The SEER rating is currently one of the most important metrics when shopping for an air conditioner.
Good SEER ratings guarantee an improved AC performance and are the ultimate sign of energy efficiency. Indeed, the SEER rating alone has a substantial impact on the price of an AC.
So, what does SEER mean in the first place, and why should you care? Also, what’s a “good” SEER rating, and at what point does a SEER rating become bad?
We answer these and many other air conditioner SEER-related questions shortly.
Most Efficient Mini Splits with Highest SEER Ratings
First, though, the following are some of the best high-SEER air conditioners to consider. Although we prioritized the SEER value when picking these products, we’ve also considered other important factors such as performance, features, ease of use, warranty, and above all, price.
1. GREE 9,000 BTU 38-SEER Sapphire Wall Mount Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioner Heat Pump
- Required, but not included: 1/4" x 1/2" line set | Introducing Gree Sapphire, the Ultra high-efficiency, smart ductless split system from Gree, one of the worlds most trusted HVAC manufacturers. With the Sapphire Wall Mount Ductless Mini-Splits, you can keep any room comfortable without sacrificing aesthetics.
- The quiet, unobtrusive design delivers advanced performance with an industry-best energy efficiency rating of up to 38 SEER in cooling and 15.0 HSPF in heating. The Sapphire provides ULTRA Heating technology to keep you reliably warm when temperatures drop as low as -22degs F.
- Universal Wi-Fi technology makes operation simple enjoy direct control from any smartphone using the Gree+ app. With efficiency and unparalleled technology make Sapphire the perfect choice for any home or office space.
- SEER: 38.0000 -- EER: 16.7000 -- Room Size: 300 - 500 ft2
The model SAP09HP230V1A ultra-high efficiency Sapphire smart ductless split system from GREE is one of the most efficient mini-split systems worldwide.
At 38 SEER, it outperforms most household names in the market, offering unparalleled energy efficiency and incredible energy savings. It’s also rated 15 HSPF in heating to keep you warm even when temperatures drop below -22˚F.
It implements GREE’s G-10 inverter technology to reach the desired room temperatures faster and more consistently and relies on the heavy gauge steel construction (for the outdoor unit) for long life or reliable use. The sapphire also features a built-in computer that continuously scans for errors and malfunctions for effortless maintenance and repair.
You’ll also appreciate the built-in Wi-Fi capability as it makes control a breeze. Simply download the GREE+ app on your app store (iOS or Android) and control the temperature levels from the comfort of your sofa. It has up to seven speeds and features polymeric filters for improved air quality. The subtle appearance of the indoor unit allows it to blend into most decors.
The remote control device and wall mount are included. However, you’ll need to purchase the required line set separately. This 9000 BTU mini split is AHRI certified and comes with a 5-year warranty
- Industry-leading 38-SEER rating
- Heating, cooling, dry, and fan modes
- It has Sleep Mode, Privacy Lock, and I-Feel Mode
- Low-voltage startup and intelligent defrost
- Backed by a 5-year warranty
- Line set sold separately
2. PIONEER Air Conditioner WYS018GMFI22RL Wall-Mount Ductless Inverter + Mini Split
- Ultra high efficiency inverter++ ductless mini split heat pump system
- Product size – 11.8” D x 31.3” W x 21.8” H | Weight – 69 lb. | Cover area – 250-350 Sq. Ft. | BTUs Cooling & Heating – 9,000 BTU/h | Power supply – 110-120V, 60Hz | Noise level – 69 dB
- Both left and right sides of the indoor unit are possible for outstretch of connective piping and drainage hose for easy installation
- Intelligent on-off technology enables Pioneer products automatically enter energy-saving mode when standby, cut energy consumption from normal 5W to 1W or 0.5W per hour which counts 80%~90% of saving
- Indoor fan speed is regulated automatically from the lowest grade to the setting grade according to evaporator temperature when the unit just starts heating operation. This function can prevent cold air blowing out to avoid discomfort to the users
The all-in-one model WYS018GMFI22RL PIONEER is another split system with a very high SEER rating. Built with the latest technologies for superior performance, the 18,000 BTU air conditioner, heater, dehumidifier, and ventilator is a 20.8 SEER unit rated 10.0 HSPF.
It uses a variable-speed DC motor for consistent air conditioning and arrives with a customizable length copper line set with flare connections.
A convenient remote controller conveys your command to the indoor unit while automatic air-sweeping louvers, automatically varying airflow, and capacity adjustments keep the room at the optimal comfort level.
It also features a temperature compensation function that eliminates temperature differences between the floor and ceiling and an anti-cold feature that automatically regulates the indoor fan speed from the lowest grade to the setting grade to prevent discomfort.
Other key features of the mini-split include a 1-watt standby mode enabled by the intelligent on-off technology and two-way draining via the air conditioner’s left and right sides. A chassis heating belt fitted on the base plate of the outdoor unit prevents defrosting.
Wireless control via your smartphone, high-density filters, and low noise levels (34.5-45.5dB) round off the list of features. Each purchase is backed by 2-year parts and a 5-year compressor warranty.
- Very efficient at 20.8 SEER, 10 HSPF
- Ideal for up to 650 square feet
- Complete 16-inch installation kit included
- Reliable 2/5-year parts/compressor warranty
- No remote control (on the way)
3. SEVILLE SENL-12CD/220V Mini Split Air Conditioner Heat Pump, 12,000 BTU, 19 SEER
- ALEXA ENABLED MINI SPLIT AC/HEATING SYSTEM: Seamlessly integrate with voice control or app, allowing you to adjust your mini split air conditioner from anywhere. Set routines for optimal temperature changes, boasting energy savings up to 40%.
- VERSATILE 4-IN-1 MINI SPLIT: Dive into an all-season solution with our mini split AC and heating system, featuring air conditioning, a robust heat pump (functional up to 5F/-15C), dehumidifier, fan, and an accelerated turbo function. Enjoy the reliability of a DC Inverter that's UL Listed, AHRI Certified, and Works with Alexa.
- STYLISH & FUNCTIONAL MINI SPLIT AC: Crafted for both home and business, this mini split air conditioner provides dynamic performance without compromising on aesthetics. Ideal for bedrooms, living areas, commercial spaces like stores, eateries, and warehouses.
- COMPLETE INSTALLATION PACKAGE: Comes with an indoor air handler, outdoor condenser, intuitive remote control, and a comprehensive installation kit featuring a 16ft. line set and communication wire. Pre-loaded with R410A refrigerant catering up to 25 ft. A heads-up: This system mandates professional installation – it's not a DIY mini split AC.
- TRUST WORTHY 5-YEAR WARRANTY: Your investment is safeguarded with our mini split heat pump's industry-leading warranty – 5 years on parts replacement and another 5 on the compressor. Benefit from the established quality of Senville, complemented by complimentary technical assistance. Labor not included.
SEVILLE is a well-known name in the air conditioner market, and the model SENL 12CD/220V remains one of their most efficient products to date.
Part of the LETO series, the split unit offers a versatile and affordable solution to cooling and heating and can be used at home or for commercial applications. The built-in heat pump works in conditions as cold as -15˚C/5˚F, making it suitable for most climates.
It’s a 4-in-1 mini split that also functions as a fan and dehumidifier. The DC inverter technology ensures minimal energy consumption, up to 20% lower than standard mini-splits. The high-efficiency ratings, i.e., 19 SEER and 10.5 SEER, should tell you everything you need to know. The heat pump is rated 9.5 HSPF. It moves air at up to 294 CFM (high setting).
At 28 decibels, you’ll agree that it’s one of the quietest mini-split systems. The outdoor unit, meanwhile, is rated 55 decibels. This makes it great for study areas and even bedrooms. The required 16-foot installation kit and communication cables are included. The package also includes copper lines (pre-flared) and a remote control device.
Buyers get a 2-year limited warranty on parts and a 5-year limited warranty on the compressor. However, professional installation is a must for the warranty to remain valid. Free technical and installation support is available.
- Efficient 19 SEER and 9.5 HSPF
- Ideal for up to 750 square feet
- ETL and AHRI certified
- Comprehensive 2-year warranty
- No smart/app control
- Requires 230V wiring
4. BOSCH Climate 50000 High-Efficiency Ultra-Quiet Mini Split Air Conditioner, 12K BTU
- COMPACT AND EASY: Aesthetic and modern indoor air handler with compact and easily concealed outdoor condenser unit
- WIDE RANGE: 12, 000 BTU cooling capacity, ideal for rooms up to 600 square feet, the unit provides heat with outdoor temps down to -13 degrees F (provides cooling up to 122 degrees F outdoors)
- ENERGY EFFICIENT: Energy Star certified for greater efficiency and lower energy costs - 22 SEER and 10 HSPF Rated
- REMOTE SETTINGS: Wireless back-lit remote with Silent mode, timer, Follow-Me, and Turbo speed settings for the highest level of home comfort
- INCLUDES: Indoor air handler and outdoor condensing section - requires line set for complete assembly (sold separately)
The BOSCH Climate 5000 ductless mini split series is an energy-efficient, easy-to-install mini split that’s powerful and easy to maintain. The attractive design is the first thing you’ll notice.
Compact and modern, the indoor component mounts sleekly on the wall and functions silently (at up to 28 dB) for the ultimate convenience. The larger outdoor unit can be easily concealed.
It’s a 12,000 BTU mini-split, ideal for rooms up to 400 square feet. The air conditioner unit continues cooling up to 122˚F while the built-in heat pump performs reliably up to -13˚F. Most heat pumps stop at 5˚F. More impressively, both functions (heating and cooling) consume very little energy, this the high 20.9 SEER and 10.0 HSPF ratings.
A wireless backlit remote allows you to control the speeds and other settings. You’ll be incredibly excited with the Silent mode, timer, follow-me, and turbo speed functions.
Remember not to confuse it with the model 12k BTU-230Volt model. This model runs on standard 115Volt, thus can be plugged directly into the regular power outlet – no wiring is needed.
The 200-306 CFM mini-split arrives with all the necessary components, except the connection line (sold separately). It is Energy Star certified for greater efficiency and comes with 5-year parts and a 7-year compressor warranty.
- The heat pump works up to -13˚F
- Very efficient at 20.9 SEER, 10.0 HSPF
- Remote control with timer included
- Reliable 5/7-year parts/compressor warranty
- Connection line kit sold separately
- Requires professional installation
5. MRCOOL DIY 3rd Gen 23,000 BTU 20-SEER Energy Star Ductless Mini Split AC
Finally, the DIY 3rd Generation 23,000 BTU ductless mini-split heat pump is a Do-It-Yourself mini-split system designed explicitly for people who want to install their mini-split without the help of a professional.
All the installation materials are included as well as a detailed manual that includes step-by-step installation instructions. The manufacturer also offers great customer support in case of any challenges. Doing it yourself has never been easier.
It’s not just the DIY capabilities that stand out about the mini-split, though. This unit is also only one of a few high-SEER split systems with Wi-Fi capability, allowing you to control the device from your smartphone. The app is downloadable (for free) from the Android and iOS app stores. It also supports Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant smart voice control.
You’ll need to call a professional electrician to set up wiring for a 220V circuit. But that’s the only tricky part. The connect lines come pre-charged with R-410A refrigerant up to 25 feet for stress-free installation.
Once up and running, the variable speed DC inverter runs silently (33.5-45 dB) while using very little energy, as evidenced by the 20 SEER and 10 HSPF ratings. It cools down to -5˚F (low ambient temperature).
A reliable 7-year warranty covers the compressor, while the rest of the parts are covered by a separate 5-year warranty. This split system is ideal for spaces up to 1,000 square feet.
- Powerful 23k BTU split system with 4 speeds
- Wi-Fi control on iOS or Android app
- Voice control with Alexa and Google Assistant
- Includes Quiet and Sleep modes
- 5/7-year parts/compressor warranty
- No timer function
- It’s a little loud
6. Ductless Aire 24,000 BTU 20.5 SEER Energy Star Ductless Mini Split
- Energy Star: 21.5 SEER, Variable Speed Inverter Compressor. Complete Package 25 ft Full Installation Kit. R410a Pre-charged!
- Whisper-quiet operation; Refrigerant Leak Detection; LCD display, Electroplated Coils
- HEPA Filter Included; Quick access, Washable air filters; Turbo mode; 3 fan speeds
- Self-diagnosis and Auto-Protection Function; Heating Belt; Auto Restart, Sleep Mode
- Low Ambient Operation; Dual Sensor - fixed or remote; Auto Cleaning
Finally, the DA2421-H2 from DuctlessAire is an Energy Star certified mini-split with a variable-speed DC inverter compressor for efficient, quiet, and low-cost cooling and heating.
The AC features bi-directional airflow technology for maximum air movement and uses dual-sensor or remote technology for temperature control.
High-density washable filters and a HEPA filter work together inside the indoor air handlers to ensure that the air coming into your room is clean and healthy.
Meanwhile, hydrophobic coils in the compressor improve heating and cooling efficiency, accelerating the defrosting process. Refrigerant leak detection, multiple operation modes, and low noise airflow are other highlight features of the DA2421-H2.
This high-capacity AC is rated 21.5 SEER, which is impressive for such an oversized air conditioner. It comes with all the materials needed for installation, including a 25-foot full installation kit pre-charged with an R410a refrigerant.
- Pre-charged to 25 feet
- Whisper-quiet operation
- LCD display
- Electroplated coils
- 5-year warranty
- One of the more expensive models
- No warranty for DIY
7. Cooper and Hunter 12,000 BTU 115V Ductless Mini Split
- Cooper&Hunter Mia Series 12,000 BTU, 20 SEER, 20.8 SEER2, 110V, 1 Ton Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioner with Heat Pump, UL Listed, AHRI Certified WiFi Ready (Additional USB adapter is required but NOT included
- Pre-charged with refrigerant. Works for heating with ambient temperature up to 5F°.
- System comes with an Installation Kit including 16ft Pre-Flared and Insulated Copper Line Set, 16ft Communication Wires between Indoor and Outdoor unit, Small Accessories and a 16ft Drainage Extension. This is not a DIY equipment, professional installation is required.
- Whisper Technology for Quiet Operation, Great for Bedrooms, Additions,Living Rooms and Commercial Applications.
- You are well protected by a 7 year warranty on the compressor, a 5 year parts warranty. Warranty registration within 60 days of installation is required.
The 12,000 BTU single-zone AC from Cooper and Hunter is one of only two mini-split on this list that plugs into the standard 115V electrical outlet, which is a great advantage.
It’s also one of the very efficient models, rated at 21.5 SEER and 12.5 EER. These numbers are early indicators of what you can expect if you buy the AC. The mini-split is recommended for spaces in the 300-370 Sq. Ft. range.
The unit is impressively quiet too. The outdoor compressor produces a maximum of 52.5 decibels, while the indoor air handler produces as little as 23 decibels in the Low setting. As a supplementary heater (heat pump), it generates 11,800 BTU of heat at 9.8 HSPF.
Other features of the AC include high-density filters, mute operation, turbo operation, two-directional airflow, 12 fan speeds, auto restart, timer, and refrigerant leakage detection. The line set is pre-charged to 15 feet.
- Plugs into standard 115V outlet
- ETL Intertek approve, AHRI certified
- Wi-Fi ready
- Reusable, washable filters
- 7-year compressor warranty
- 5-year parts warranty
- Requires professional installation
What is a Ductless Air Conditioner?
The easiest way to define ductless air conditioners is to compare them with conventional air conditioners.
The standard air conditioner has an indoor and outdoor unit, connected via a series of vents and ducts. The vents and ducts connect the air conditioner to the furnace and air handler for heating and cooling, respectively.
Therefore, a hallmark feature of these air conditioning systems is the ductwork, which brings in fresh air and carries out stale air.
Also known as mini-splits, ductless air conditioners also comprise an indoor and outdoor unit. However, the ductwork is missing. They don’t need a ductwork system for air movement.
Instead, the AC’s indoor and outdoor components are connected via a refrigerant line, suction tube, and power cable that together enable the communication between the outdoor and indoor components and movement of fresh air into and stale air out of the house.
How does a Ductless Air Conditioner Work?
Before we get to the working mechanism of the ductless air conditioner, it helps to understand the components of such ACs. The ductless air conditioner comprises four key parts, i.e., the outdoor condensing unit, the indoor air handlers, the refrigerant line, and the control panel.
The two main components, indoor and outdoor unit, work as follows;
The condenser unit, also known as the compressor, is located outside the house. It comprises three crucial parts – the compressor, condensing coils, and the fan.
The compressor: The compressor is the heart of any air conditioning system and the most expensive component. Its main job is to condense low-pressure gas into high-pressure gas to complete the heat transfer process more efficiently.
The condensing coils: These form a lattice-like structure comprising multiple aluminum fins. Their main job is to cycle hot refrigerants and facilitate its conversion from a high-pressure gas to a high-pressure liquid.
The fans: Finally, the fans draw air through the condensing coils and help dissipate any heat generated within the outdoor unit out into the atmosphere.
The indoor air handler is the component through which conditioned air is released into the home. It’s typically installed on the wall or ceiling, with a few installed on the floor. Air handlers comprise several components as follows;
- Evaporator coils: Evaporator coils in the air handler play a central role in the production of cool air. They eliminate humidity indoor, which helps lower room temperature. When the air passes over the coils, it is cooled then released back into the home.
- Blower motor: The blower motor physically moves and circulates air inside the home. There are three types of blower motors – single-speed, multi-speed, and variable speed. Single-speed motors run at 100% capacity, with no other speed settings available. Multi-speed motors offer several speed settings, but you must change the settings manually. Finally, variable-speed motors have multiple speed settings and can automatically self-adjust to decrease or increase speeds depending on indoor air conditions.
- Vibration isolators: When the blowers are running, they tend to produce a vibration sound, which can be distracting and annoying. Vibration isolators are thick rubber dampeners that absorb some of the sounds for quieter AC operation.
- Filter: The majority of indoor air handlers comprise a filter to clean air destined for the indoors. These filters trap and eliminate dirt, dust, pollen, allergens, and other particulate matter. A few mini-splits even use multi-stage filtration systems for greater indoor air quality.
- Other components: Finally, the indoor unit also features a thermostat for temperature control, a drainpipe to drain out the water that condenses on the drain pan, and louvers or fins through which air passes as it’s released into the room.
Ductless Mini Splits at Work
In many respects, the ductless air conditioner works similarly to ducted models. First off, the air is taken from the room by the indoor air handler and transported to the outdoor unit (condenser) via the series of pipes where it comes into contact with the condenser coils.
Upon coming into contact with the coils, the hot, humid air from the indoors transfers the heat energy to the condenser coils, turning the coolant liquid inside into gas. The gas is then sent to the outdoor unit’s compressor component, where it is recycled using electric power into liquid.
The cool-again air is then sent back to the indoor air handlers where it is released into your home. This process repeatedly happens until the air inside the house is cool enough.
Mini Splits are Designed for Convenience and Energy Efficiency
Convenience is achieved through the split design, with the indoor and outdoor units sitting inside and outside the house, respectively. This allows for quieter indoor operation.
It also allows manufacturers to design more aesthetically pleasing indoor components (also known as air handlers) to complement modern décors.
More importantly, it allows for multi-split design systems where one outdoor unit can handle two or more air handlers located in different rooms or zones. It’s a level of convenience most heating and air conditioning systems can’t match.
The high energy-efficiency levels are because the mini-split AC doesn’t burn any fuels (including electricity) to generate cold or warm air. It merely transfers heat. When working as an air conditioner, it transfers heat from inside the house outside.
As a heat pump, it works in reverse, transferring heat from the outside air into the house. This process uses very little electricity compared to other heating and air conditioning methods.
The absence of ductwork further increases energy efficiency. According to the Energy Department, ductwork is responsible for up to 40% of home heating and cooling energy losses. The mini-split system virtually eliminates the air duct system.
The Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) is one of the most important standards in measuring mini split energy efficiency.
Mini Split’s Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER)
First defined by the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), the SEER rating of an appliance is a measure of the appliance’s cooling output during the typical cooling season (in BTU), divided by the total electric energy consumed in that period (in watt-hours).
Nearly all air conditioner manufacturers indicate the SEER rating on the energy guide label (the mandatory yellow label on HVAC appliances).
Why It Matters
This is the big question for most people. Does it even matter whether you get a 20 SEER air conditioner or a 13 SEER model? The answer is a big YES.
Let’s assume that you have two air conditioner options – one rated 13 SEER and the other 20 SEER. Both are two-tone (24,000 BTU) air mini-split systems.
We can easily determine the watts consumed per hour by each product. For the 13 SEER AC, total watts/hour = 24,000 BTU per hour/13 = 1,846 watts per hour. For the 20 SEER mini-split, watts/hour = 24,000 BTU per hour/20 = 1,200 watts per hour.
Electricity currently costs about $0.134 per kilowatt-hour in the US, on average. Therefore, for the 13 SEER AC, you’d pay 1,846/1000 x $0.134 = $0.2473/hour while for the 20 SEER model, you’d pay 1,200/1000 x $0.134 = $0.1608/hour.
The average cooling season lasts 125 days every year in the US. Assuming that you expect to run your air conditioner for four hours daily throughout this period, you’d spend 4 x $0.2473 x 125 = $123.65 using the 13 SEER air conditioner and 4 x 125 x $0.1608 = $80.4 using the 20 SEER air conditioner. That’s $123.65 – $80.4 = $43.25 in energy savings every year.
It might seem small until you consider that most mini splits are also used as heat pumps during the heating season. Moreover, saving about $43 yearly for 20 years translates to $860 in energy savings. Not looking little anymore, right?
Mini-split SEER ratings range from 13 in the Northern US and 14 in the Southern US to over 20 SEER for some of the most capable units. Some units are rated as highly as 24 SEER.
Advantages of Ductless Air Conditioners
Although their upfront costs are higher, ductless air conditioners come with multiple benefits over central and window ACs.
More Energy Efficient
Modern ductless air conditioners are designed to use far less electricity compared to window units, making them a better option for homeowners looking to save on energy costs in the long run.
An Energy Star certified mini splits is guaranteed to save you at least 30% in air conditioning costs than similarly-sized window models.
Ductless air conditioners are a lot easier to install, especially compared to central AC systems. For one, you don’t need ductwork, meaning that the installation time is reduced significantly. You may not even need a professional installer, after all.
Additionally, most DIY mini-split ACs typically come with all the materials required for the installation. It makes installation even easier.
A major limitation of window ACs is that they only condition the room where the unit is located. If the AC is located in the bedroom, it will only air condition the bedroom.
Multi-zone mini splits are a more flexible option here as they can air condition multiple rooms/zones at a go. Using just one outdoor unit, you can have up to four indoor air handlers serving different rooms.
Since the condenser unit is installed outside the house, mini-split ACs make very little noise. In fact, the quietest mini-split models are rated under 30 dB, which is very quiet, considering that many window ACs are rated higher than 60 decibels.
As long as everything is working properly (no broken or loose parts inside the AC), the sound is higher than that of a light breeze.
More Installation Options
Window ACs must be installed through the window. If your room/space has no windows, you can’t use them. Through-the-wall AC units, meanwhile, require a solid wall.
Otherwise, they aren’t an option. Ductless mini-splits offer a lot more flexibility here too. The indoor air handlers can install on the wall, ceiling, or floor.
All ductless air conditioners can function as heat pumps. It’s also a straightforward process. All you need to do is set the unit to work as a heater.
When you select the heater setting, the AC works in reverse – extracting heat from the air outside the house and dumping it inside the house. This alone might not be enough to keep your indoors warm, but it makes for a great supplemental heat source.
Greater Air Conditioning Control
This is perhaps the biggest advantage of multi-zoned mini-splits – each indoor air handler can be controlled independently.
Each indoor unit has its own thermostat, such that you can low the temperatures in one room without affecting the conditions in the adjacent room. You may even keep the AC off in one room and on in the next room.
Disadvantages of Ductless Air Conditioners
Despite the long list of advantages, though, mini splits are also known for a few drawbacks. Some of the downsides include;
High Initial Costs
Buying and installing a ductless mini-split requires a significant monetary outlay. The units are generally priced around whole-house AC systems, with many of them costing in excess of $1,000. The multi-zone models are particularly pricey. Some units cost as much as $3,000 or higher.
Increased Maintenance Requirements
All air conditioning systems require maintenance to function properly. You need to schedule regular maintenance to rid the AC system of dirt, debris, etc.
Ductless models more regular maintenance because of the absence of vents. They can’t tolerate the accumulation of dirt. As a result, the filters may need to be replaced more often, typically every two months or more frequently in families with children and pets.
Mini Split Zoning – Single vs. Multi Zone Split Air Conditioners
The very thing you need to consider when shopping for a mini-split, even before the air conditioning capacity, is zoning. Is it a multi-zone or single-zone model? Let’s begin with a definition.
Zoned cooling (and heating) is an approach in residential air conditioning where the home is divided into multiple zones, which can be individual rooms or areas within a single room. Each zone is a target space for climate control. When a mini-split system is used, the temperature in each location is independently controlled.
It effectively means that you can set different temperature levels for one zone without affecting the next zone’s climate. The number of zones you designate will depend on the number of rooms in your home or areas of a room you’d like to heat/cool separately.
The temperature in each zone is controlled or regulated via a designated thermostat or remote controller. The remote controllers can either be handheld or wireless.
Some more advanced mini splits also allow for smart zone control where you can change or adjust each zone’s temperature from your smartphone, tablet, or other designated smart devices.
Single vs. Multi-Zone Mini Split
There are two broad ways to zone your home for the purposes of air conditioning – single zoning and multi-zoning.
Single zone air conditioning is a 1:1 configuration where a single AC unit (outdoor component) serves a single room. In mini split configurations, it means the outdoor unit comes with one indoor unit.
Multi-zone air conditioning, meanwhile, involves one outdoor unit and at least two indoor units. The two or more indoor units are both connected to the single outdoor unit, but places in different zones/rooms such that each serves a separate zone. Currently, one outdoor unit can power up to eight different indoor units.
It’s worth noting that whereas all outdoor units of mini-split ACs are essentially the same, except for capacity, indoor units vary in many other aspects, including style, characteristics, and capabilities. Some install on the wall while others are floor or ceiling mounted.
Also, some must be mounted horizontally while others support vertical and diagonal installation. Control options also vary.
The Main Difference Between Single and Multi-Zone Mini Splits
The key differences between single and multi-zone mini splits, however, come in the areas of cost and installation.
- Cost differences: Understandably, multi-zone mini-split systems are more expensive to buy and install than their single-split counterparts. Costs also vary depending on the number of zones. A four-zone mini-split will be pricier than a two-zone mini-split if all other factors remain constant.
- Installation differences: multi-zone models, however, are also a lot more challenging to install because you need more combinations to connect them to the outdoor unit. Ideally, you’d need a professional technician for the multi-zone mini installation.
Benefits of Zoned Cooling
Zoned air conditioning comes with a few additional benefits on top of the perks you get from standard mini-split ACs. These advantages include;
- Precise temperature control: Modern zoned ACs are designed to allow for small temperature increases such that you get exactly what you want. If you want your room at 60 degrees, you can set the AC to deliver just that.
- Customized comfort: Zoned air conditioning allows you to effectively cool or heat a specific zone or room in the home without affecting the other rooms’ climates. If you want the bedroom cooler or warmer, depending on the season, you can get that without impacting the climate in the other rooms.
- Powerful heating and cooling: Zoned air conditioners are designed with advanced heating and cooling technologies to deliver maximum comfort. As you can tell from the reviews, some are just as powerful as the best central AC systems, capable of serving the entire home.
- Consume less energy: First off, zoned AC systems are very efficient. They draw very little electricity from the home’s power line. This explains the high SEER and EER ratings. Secondly, the customized air conditioning discussed above means you save even more energy. You can lower the thermostat in the rooms you’re not actively using to cut your energy consumption,
- Versatile application: Since zoned AC systems don’t need ductwork, they can work in pretty much any setting where air conditioning is needed. A single multi-zone unit can efficiently serve all the rooms in your home without much trouble.
Single or Multi-Zone AC? Which should you Buy?
It depends on your reasons for buying the AC system in the first place. Single-zone mini-split systems are best suited to situations where the original air conditioning system isn’t delivering to expectations.
Perhaps you already use a central air system that extends to the bedroom, but you still feel it’s a little too hot in there.
A single-zone AC would come in and complement the central AC to lower the temperatures to the desired levels. Other instances where a single zone AC can prove valuable include
- When adding a room to the home and you can’t immediately extend the central AC to serve the new space.
- When converting an area of the home into a new functional space. Zoned air conditioning would provide the necessary climate control in the new space.
- When remodeling the home, perhaps by adding a few new rooms. You’ll need air conditioning in the new rooms, and a single-zone AC can do the job perfectly.
- When upgrading or replacing part of the old air conditioning system. An example is when you’re replacing the AC system in the kid’s bedroom.
Multi-zone air conditioning systems are a great consideration when thinking about larger projects, spanning larger spaces/rooms, or even whole-home air cooling and heating. The following are a few instances where multi-zone ACs would be an excellent idea;
- When your home has two or more floor levels; Multi-zone mini-splits allow you to serve multiple rooms and are easier to install than central ACs.
- When the central air system may not reach certain areas or rooms; Many people, for instance, use multi-zone ACs to reach the basement.
- When you have an old house and installing new ductwork is impractical because of the building’s compromised structural integrity.
- When you’re using a central air system, but there are temperature inconsistencies within the home i.e., multiple areas aren’t getting heated or cooled to the desired temperatures.
How Much Does It Cost to Install a Ductless Air Conditioner?
The cost of installing a ductless air conditioner varies depending on several factors, including the number of zones, the installation location, and even the AC’s size.
We’ll look at some of these factors closely in a bit, but if you’re wondering what you’d pay on average, the figure is $5,471. This is the cost of buying and installing a standard 24,000 BTU multi-zone systems – the most purchased mini-split system in the US. The most common price range, however, is $3,150 to $9,000.
However, some units cost as little as $1,650 if you’re DIY installing the unit. On the other end, the most you can expect to pay unless you’re buying a designer muni split system is about $9,530.
Wall-mounted models, which install just below the ceiling, are the most popular and the cheapest to install, with installation costs ranging from $700 to $3,000. Floor-standing models are also not very expensive to install, with prices starting at around $1,500.
On the other extreme, concealed mini splits and vertical, self-contained models are the most expensive to install. Although they don’t require much installation work, concealed mini splits can cost as much as $9,000 for a single-zone model.
In general, though, multi-zone mini splits are more expensive to install compared to their single-zone counterparts. The average cost of installing a single-zone mini-split is around $3,500 to $4,000, while for a multi-zone unit, you’ll need about $7,000 on average.
The above figures are total costs, including the cost of buying the AC system. If you’re interested in just the labor costs, the price will vary depending on the system’s size, placement, and difficulty of accessing the installation location.
In general, though, single-zone units cost between $200 and $2,000 to install. The $200 figure would be where you’re installing the appliance on your own. Multi-zone mini-splits, meanwhile, cost $500 to $3,000 to install. Here too, the $500 figure would only apply to DIY installation.
Cost of Replacement/Upgrades
Finally, keep in mind that if you’re replacing or upgrading an existing air conditioning system, then you’ll likely be charged for removing the old system and may also need to replace the/upgrade the electrical wiring system
Removing the old AC system can cost anywhere between $25 and $500 depending on the size and company. Replacing/installing the required electrical system, meanwhile, should cost $3,300 to $3,000.
Other Factors to Consider Before Buying a Ductless Air Conditioner
We’ve already discussed the pros and cons of ductless air conditioners, single vs. multi-zone mini splits, and the cost of buying and installing these AC systems. Those are some of the most important considerations when buying a ductless AC.
However, they aren’t the only factors you need to consider. The following are several other things to keep in mind;
Choosing the right size AC is a two-step process. First, you need to determine your cooling (and heating) requirements. Then, once you know what you need, you can proceed to pick the right size AC. To determine the amount of cooling you need, use a sizing chart.
Typically, you need 6,000 BTU for any space up to 250 Sq. Ft. Add 1,000 BTU for every 50 Sq. Ft. increase up to 450 Sq. Ft. and 2,000 BTU for every 200 sq. ft. increase after that.
More importantly, don’t forget that each indoor air handler has a BTU rating. This is especially important when dealing with multi-zone mini-splits.
A professional technician is best suited to handle the installation. But, if you decide to DIY the process, you’ll need to keep two things in mind – installation location and voltage requirements.
Concerning location, most indoor air handlers hang on the wall, though others are floor-standing, ceiling-mounted, ceiling suspended, or concealed. Which style do you want?
As for voltage, the smaller ACs use standard 110-120-volt outlets. However, the larger models need more power, thus usually require 220-240-volt outlets. Using the incorrect voltage can cause loss of efficiency, break the circuit, or even cause a fire.
Energy Efficiency of the AC
Ductless ACs, in general, are very energy-efficient systems. However, efficiency levels also vary from one unit to the next. You need to look for two things – SEER and EER ratings. For Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratings (SEER), anything above 13.0 SEER is good. EER ratings are usually slightly higher.
Aside from SEER and EER, you should also consider Energy Star certification. Energy Star-certified mini-splits cut cooling and heating costs by a further 30%.
We’ve already discussed the compressor unit found in the outdoor component of mini splits. There are two main types of compressors – inverter and rotary.
Inverter compressors draw just enough power to reach the desired temperature setting then idle at that setting until more power is needed. On the other hand, rotary inverters turn on and off while working to maintain the set temperature.
Many people prefer inverter compressors because they don’t turn on and off. The idling also helps save energy.
This is another vital factor when shopping for a ductless air conditioner. Although air conditioners are primarily designed to cool indoor air during the hot seasons, most mini splits can also serve other purposes such as heating and dehumidification. Some of the modes to consider include;
Heating: Wouldn’t it be nice to buy an AC system that would also function as a supplementary heat source during the cold months? If you’d appreciate this versatility, consider a model with a heating setting.
Dehumidification: In the dehumidification mode, the AC extracts excess moisture from your home and dumps it outside the house for a healthy indoor moisture level.
Fan-only: In the fan-only model, the AC doesn’t add or remove heat. It merely circulates and distributes air around the home like a standard fan.
Besides the modes, you may also want an AC that’s easy to use and convenient to control. If so, consider the following features;
Programmable timer: A programmable timer allows you to set the cooling or heating to start or stop at a particular time in the future. For instance, you can set the cooling to start 30 minutes before you get home from work.
Adjustable airflow: In most ductless ACs, you can adjust airflow as you wish. However, the difference is that some newer models allow you to adjust the airflow from the remote control while for others, you must manually adjust the louvers.
Washable air filters: Yes, some AC filters are washable. You need to replace them in the end, but you can wash and reuse them in the meanwhile. Washable filters save you from the costs associated with frequent replacements.
Automatic restart: Auto-restart AC systems resume operation on their own following a power failure. You don’t need to start the unit manually. Better still, they resume at the last set temperatures. This operation protects the compressor and circuit breaker from damage.
Finally, don’t forget to check the warranty. In fact, if the manufacturer doesn’t offer a warranty, then it’s better to look elsewhere.
Most Energy Efficient Mini Split FAQs
It’s possible that you still have a few questions about ductless air conditioners. The following are answers to mini-split FAQs;
Are ductless air conditioners expensive to run?
Compared to similar-sized central air systems, ductless air conditioners are much cheaper to run. The exact cost will depend on two key factors – the wattage of each indoor air handler and electricity prices where you live. Since most people pay around $0.13/kWh, you should expect to pay about $0.91/hour for a standard 24,000 BTU mini-split.
Can I DIY-install a ductless air conditioner?
Yes. Indeed, there are a few models explicitly designed for DIY installation. If you’d like to do the installation on your own, it would be best to buy these DIY models. Otherwise, consider professional installation.
How long does a ductless air conditioner last?
It depends on the model, manufacturer, and quality of maintenance, among other factors. With good maintenance, most mini splits can last 20 years or more.
How many mini splits do I need?
It depends on how many zones/rooms you’re looking to air condition. If it’s just one small room, a single-zone unit will suffice. If it’s three rooms, a three-zone AC would be great. If it’s seven rooms, you’d need two mini-splits – a 4-zone and 3-zone model.
Do you need a mini-split in every room?
Not necessarily. Although you need an air handler in every room, you can use one mini-split with multiple air handlers to serve multiple spaces.
Are ductless air conditioners noisy?
Ductless ACs produce some level of sound. However, they aren’t noisy. Compared to other AC systems, they are some of the quietest.
A ductless mini-split system would be a thoughtful acquisition as you think about adding to your home heating and cooling arsenal. These units are powerful, convenient, and exceptionally energy-efficient.
Make sure it’s a high SEER model, though. A difference of just 4 SEER guarantees up to $40 in air conditioning savings every year.