If you’re in the market for a medium-sized air conditioner, a 3-zone mini-split system would be an excellent choice. Three-zone mini-split systems are large AC systems, usually rated between 36,000 BTUs and 54,000 BTUs. As such, they can serve a large area.
Better still, the split design, in this case featuring three indoor air handlers, allows a three-zone mini split to serve up to three zones or even three completely different rooms. This makes it an option for whole-house air conditioning, especially for smaller homes.
The rest of this guide is designed to help you pick out a suitable three-zone AC for your application. We even discuss maintenance tips to keep your AC working at optimal capacity for the longest time possible.
What’s a 3-Zone Mini Split?
A 3-zone mini-split is a multi-zone ductless mini-split air conditioning system that comprises a single outdoor compressor and three indoor air handlers.
Also known as tri-zone mini-splits, these AC systems are designed to serve up to three different zones in a large room or three separate rooms in a house. You can have one of the air handlers in the bedroom, another in the sitting room, and the last one in the kitchen.
Each air handler is controlled independently and comes complete with an independent thermostat and remote control device. As such, you can have the thermostat at 70˚F in the bedroom, 72˚F in the sitting room, and 68˚F in the kitchen. It’s essentially like having an independent AC for each room.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a 3-Zone Mini Split
Everyone has different opinions on what to expect from a 3-zone air conditioner. Some are more interested in the cooling capacity, others prioritize aesthetics, while others want modern features. Depending on the nature and size of the application/room, we always advise consumers to consider four main factors;
- Size in BTUs: The size of the AC determines how much space it can comfortably serve. For mini-split systems specifically, you need about 20 BTUs per square foot. This translates to roughly 20,000 BTUs for 1,000 sq. ft. areas and 30,000 BTUs for 1,500 sq. ft. rooms, etc.
- Efficiency: The energy efficiency of ductless mini-split systems is mainly given in Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratings (SEER). However, Combined Energy Efficiency Ratings (CEER) and Energy Efficiency Ratings (EER) are also common. Ideally, you want a 16+ SEER, 10+ CEER, and 9+ EER rating.
- Independent controls: Although any true mini-split multi-zone system comes with independent controls for each zone, it’s nice to confirm. Does the model you’re looking at have independent controls? Does it have a separate remote control for every air handler? Does each air handler have an independent thermostat?
- Heat pump option: The majority of mini-split systems double as heat pumps to provide supplemental heat during the cold season. You want to confirm two things. First, does the AC you’re looking at have an in-built heat pump? Secondly, what’s the heating capacity in BTUs or watts?
- Air filtration and purification: All the best mini split air conditioners have an integrated air filtration system to rid your home of disease-causing airborne particles and allergens. However, you must confirm this too. Ideally, you want a mini-split with HEPA filters for a high level of air purification.
- Features and controls: Top features to look out for are auto-restart and a programmable timer. Noise levels in decibels, speed options (and levels), and the top fan speed are other important considerations. As for controls, a remote control is a must. Beyond that, check whether it supports smart control with Alexa and smartphone app control.
- Warranty: Finally, any worthy mini-split system will have a reliable warranty. You want at least three years on the sealed compressor unit and a full year on the rest of the AC system and labor.
What Else Do You Need to Know?
How Many Zones Can a Mini Split Have?
A mini-split system can have up to 8 zones. Others AC systems can serve even more zones, especially if you use a zoning circuit board. However, the largest residential mini-split systems have up to eight zones. Remember that you combine multiple mini-split systems to serve as many as 64 zones.
Single-Zone vs. Multi-Zone Mini Split Systems
Single-zone air conditioning systems comprise one outdoor compressor and one indoor air handler. Meanwhile, a multi-zone AC mini-split system has one outdoor condenser and at least two indoor air handlers. As such, a single-zone system can only serve one zone/room at a go. Multi-zone units, meanwhile, serve at least two zones at a go.
Mini-Splits vs. Central Air Conditioners
The difference between mini-split systems and central air conditioners is ductwork. Mini-split systems are ductless systems. They don’t need a duct system to functions. This is why they’re often called ductless mini-splits. Meanwhile, central air conditioners can only function where a duct system exists. Without a duct system, the central AC is useless.
Also, central AC systems are much bigger in capacity and typically more expensive than mini-split AC systems. Mini-splits are more energy-efficient, though.
Mini-Splits vs. Window Air Conditioners
There are two main distinctions between mini split air conditioners and window air conditioners. First, mini-split systems comprise two separate components, a condenser that sits outside the house and an air handler installed inside the house. These two are connected through the wall via refrigerant lines and electrical wiring. Window ACs come in a single box that functions as both the compressor and air handler.
Secondly, mini splits are installed through the wall via electrical wires and refrigerant lines, whereas window AC systems are installed on the window.
Window ACs are typically more affordable and easier to install, especially if the mounting brackets are provided. However, mini-split systems are more energy-efficient and aesthetically attractive.
How Much Does It Cost to Install a 3-Zone Mini Split?
Generally, it costs $3,200 to $10,500 to install a 3-zone mini split air conditioner. The actual price tends to vary depending on the size (BTUs), mount type, and geographic location.
Labor charges range from $500 for smaller single-zone ACs to $2,000 for more extensive, 8-zone mini-split systems. A 3-zone system will therefore cost about $1,000 in labor charges. Then you have to account for wiring, which costs anywhere between $150 and $800.
After that, you must also pay the carpenter or handyman to remove the only system and drill holes into the wall. Costs here range from $200 to $400. Removing the old equipment costs $80 to $150. Finally, most states require a permit, which costs anywhere between $250 and $400.
When you put these costs together, you realize that it can cost up to $4,000 to remove the old AC system and replace it with a new 3-zone multi-zone mini-split system.
Remember that older buildings might require a new circuit breaker box. Circuit breaker boxes cost $850 to $1,700. If the refrigerant lines aren’t included in the package, you must also purchase them separately. A brand new refrigerant line set costs up to $400.
Other factors that impact the installation cost are;
- Location: Second and third-floor installations require additional wiring, conduits, and refrigerant lines. Labor and material costs will therefore be higher.
- Accessibility: Labor charges are typically higher for installations that require access to hard-to-reach areas.
- Season: It costs a lot less to install the AC in fair weather, especially spring when demand for AC installation is low. Specialist AC technicians may also charge less to fix your unit in winter. However, installation prices begin to rise sharply in May and can double by August.
1. Senville 36,000 BTU Tri-Zone Mini Split Air Conditioner Heat Pump
The SENA 36-HF 3-zone ductless air conditioner by Senville is one of the most advanced and high-end multi-zone split systems on the market.
It’s a 36,000 BTU system, with each air handler designed to handle 12,000 BTUs. At 22.5 SEER efficiency, you can rest assured that the cooling goes on without burning a hole in your pocket. It is also Energy Star Certified.
But, there’s more. This AC is Wi-Fi enabled so that you can control indoor climate from the comfort of your smartphone. It’s also very quiet and comes with Silver Ion filters for antimicrobial filtration. It uses ultra-inverter technology to provide heating and cooling up to -22˚F.
A built-in dehumidification system, follow-me remote control, a self-cleaning mode, and vertical swing function are the other notable features. The AC is backed by a 7-year compressor warranty and 3-year parts warranty.
- Powerful at 36,000 BTU
- Independent, 3-zone control
- Installation kit and accessories included
- 7-year compressor warranty
- Pricey at over $3,000
- No voice control
2. Pioneer Air Conditioner WYS030GMHI22M3 Multi-Split System, 3-Zone
Pioneer is another manufacturer that makes excellent multi-zone mini split air conditioners, and in the model WYS030GMHI22M3, they have an excellent appliance.
It’s also a 36,000 BTU air conditioner and very energy-efficient too at 22.0 SEER. However, it doesn’t limit your choice of air handlers. You can choose any combination of 9,000 BTU, 12,000 BTU, 18,000 BTU, and 24,000 BTU air handlers as long as you don’t exceed the 36,000 BTU mark.
The air handlers are very attractive. Each has a flat front panel and LED display (dimmable), with automatic swing air discharge louvers. Permanent, washable air filters, a multi-speed motor, and a heat pump are also built-in. Complete 16-foot installation kits are included for all three air handlers.
It’s a wirelessly controlled Ac with a smartphone app for convenient control. The ETL certification and AHRI approval are evidence of its reliability.
- Powerful at 36,000 BTU
- Choose from different air handler sizes
- Remote and wireless control via app
- ETL approved, AHRI Certified
- Standard Pioneer AC Warranty
- No voice controls
- Requires professional installation
3. Cooper and Hunter Tri-Zone 9,000 BTU, 12,000 BTU, and 12,000 BTU Mini Split
This option from Cooper and Hunter is slightly smaller at 28,000 BTU. It also comes with fixed air handlers – i.e., a 9,000 BTU unit and two 12,000 BTU units.
All three air handlers are wall-mounted. The unit comes with individual remote control devices for each air handler. However, it’s also Wi-Fi-ready in case you desire smartphone control.
The inverter technology, lower operating costs, and the 22.0 SEER rating are evidence of the high energy efficiency. But that’s not the only thing you’ll like about this AC.
It comes with a Turbo Mode for fast cooling and a quiet Sleep mode for night use. It also an auto-clean feature and auto-reset to restore operation after a power interruption. A two-hour timer and dedicated dehumidifier are the two other notable features.
This AC comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, a 7-year warranty on the compressor, and a 5-year cover for all the other parts.
- Powerful at 28,000 BTU
- 3-zone AC with independent controls
- High-efficiency rating, i.e., 22.0 SEER
- 7-year compressor warranty
- Wi-Fi use requires additional setup
- No flexibility in air handler sizes
4. MRCOOL 27,000 BTU 22 SEER Multi-Zone DIY 3-Zone Ductless Heat Pump
If you’ve shopped for a mini-split AC before, you’ve likely come across the name MR. COOL. The model DIYM327HPW02B is one of their best 3-zone multi-split air conditioner systems.
It’s a 27,000 BTU air conditioner rated at 22.0 SEER. The air handlers are rated 9,000 BTU, 12,000 BTU, and 12,000 BTU and effortlessly hand onto the wall. The unit also doubles as a heat pump.
Each 12,000 BTU air handler can serve rooms up to 550 square feet, while the 9,000 BTU air handler serves up to 400 square feet. But what makes them truly unique is that you can install all three, plus the compressor on your own. A DIY Quick Connect kit is included solely for this purpose.
This mini-split system is remote controlled (each air handler has an independent remote) and supports intelligent control via a smartphone app. It’s only one of only a handful of mini splits that supports voice control via Alexa and Google Assistant.
- Powerful 27,000 BTU AC, with 27,000 BTU heat pump
- Voice control via Alexa and Google Assistant
- Sleep Mode and anti-mildew function
- 5-year parts, 7-year compressor warranty
- Requires professional installation
- It’s a tad pricey
5. Bosch Thermo Technology Gen-2 Ultra Quiet 27,000 BTU Air Conditioner
The Generation-2 Bosch Climate 5000 ductless mini-split air conditioner is an energy-efficient, 27,000 BTU 3-zone system that’s easy to install and maintain.
It’s rated 22.0 SEER and 13 EER, thus reduces electricity usage while keeping your come cool and comfortable. Each air handler is rated 9,000 BTU.
Each air handler has a back-lid wireless remote. From the remote control, you can control the turbo setting and programmable timer. The remote uses follow-me technology to make sure you’re most comfortable wherever you are. A built-in heat pump provides supplemental heating during the winter season. It’s rated 10.4 HSPF.
This appliance is Energy Star certified for your peace of mind. Each purchase is backed by a 5-year warranty for replacement parts and a 10-year cover for the compressor.
- Built-in 27,000 BTU heat pump
- Wi-Fi control ready
- Energy Star certified
- 10-year compressor warranty
- Requires professional installation
6. GREE Multi30CVIR302 30,000 BTU Tri-Zone Wall-Mount Mini Split AC
Finally, you can also opt for the GREE Multi21+ VIREO air conditioning system powered by GREE’s G10 inverter-driven compressor. It runs on an environment-friendly R410A refrigerant.
It’s worth noting that the line sets and other accessories are sold separately. However, you don’t need distribution boxes to cool or heat multiple zones.
The 21.0 SEER mini-split system comes with multiple features to make your home cool and comfortable. The IR follow-me remote control means it keeps the area around you at optimal cooling levels.
It also a power failure recovery function to resume operations automatically (at the previous settings) in the event of a power outage. A turbo mode combined with vertical swing louvers guarantees a powerful airflow.
The GREE Multi21+ has multi-point diagnostics and can continue cooling down to -4˚F thanks to the intelligent defrost feature. The heavy-gauge steel housing guarantees a long appliance life.
- Powerful at 30,000 BTU (with heat pump)
- Wi-Fi/smart/app control
- Efficient at 21.0 SEER and 12.5 EER
- Features four fan speeds
- Backed by standard GREE warranty
- Like kits sold separately
- Installation accessories are sold separately
A 3-zone mini-split AC system can be the whole-home air conditioner you’ve always wanted. Each indoor air handler is controlled independently and even has its thermostat and remote controller. As such, you can keep the AC off in one room and on in the other two rooms.
You can also lower the thermostat in some zones while keeping the temperatures higher in the remaining areas. It’s the perfect way to control the climate in your home.