Yes, you can install a mini-split yourself. It can take several hours or even two days. But it’s possible. Even better, some ductless mini-split systems are designed specifically for DIY installation.
These mini-split systems come with all the necessary installation accessories and detailed installation instructions to make your work easier.
The only problem is that even DIY mini-splits still require some technical know-how to install. You must also be extra careful as even a tiny misstep can cost you the entire investment.
The rest of this guide discusses when to install an AC on your own, how to install a ductless mini-split on your own, and instances when it would be best to hire an HVAC professional for ductless mini-split AC installation.
Pros and Cons of DIY Mini Split Installation
Perhaps we should begin with the pros and cons of DIY mini split installation. Can you save some costs, and what are the risks?
DIY Mini Split Installation Pros
The main reason most people prefer DIY air conditioner installation is cost savings. However, there are several other benefits of DIY as follows;
Choose whatever brand you want
A key downside of professional mini split AC installation is that the professional may decide which brand to install. To a great degree, the professional’s recommendation may be driven by genuine care.
However, it’s not a secret that the top brands have partnered with selected HVAC technicians to promote their products. So, the professional may recommend a particular brand purely out of selfish interests. DIY installation allows you to choose the brand you want.
Save on labor costs
If this is your first time purchasing a mini-split air conditioner, you’ll be surprised by the installation costs. The least you can pay for AC installation today is around $300, with typical installations costing $500 on average.
This applies to single-zone mini-split systems with just one indoor air handler. Also, it only applies to first-time installations where the technician doesn’t need to remove an old AC. Otherwise, you could spend up to $3,000 on labor charges alone. DIY installation means you get to save all that money.
It’s a way to learn a new skill
Installing the AC on your own can also be a source of pride and a way to learn a new skill. This may not seem a big deal to some people. However, learning as many skills as possible makes you more independent. If you can install the AC yourself, you may also be able to diagnose it and perform a few repairs without involving professionals.
DIY Mini Split Installation Cons
Unfortunately, DIY ductless mini split installation isn’t without downsides, and sometimes the risks far outweigh the benefits. The drawbacks include;
Everything could go wrong
This is especially true for first-time installations. You can make mistakes at every step, right from your choice of AC to the wiring and final touches. Take an example of drilling holes in the wall for the refrigerant lines and electrical connections. You could very easily be drilling on the wrong wall and the wrong section of the wall. You may also end up with a hole that’s too big or too small.
All these issues pose risks to the outcome of the project. For example, if the hole is too small, it may damage the copper lines. If they’re too big, it creates air loss issues. So it’s a very delicate process.
It takes a lot of time
Each AC installation project is different. However, you can generally expect to stay on the task for at least a full day. The situation is worsened if you’re working alone. You may not finish even in two days. A larger mini-split system with multiple indoor air handlers can take even longer to install.
It’s all fine if time isn’t an issue for you. But, unfortunately, time is almost always an issue. We all have errands to run, businesses to operate, and work. Moreover, no one wants to spend two weekends working on the same AC installation project.
We’ve mentioned that it takes even more time to install the AC if you’re alone. The truth is that it may be impossible to finish in the first place. Why? Because you may not be able to lift all the air handlers and the compressor alone while attaching the screws.
Remember that the condenser alone can weigh up to 300 pounds, equivalent to 136 kg. That’s about the weight of two average adults. You need two hands or more to lift it. Air handlers weigh between 50 pounds and 100 pounds.
Aside from the weight, mini-split installation involves a lot of movement into and out of the house and plenty of drilling work. It’s hectic.
Permits and licenses
Although you don’t need to be a licensed technician to install a mini-split AC, some stages of the installation may require permits and certifications. First off, most municipalities now require a permit for all AC installations.
You risk heavy penalties and legal fines if you process without the required permit. You may also need a permit to refill the AC refrigerant or uninstall an AC with refrigerant, depending on where you live.
There’s a high risk of a DIY installer forgetting the need for these permits. However, professionals are less likely to forget because it’s what they do for a living.
Finally, it’s important to mention that even if the DIY installation goes on smoothly, the long-term consequences can be costly. First off, if you don’t seal the system properly, you could lose a lot of money to energy losses every year.
More importantly, though, many manufacturers insist on professional installation and even recommend specific, licensed technicians. The product warranty may become invalid as soon as you begin to install the mini-split yourself. DIY installation may also mean that you forfeit technical assistance from the manufacturer.
When to Install a Mini-Split Yourself
The potential risks above don’t mean you should never attempt DIY installation. It just means that you must choose your DIY projects wisely. The following are a few guidelines to follow;
- The manufacture expressly says so
If you’d want to install the mini-split yourself, make sure the manufacturer allows it. How would you know? Easy – check for the term “DIY” on the product label. DIY means you can do it yourself. You want to make sure that the manufacturer expressly says you can DIY the installation.
- Key installation accessories/necessities are provided
Mini-split units specifically marked for DIY installation typically come with a unique quick installation kit that carries most of the required accessories. For instance, all the required brackets will likely be included. The necessary tools are also often supplied, and the refrigerant line sets typically arrive pre-charged, so you don’t have to worry about permits.
- DIY doesn’t compromise the warranty
Even if the manufacturer says you can DIY install the mini-split, you should never take the option if it would cost you the product warranty. Instead, think about what could go wrong in the future, from refrigerant leaks to mechanical failure. You need the warranty for the manufacturer to address these issues cost-free.
- You have some technical know-how
It doesn’t matter whether the manufacturer allows it, and the warranty isn’t affected by DIY. If you don’t have the basic technical skills to install an AC, let a professional handle the installation. Otherwise, you could damage the AC and may have to buy a replacement. You may also install it improperly, leading to costly consequences down the line.
- It’s not a multi-zone mini-split system
The risk is too high when dealing with a multi-zone mini-split. A four-zone system, for instance, costs at least $5,000. What would you do if you damaged the compressor during installation? It would cost you up to $3,000 to replace it. Also, installing a multi-zone system is complex, with complicated wiring and refrigerant line networks. It’s a task best left to the experts.
How to DIY Install a Ductless Mini Split AC
- An adjustable wrench
- A drill/driver
- Hole saw
- The ductless mini-split system
- Wall brackets
- Plastic condenser pad
- Line set cover kit
*You also need an extra hand and an electrician on standby if you need extensive changes to the wiring.
The Actual Installation
This installation process assumes that you don’t need to change the wiring. If you need to create a 240V outlet, it’s best to call an electrician to handle that part. Otherwise, proceed as follows;
- Install the indoor mounting brackets
The air handler installs on an exterior wall away from direct sunlight and sources of dust. Choose a wall free of wires, pipes, and ducts. Begin by marking the stud locations, then fasten the brackets onto the identified area with the provided screws.
- Drill the line set hole
This hole is drilled from inside to outside and slopes slightly to the outside to allow condensate to flow freely from the air handler to the condenser via gravity. Begin by drilling a pilot hole using a power drill. Then bore the full hole with a hole saw. Again, drill from inside to the outside. Then head outside and trim the hole for a clean surface.
- Run the line set
Some people prefer to begin by installing the air handler. But we believe that running the line set first is the better option. Carefully uncoil the line set and, with the help of your assistant, feed it through the line set hole you drilled above. Keep the rigid plastic collar surrounding the line set at the condenser end. Make sure to install the drain line last and add the drain extension.
Then wrap the joint with electrical tape and seal up the area around the sleeve and inside the sleeve with spray foam to prevent air leakage.
- Install the indoor air handler
Now you can install the air handler. Hang it on the mounting bracket. This should be a reasonably straightforward process. Just be careful not to drop it.
- Install the outdoor condenser unit
You can either set the condenser on a pad on the ground or install it on a wall bracket. Whichever option you choose, make sure the line set remains tight to the building exterior and doesn’t bend around any obstructions. Also, ensure there’s sufficient clearance around the condenser.
- Connect the refrigerant lines
In many cases, a locking lever presses the line connection together, making your work easy. This should be the last step before testing the AC unless you’re also doing the wiring yourself – which we don’t recommend. You can then set the temperature using the remote and power up the unit to test if it’s working.
- Cover the line set
Never leave the line set exposed. It creates the risk of damage and exposes it to extreme weather. Moreover, installing the line set cover takes about five minutes at most.
As you can see, you can install a mini-split system on your own. However, it’s a risky process that’s also labor and time-intensive. But if you’re willing to take the risk, then you could save a few thousand in labor charges.