Mini Ductless Systems

SaltiDawgMay 23, 2012

My son owns a home up in Connecticut in which his mother-in-law lives.

The home does not have central air (baseboard heat.)

Currently the house has a portable unit cooling the downstairs and a couple of window units cooling the upper living areas.

Son is considering a Mini Ductless system with likely two or three inside units. He was pointed toward a "Mr. Slim" Mitsubishi unit.

What are some of the considerations that should be looked at when researching such an approach? (I find the Search Function here to be not very rewarding.)

I'll ask my son to read here to see what kind of advice you may have.


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We have a mini split ductless unit from LG (so, not mr slim, but still same concept).

We have been satisfied with it. One of the things is, you should not use it as your only source of heat. They recommend you keep a secondary source in case of really cold winters.

I live in the PNW, where the temperature is relatively moderate most of the time. We hit 80s a couple times a summer, and get snow a couple times a winter. This last winter, we had snow that lasted for a week to 10 days. (it wasn't bitter cold out). The ductless had a little trouble keeping up; but we were fine. If in CT you get cold for longer or the NE bitter cold, you will need to keep the baseboards for secondary heat sources in those cold snaps.

Finally, I have found that this search is not the best. BUt, if you go to google and search "gardenweb ...whatever you are searching" you will get good results on the gardenweb forums.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 10:31AM
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TNX for the info.

My son tells me that the gas heat that they have is satisfactory. He is looking for A/C.

That said, if the cost difference is small between an A/C only unit versus a heat pump that works for A/C AND heating, the difference might be worth it for the increased flexibility and possible economy due to being able to heat only required sections of the house?????

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 11:40AM
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The most important problem will be finding someone that has the training and experience to install them. Look at Mitsubishi, Sanyo and Toshiba web sites to see what is available. Note that they do not have to be installed with the connections straight through the wall to the outside. All 7 of my indoor units are mounted high on the walls and the connections run under the house. It is more work so it will cost more. Keep in mind that the "ductless" part of mini splits is optional. There are small air handlers that might be a good fit for serving more than one small room. There are ceiling-mounted indoor units as well.

Pay attention to how the controls work, both hand-held and wall mounted if the latter option is wanted. The hand-held controls for some brands will not do a true set-back, only off/on on a timer.

Don't place the indoor units above a bed as I have seen pictured in sales literature unless you like cold or hot air blowing right on your face. Note that in at least some lines, the 1:1 systems are more efficient and have better low outdoor temp performance than the multis.

The inherent zoning capability can serve you well in economizing. Depending on how your gas and electricity prices shift, heat pumps might be less expensive than the gas in cool, but mild weather. You have to run your own numbers. Get prices for cooling only and heat/cool equipment and decide.

Ask more questions as your thinking progresses. This is probably a good place for mini-splits.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 2:28PM
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Possibly. I have no idea what an a/c only unit would run.
And, as for being over head in bed. I haven't had that issue. Maybe it is the way ours blow, but they don't blow straight down (at least ours don't). So, I actually like it overhead of my bed.

Also, we have no gas at our house, so I can't comment on economy compared to gas. But, unless he has one of the newest most efficient furnaces, it probably won't pay to run it over the ductless most of the time.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 9:58AM
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I misspoke about my son having gas baseboard heat... he has oil baseboard heat.

Point remains the same.

Thanks all for the advice. My son is off research based on your collective suggestions.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 10:42AM
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energy_rater_la is also a good place for him to
research mini-splits.
pro members answer questions for homeowners.
no diy..but that isn't what you are looking
for anyway.

best of luck

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 11:48AM
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I'm also interested in a mini-split for a small bedroom I use as a home office. And I do mean small - about 100 square feet. I've been using a 5000 btu window unit.

I've never seen a mini-split under 9kbtu, but I've read that the inverter types are smart enough to throttle back when used in small spaces. Also, they supposedly make good heat pumps, which might allow me to use less (or none) of my expensive baseboard electric heat in that room.

I called several local HVAC contractors to ask. Most of them had never done a mini-split and didn't want to. The few that had, admitted they hadn't done many. But what really got me was that the few that were interested wanted to charge me over $3000 for an installed unit (a little less than $3k for a cheaper non-inverter type). One guy was very close to $4k, and I figured he probably didn't really want the job.

The cost really put me off the idea, especially since a new Chinese-made window unit with a quieter rotary compressor (Frigidaire) is way less than $200. Still, I'm not really in the market for a 3-year-life disposable unit.

I'm still interested in mini-split, and recently I ran across an ad for a DIY inverter mini-split. It comes with 25' of pre-charged stainless lines and supposedly you don't need to pull a vacuum or anything, just hook up the lines and go.

It's a brand I've never heard of, Americaire. It's more than twice the size I need, 12kbtu (but again it's inverter type). And it's far from cheap; by the time you get done with shipping it's probably close to $2k.

My main concern is - When it needs repair, will anyone be able to fix it? Any thoughts?

The other approach I've considered is buying a name brand (Sanyo, Mitsu, etc) and doing the installation myself except for refrigerant lines. I can certainly pull the electrical permit and do the wiring, and the rest of it seems to be mostly just cutting a hole in the wall, hanging a moderately heavy evaporator unit (~35lb), and setting and leveling a pad for the condenser unit.

But my concern there is - will I be able to find someone who will do the line hookup and connection, or will they say "we install the whole thing, or nothing"? This is especially worrying since there seem to be so few techs in my area who have experience with mini-splits.

If anyone has DIYed a mini-split, I'd appreciate hearing how you did it - and maybe more importantly, what you'd do differently if you did it again.

Or if you have tips for finding really qualified and affordable installers in a midwestern backwater, I'm all ears.


Here is a link that might be useful: Americaire DIY mini-split

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 11:27AM
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Ask around. A couple years ago, we moved one of our dual heads. That requires draining the lines, moving the head, and recharging. We have LG, but I didn't like my original installer. So, I called around. Another company (who doesn't sell LG) in my area was willing to do the move, and recharge ("all the systems are essentially the same"). It wasn't inexpensive though... They really get you on "labor" charges, claiming they have to be there all day to drain the lines and then recharge...

But, for us, in our situation, it was worth it.

However, in our area, there are many companies that do mini-splits (and Mitsu does have a 6000btu head, maybe not for a single head system though, since I was only pricing multi). If you can't find companies in your area doing that; ask yourself why? Is your climate not that great for them? Lazy contractors who like to do what they know and no more? or, ??? If no one does them, you will have greater trouble finding "repair" people later, I would assume.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 8:31PM
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Check again on the sizes of 1:1 systems. I could be wrong, but I think there are plenty of top notch systems that check in below 9000 btu. IIRC, 6000 and 5000 btu.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 9:43PM
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Check again on the sizes of 1:1 systems. I could be wrong, but I think there are plenty of top notch systems that check in below 9000 btu. IIRC, 6000 and 5000 btu.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2012 at 9:44PM
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The smallest Mitsubishi I see is 9500btu; Goodman, 12k; Samsung, 9000; Carrier, 9200; Panasonic, 9000 ...

I don't see any 6000 or 5000btu mini splits anywhere, but maybe I've missed them.

I see quite a few name brand units advertised on the web, with prices in the $800 - $1500 range for 9000btu range. Given that, I'm having trouble understanding why I'm getting quotes over $3000 for an installed system.

Also, while I'm willing to pay a big premium for higher quality, better efficiency, and lower noise, it's hard to justify spending 10 times as much as a decent quality window unit costs.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2012 at 11:17PM
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I agree that from a financial point of view it doesn't make any sense to pay $3,000 for a mini split versus $200 for a good window unit in your situation.

Mini split going prices from reputable HVAC installers who provide a warranty for their work and from manufacturers who warrant their equipment and provide distributers with repair parts are not going to be in the price range you were hoping for (as you note in a previous posting). These guys need to make a living. They have to pick up the equipment, install it, cover their overhead, take care of any callbacks at no cost during the initial labor warranty period, etc. Thet can't do this charging $500 over their equipment cost.

You can buy equipment over the internet (but you will find out that no reputable manufacturer will warrant that equipment) and probably find some independent HVAC installer to install it (they won't warrant their work either). The gamble is yours to make.

From a comfort and noise prospective (and also your window now allows more light through it as it won't have that AC unit) the mini split is miles ahead of a window unit.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2012 at 9:44AM
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Davidr, I should have typed 6000 and 7500 BTU not 5000 or 6000. Even at that, I was thinking of multi systems that I am more familiar with. My apologies, they might not go that low with 1:1 systems. The 1:1 systems are more efficient, and throttle to lower output levels according to my analysis of some data I have seen in service manuals. Theoretically, you can go down to 900 -1800 BTU with a 9000 BTU system.

I understand your reluctance to invest in $3000 for a mini split if a window unit will do. I used two window unit heat pumps in a rental that I lived in the winter after Katrina. They seemed to work pretty well. Run some numbers with the efficiency of the heat pumps and see if they will save you money over the course of the year considering the electric heat. The mini splits are very quiet compared to window units.

Your costs seem high compared to my installation but that is going to be location-dependent. I think that one real problem is that you are paying for 9000 BTU of equipment when you need less than half of that.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 10:49PM
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I can tell you right now that my company pays no where near what they sell them for on the internet. I have installed about 50 - 60 mini splits in the past 2 years and this year i have sold more mini's that i have central units. I have always shopped around trying to compare the different manufactors to give my customer the most unit for their money. Some have their hearts set on Mitsubishi, which for me are the most expensive, almost twice as much. Thats fine as long as they are willing to pay for it. I have found the Fujitsu units are just as good, same 7 year warranty and cost 30%-40% less than the Mitsubishi. Wonderful units. Easy to install.
Another wonderful brand i have found is the ThermalZone line of mini splits. If your looking for a very basic 13-15 seer non modulating unit, it's a good one. I have installed more of this brand than all others combined. Very reliable. The distributor of this brand actually owns the manufactoring facility so there cost is kept low. They also have heat pumps as low as 7000 btu for small bed rooms.

Hope this helps

    Bookmark   June 3, 2012 at 9:05PM
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The quiet is one big thing I'm after. The other is efficiency and low energy cost, which saves $ in the long run. Might have to be a VERY long run, however, at these prices.

I tried calling a few more installers. Only one returned my call, and after taking my info, he never got back to me again. Beats me why, with the economy in the dumper, these guys don't want business. <shrug>

As for DIY, nobody seems to know anything about these "Americair" DIY systems. They're supposedly the only one legal to DIY. The lineset is precharged and attached to the evaporator, with a quick connect gadget on the compressor end.

Kind of hard to believe that nobody else has a DIY kit. I think I remember Sears selling pre-charged central AC DIY kits with the same idea many years ago. That would have been in the R-12 days. Dating myself here, I guess.

Thing is, I can't find any reports from anyone who has installed one of these "Americair" kits. And the cost seems a bit high for DIY, around $1800 for 12k BTU, with quality an unknown (who the heck is "Americair"?) Still, that's about half what I was quoted for a name-brand system installed by a dealer.

Thanks for the ideas, but I'm still on the fence.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2012 at 10:29PM
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