Are ductless mini-split HVAC systems cheaper?
Several years ago, most homeowners had never even heard of a “mini-split.” Now, they’ve gone mainstream. More and more homeowners here in Albuquerque are making the switch to ductless mini-split systems, which raises a common question for everyone else: are ductless mini-split systems cheaper?
Both the short and long answers are: “It depends.” In most cases, a ductless mini-split system will cost more upfront to install than a traditional, forced-air air conditioner or furnace. However, there are a number of variables to consider when shopping around for a new system. Here’s what will ultimately impact what you pay for your new ductless mini-split:
Number of Zones
A single ductless unit will cost less than a traditional HVAC system. But, most homes require multiple units in multiple rooms (“zones”), which increases the installation cost. The larger your home, the more zones you need in your mini-split configuration.
According to data collected by homeguide.com, a single-zone system costs most homeowners anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 on average. In contrast, a five-zone system will run homeowners somewhere between $5,500 and $13,000. At both the low- and high-end of that spectrum, you’re looking at paying nearly double the cost for a five-zone system.
This is just one of the reasons why it’s important that you talk with our team and get a free estimate on your new ductless mini-split. During your estimate, we can help you work out exactly how many zones you need and what your new ductless system will end up costing you.
As the name itself implies, ductless mini-splits are composed of multiple indoor units “split” from a single outdoor unit. This means the cost of adding additional zones may not be extreme until you get to the point of needing a second outdoor unit to support more zones. If your home is in that position, our team might recommend a central HVAC system instead.
As previously mentioned, ductless HVAC systems are typically more expensive to install than traditional HVAC systems, which use the ductwork in your home to distribute cooled and heated air. There’s one notable exception to this rule, however. If your home does not currently have ductwork, you’ll probably save quite a bit by going ductless instead of paying to have ducts installed.
New duct installation can be expensive, depending on factors such as the size and age of your home. Most homes without ducts are historic properties built prior to the 1960s, which means there may be additional challenges to adding the new ductwork needed for central cooling and heating. For understandable reasons, these homes just weren’t constructed with ducts in mind. There might not be sufficient space for ducts, vents or registers.
That’s not to say that it can’t be done—plenty of older homes now feature ductwork—but that it might not be able to be done cheaply. This is where a ductless mini-split is a great alternative. By forgoing the duct installation and getting a mini-split, instead, you could save thousands of dollars.
Watch: How to install a wall-mounted mini-split
In this video from This Old House, the team explains how mini-splits work and shows how they’re installed.
As ductless systems have exploded in popularity in recent years, almost every major HVAC manufacturer now has a mini-split system available. This gives you choices and additional options. It also means that relatively similar systems are listed at different price points.
At Wagner, we’re proud to install Mitsubishi mini-splits. We believe that Mitsubishi systems offer the best balance between performance, longevity, quality, and price. Mitsubishi is one of the most experienced and established mini-split manufacturers—while they’ve only recently taken off in the United States, ductless systems have been popular overseas for decades. This gives them a major head start in perfecting the ductless formula.
There are cheaper brands out there, but you’re running a risk by going with a relatively unknown name and brand compared to the outstanding track record of a Mitsubishi system. When the cost savings is only $200 – $500, it’s better to go with the system you know you’ll be able to count on and ultimately get more years out of.
So far, we’ve been discussing the upfront cost when comparing ductless and central air systems. But, it’s important to recognize the long-term costs, too. HVAC systems aren’t just something you buy and that’s it. Just like a vehicle’s miles-per-gallon rating, you have to consider how efficient your system is relative to its other options, because you’ll be paying that cost for years to come.
This is one area where ductless mini-splits excel. On average, they’re 30% more energy-efficient than standard HVAC systems. There are several reasons for this. First, ducts (or, the lack thereof): ductwork is an inefficient way to move heated or cooled air. Central air systems lose a lot of their efficiency pushing air through leaky ducts, which is a problem that ductless systems just don’t have.
The second reason is zoning. With a ductless mini-split, you have more granular control over which rooms of your home are getting cooling and heating at any given time. By only cooling or heating the rooms that need it, you can greatly cut down on your energy costs.
Thanks to these factors, most homeowners will see much lower monthly energy costs with a ductless system. That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions: if you own a large home, you’ll save less than homeowners with a smaller home. However, energy-efficiency is a major selling point for ductless mini-splits—and certainly one that you should know about.
Get started with a free in-home estimate
In an article like this one, we can only make generalizations. As we’ve already noted, there are several variables that impact just how much a new ductless mini-split will cost compared to a traditional, central cooling and heating system. The best way to get an accurate comparison between the two options, customized to your home, is to call your local friends here at Wagner and schedule a free in-home estimate.
During your free in-home estimate, we’ll send one of our friendly experts out to your home to take measurements and talk with you about your cooling and heating needs. We’ll then take all that information and recommend the particular system that we think will work best for your home. You’ll then get an upfront estimate from us that explains exactly what a new HVAC system will cost.
Just give us a call to get started. We’re excited to talk with you and get your home on the road to greater comfort and energy savings!