on the market result from more modern and forward-thinking companies. 

Switch To Ductless Heating & Cooling

What Is the Initial Air Conditioner Cost of a Mini Split?

A couple of elements determine the initial cost of any new ductless unit you’re going to invest in. The number of indoor units or heads, the tonnage size of the entire system, and energy ratings all alter the initial cost.

Two of your ductless mini split’s direct costs are the materials and the work hours needed to install these materials. The system materials can range between $300 to $4,000, and the hours required to get your system up and running can run from $200 to $1,500. On average, a technician puts in around 10 hours to successfully install a ductless air conditioning system. 

You should be prepared to pay more at the outset for a ductless air conditioning system, but this type of system saves you money by lowering your monthly payments over the long term. The range depends on how many heads your system has, or how many indoor units, each accommodating one area. 

HVAC technician working on a mini-split

Cost Depends on the Number of Zones or Heads

Residential air conditioning systems generally have up to five heads, but you may only need one if you have a small living space or live alone. The number of zones you have depends on your energy needs and the room’s dimensions, and the number of heads you have affects the amount you pay each month. The more heads you have, the more complex it becomes to install and service them.

Ductless systems are perfect solutions for families that sometimes have the whole house filled and, at other times, only have two people living there. As a landlord or building owner, you can tailor the heating and cooling system to particular circumstances, depending on if you have a single-family unit in a building or townhome or if you have all of your units filled. 

BTUs or Tonnage Affect Overall Air Conditioner Cost

Another element of a ductless system’s air conditioner cost is the tonnage to supply each head with power, measured in BTUs or British Thermal Units. A BTU stands for the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gallon of water by one degree Fahrenheit. During the initial visits, your experienced ductless HVAC technician can calculate the tonnage for you. For example, a 36,000 BTU heat gain at 12,000 BTUs a ton gives a capacity of three tons. 

Most ductless systems fall somewhere between one and a half to five tons. If you’re living in a one-bedroom apartment on your own, you may be able to get away with half a ton and a single head to provide for the entire space; on the other hand, a massive house can run at five-ton capacity. 

What Is Needed to Install a Ductless Mini Split?

The ductless mini split’s simplicity is part of its charm; there are only three main mechanical components: the head, the compressor, and the refrigerant lines connecting these two elements. Of course, the more zones you need cooled or heated, the more complicated the system becomes. 

Other factors to consider are the length the conduit needs to connect the heads with the outdoor unit, where to drill the hole, and if you need a concrete pad beneath the outdoor compressor. 

If you have indoor units installed on the ground floor, try to position the outdoor compressor so that it is slightly higher than the indoor unit, which uses gravity to move the refrigerant through the coils. You also need to pour a small concrete slab on which the outdoor component can sit. Avoid any placement that allows the outdoor unit to vibrate, as the movements can break pipes and disrupt connections. 

Costs are relatively low

Compared to installing a central AC unit in your attic or basement, the installation costs for a ductless mini split are relatively low. Installation should be performed by an HVAC professional to ensure your units work efficiently and safely. 

What Is the Monthly Air Conditioner Cost?

One of the great things about a ductless system is that you can tailor each room or zone to your liking. If there are individual rooms unused most of the time, you can keep that zone at a lower or higher temp, depending on whether you’re heating or cooling it. 

It is also much cheaper to run a ductless mini split than run a traditional forced-air system. The monthly fees vary from place to place. To calculate the monthly cost, take the wattage used by each indoor unit and the local kilowatt-per-hour (kWH) rate for electricity to determine how much you may pay for ductless air conditioning. 

In general, if you’re paying $0.13 kWH and have an evaporator that has a wattage of 1758, using 6,000 BTUs, you’ll pay something like $0.23 per hour to cool or heat your home. On the high end, an indoor unit using 12,000 BTUs or 7,033 watts will cost you $0.93 an hour to run your mini split.

How to Calculate Your Total Annual Savings with a Ductless Mini Split

Depending on where you live and what kind of equipment you have, the costs of running your ductless mini split is easily calculable. You can use resources online to figure out how much you’ll be paying if you make the switch to ductless heating and cooling. Keep in mind that, although the initial cost may be more than a traditional unit, a ductless mini split will be more affordable over the course of the year. 

How to Calculate Your Total Annual Savings with a Ductless Mini Split

The cost of running your heating and cooling system depends on the cost of electricity, the amount of time you run your unit in heating and cooling mode, and the ambient temperatures. The amount you pay to keep your home comfortable also depends on your unit’s SEER rating, the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. The higher the rating, the more efficiently the unit will work, and the less you’ll pay in heating and cooling. 

If you’d like to run a comparison of prices, your current heating and cooling bills sometimes include monthly usage information so you can compare your previous utility bills with your new ones. 

The Department of Energy also can help you determine whether switching to a ductless mini split can help you save money. Their helpful online resource offers simple step-by-step instructions that allow you to find your system via the model number. 

  1. Go to
  2. Enter the first letters or numbers of your ductless mini split system model into the search field, then scroll down the list until you find your exact model. 
  3. Ensure that all details regarding the efficiency and capacity of the unit are correct.
  4. Click on the dollar icon at the bottom of the page to get the estimated annual running costs.
  5. Refine your calculation by entering your zip code. 
  6. You can click on the printer icon to export the information to a printable spreadsheet. 

The Final Word

Ductless mini split air conditioning systems are the wave of the future. They’re energy-efficient, modern, almost noiseless, and better for your bottom dollar than old-fashioned forced air systems. If you’re considering switching to a ductless system, consider the number of zones you have, how much tonnage you need, and your monthly costs. 

Image Credits

Source:  Ron Dale /

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