Four Myths About Ductless Mini-Splits

Understanding the Pros & Cons of Ductless Mini-Split AC Systems

Over the past few years we have all observed the U.S. HVAC industry’s fascination with ductless “mini-split” air conditioning systems in the U.S. Recent HVAC trade shows have been crowded with OEM’s promoting this “new” way of providing home comfort. National advertising and media/public relations tactics would make us think it is just a matter of time before we all say goodbye to our central AC systems and get with the rest of the world (i.e. Japan, China and Europe) in the way we keep our homes and businesses cool and comfortable.

The article below was written in 2013. We have updated information for homeowners busting myths about ductless mini split systems, outlining what to consider when choosing a new HVAC system, as well as recommendations on when a ductless system might be right for your space.

The AC & Heating Connect staff has also conducted research on ductless systems and uncovered some facts that might be of interest to contractors and distributors as the industry plans for the future growth of this segment.

Myth #1 – The sales of ductless mini-spit systems continue to grow and will dominate the U.S. market in a few years.

Industry statistics would not support this statement. While the ductless segment has posted impressive growth rates in the U.S. since 2005, the growth rates have been slowing recently and the largest ductless segment (small, single evaporator systems) have not grown at all since 2010. These sales remain stable at about 260,000 units per year, or only about 4% of total unitary AC shipments. Some larger VRF-style commercial systems continue to grow at higher rates, but their numbers in the U.S. remain small at only 28,000 units per year.

Myth #2 – Ductless mini-splits are ideal whole-home HVAC solutions in the U.S.

The current economic facts about ductless simply do not support this claim. The installed costs associated with using mini-splits to cool and heat an average 2,000 square foot home with ductless mini-splits would cost almost three times the cost of simply replacing your central AC system with another ducted system. Even in a home where you had to provide new ductwork for the central system, you could still expect to spend about 50% less on a typical central AC system installation versus the more expensive ductless options.

Myth #3 – Ductless mini-splits are more energy efficient because there are no air leaks in the ductwork.

What people who make this claim fail to mention is that in ducted homes, which have poorly installed and leaking air ducts, the conditioned air is probably leaking out of the ductwork but it is going into the conditioned space somewhere and helping to keep the house cool. In those cases the cooling energy is really not lost to the homeowner. While mini-splits don’t have duct losses, they do have other losses. Instead of distributing conditioned air throughout the home, mini-splits distribute refrigerant. In many cases these refrigerant lines are run outside the conditioned space and in these cases there are thermal losses associated with energy transferring from those lines to the space outside the home. A legitimate energy loss occurs when you are heating or cooling your backyard with mini-split refrigerant lines (see photo below). Duct leaks that leak into the conditioned space are not really losses at all unless they escape to an unconditioned space. The other claim made by mini-split advocates is that they provide energy saving due to “zoning” or shutting off energy use in unoccupied rooms. What they fail to mention is there are other modern methods to zone off rooms besides using ductless methods. There are many ways to achieve zoning.

*Discover the updated status of this myth here.

Myth #4 – Ductless mini-splits provide superior comfort and quality of life.

The problems with ductless cooling are not well understood by many U.S. consumers since they are relatively new to this region. The typical comfort experience with mini-split systems could provide a real challenge for American consumers who are used to central AC systems with good airflow exchange, filtration and humidity control. Cold and hot spots are also common with ductless systems due to the spacing of the indoor units. In addition, there are concerns about US homeowners’ reaction to the aesthetic and architectural impact of having air conditioning systems hanging on several interior walls and having refrigerant lines running to various rooms on the sides of their homes. Before installing a ductless system with multiple evaporating units it might be good to show your customer some photographs of some of your previous mini-split installations so they have proper expectations.

*Discover the updated status of this myth here.

The Bottom Line on Ductless Mini-Split Systems

Ductless mini-split systems are ideal for spot cooling situations in homes and businesses where ductwork is either not available or difficult to install. It is important for contractors to have these systems in their portfolio of HVAC solutions for certain situations and learning where and when to recommend them is essential. Knowing the facts associated with these new systems is also essential to avoiding problems when customers are surprised by the many “myths” about this technology.

The myths in this article have been reevaluated. You can find the updated article here.

What has your experience been with ductless mini-splits? Leave us a comment below!

A typical indoor wall-mounted, evaporating unit – usually one per room are required to minimize hot and cold spots.

A typical U.S. style home is shown here with a retrofit mini-split system. Notice the exterior line sets and condensate drains. Thermal losses could be expected from the vertical, external refrigerant lines and these might cause the system to have trouble keeping up on really hot days. Also, notice that the window-room air conditioners have not yet been removed. A close up photo of the house above, showing the external refrigerant lines and a condensate drain line. Ductless mini-split systems are often used to cool room additions as shown here in the garage area. A large, high rise apartment building is shown, using many mini-split systems – one or more per apartment.A large, urban apartment building is shown, using mini-split systems – one or more per apartment.

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520 thoughts on “Four Myths About Ductless Mini-Splits

  1. Here is my story about this “busting Myth”. My business just moved in a 30 yrs old till up building with a broken rooftop Central Ac unite (down ) . It’s so old that I couldn’t even able to find any sticker anywhere. So I called a well-known friend who is doing HVAC . He came up a new 3 ton 14 sheer cost 2100+ 1700 new duct + 1500 labor + 500 electrical wire n piping. Total cost more than 6k after tax. Its a 2 to 3 days job. And that’s friend’s discount price. Then, this morning I called a guy who sales split unite, he put up 3 of 12k btu units 16 sheer with 110v 11A, no piping , no electrical wiring ,plug n play, finished in 7 hours. The condenser is unbelievable quiet !! The cost is 850×3= 2550. I was wondering the electronic bills so I just talked a friend who has 2 of 9k btu. If he is telling the truth than the each unit added $20 on his bill for 10 hours a day and set auto for 76℉.
    That’s my Busting fact. So, I am not agreed with this article.

  2. Mini splits are the new Direct Injection(despite those problems)
    Article is comical .
    And yes it’s more expensive thanks to greedy HVAC techs. These are even easier to install than conventional units.
    There are DIY units from MR.Cool.
    IDK about the longevity,but reviews don’t lie.
    Beats paying a greedy tech 13 k for a 3,000 dollar unit .
    These things are very efficient. Ever measure the output temp at the vent vs evap coil? About a 30-35 degree difference depending on insulation/ducting.
    That is seriously unefficient.
    I have more to say but too tired.

  3. This guy is so full of gas you could hook him to your old gas furnace and get free heat for decades. What an obvious joke this article is.

    Everything about this article is oozing with biased-non-professional opinions.

    I really like the bit about how leaking ductwork is still working to condition your home and has no real effect to your cooling or the system that cools it…. What if its leaking into your wall….. or into a crawl space……
    -you think that the air being diverted into empty cavities (attic space, crawl space, in walls, floors) of your home aren’t going to cause your units to work harder to cool/heat the room?
    -You don’t think this could cause your units to overwork themselves to compensate????
    -You don’t think this could negatively effect your energy bill?

  4. Many people very much under estimate the usefulness of mini split units. That sais, they are not a cure all. They are most valuable when no duck work has been or can not be installed. Older houses and basements, attic spaces and remodels are examples where we could not use any other design. We have used them for many years ad found them to be comparable in years of service to ducked systems, they all wear out if you use them. I personally love them and recommend them where ever they can be utilized. I have traveled to many country’s and have found that most other countrys besides the US use them about 90 per cent compared to central systems. Just saying !

  5. Seems this article is unfairly biased. Ive had mine for seven years. One upstairs and one downstairs. 18,000 BTU Each.LG Brand.My home has about 1500 ft sq both up and down for a total of 3000 ft sq. I have had no problems. I wouldnt go back to a ducted system. These units are also super clean with built in filters I clean, not replace, once a month. Takes less than five minutes per unit. They will freeze your buns in summer and make you sweat in winter if you want. I think people have forgotten some basic thermodynamic rules. Not at all just a ‘spot’ conditioning unit. “HEAT IS ATTRACTED TO COLD.” So that is advantageous in summer and winter. My living space is almost as evenly heated and cooled as if it were a ducted system. The cost of my utility bills dropped in half with the installation of the mini splits, SEER 21.5. I also like the fact there are no more nasty ducts in my home, gathering dust and bacteria and mold. No doubt these units are game changers and the typical HVAC contractor is fighting them rather than embracing them because they cant make a huge profit. When you compare the cost of installing ductwork and a central system vs a two hour install for mini splits, it is a no brainer. This article is totally bogus! I dont believe my post will be shown.

  6. As a professional hvac installer. I highly recommend ductless mini-split sytems. I’ve installed over 200 units. When running ductwork is too labor intensive or impossible, these sytems are ideal. Super efficient and quiet.

  7. We have central air. We have two units. One is not cooling the main portion of the house. We have electric heat. We are considering replacing air, , mini- split, or a window unit. Which do you think would be best? Thank you

    • Definitely go with a mini split unit. You will not regret it I promise you. I have a window unit in my house currently because my central unit went out and I have not had time to install a new compressor and guess what ? I can’t hear the TV or my wife talk to me without hollering if the compressor cuts in on the window unit. It works fine, it is just so loud you have to turn the TV up the neighbors can hear it and it only cool in one sot. I have mini splits in out lake house and they have been there for over 15 years and I love them. You won’t spend but about 3 times as much as for a cheap window unit if you shop around and you will have heat also. Definitely get a HEAT PUMP!!!! Do not let anyone talk you into an air conditioner only. It only cost a few dollars more and remember, it is a permanent installation and it bring the value of you home up, a window unit hurts the sale of a home if you ever wanted to sell. Just saying for info. You will not regret the quite cool and warm workings of a mini split unit. As far as brands, all of them lately have about the same product, Carrier is the same as Bryant with a different decal and so on so don’t get stuck on brand. Good Luck !!!

  8. We recently bought a 1600 sq ft house (plus basement) in the Boston area, and are doing some renovations before moving in. It currently has no AC. Now that we have some of the walls open we’re considering adding AC, and minisplits seemed initially appealing, except the units all seem very oversized for any of our second floor rooms. We have 3 bedrooms on the second floor, 1 small bathroom and a small master bath.

    We’re estimating something along the lines 2100 btu cooling, 3000 btu heating for the larger bedroom, as an example. We think it would be preferable cost and load-wise to have a single upstairs unit, but are not going to keep all the doors open all the time, esp when sleeping. So presumably air circulation will be an issue if we have only a single unit. So are minisplits a bad solution in this case? We mentioned high velocity AC to our GC but he strongly discouraged that based on cost. However multiple minisplits for the upstairs seem likely to be comparable in cost.

    Are there other solutions we should be considering? No system seems designed for this kind of house. Do we need to resign ourselves to window AC units? Interested in any advice or relevant experience people may have!

    • I would suggest continuing to talk to contractors about various options until you find one that is on the same page with you. I would not rule out using a ducted system in the basement to service the first floor and then try to get one or two service ducts to at least one or two bedrooms on the second floor. You can augment with a single mini-split or window unit to any bedroom not serviced. Another option would be to cut air vents in the walls of the bedrooms so you can close the doors for either ducted or ductless options. You might also look at putting the air handler in the attic and run service ducts through the bedroom ceilings if you have access to your attic. Have you considered multi-spits? These are mini-splits with one outdoor and multiple (3?) indoor units – one for each space. That might be worth quoting too.

  9. I agree with the comments about installation companies in the United States being slow to get on board with this new technology. Sort of like the oil companies being anti clean fuel. It all translates to what makes them the most profit. I hope that more installers will invest the time and money needed to make the switch. I fully intend to ditch my 20 year old system and the dust filled floor vents that go with it in lieu of vastly more efficient, cleaner air that mini splits offer in my 1258 square foot North Georgia mountain home.

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