Central air conditioning is wonderful in hot climates, but not all homes are built for it. A central AC system requires extensive ductwork to deliver air throughout the house, and retrofitting ductwork in a house not built for it can be expensive, if even possible.
A ductless air conditioner system, also called a split AC unit, provides whole-home cooling for about half the cost of central AC. It’s usually most effective for small homes or homes with moderate cooling needs. This guide covers common split air conditioner costs for both the system and installation.
On average, the cost of split AC installation is around $3,000–$9,000.Get Free Estimates
On average, you can expect to pay between $2,500 and $7,000 for a central air conditioning unit.Get Free Estimates
In general, the cost of heat pump installation ranges from $500–$30,000.Get Free Estimates
Average Split AC Installation Cost
The average cost of ductless mini-split air conditioner installation is $3,000–$9,000. The AC system can cost anywhere from $600 for a single-zone system to more than $20,000 for a whole-home, multi-zone system. Hiring an HVAC contractor to install it adds $300–$6,000.
Here are the key factors that affect installation cost.
- Number of units: Most homes require one unit per room. The more indoor units you have, the higher your system cost. Labor costs are also higher to install more units.
- Type of components: Different models of indoor units may be more or less expensive.
- Unit size: More powerful air conditioners cost more.
Split AC Installation Cost by Number of Units
Ductless mini-split systems usually consist of one outdoor condensing unit and one or more indoor air handler units. A single condenser can support up to eight indoor units, though each air handler needs to be within about 50 feet of the condenser. You may need more than one outdoor unit if you have a large home.
Each air handler can cool a “zone.” This is typically a single room, though one zone might cover several rooms if you have an open floor plan. A multi-zone system costs more for both materials and installation.
|Number of Zones Covered||Cost Including Installation|
Split AC Installation Cost by Components
Most split AC manufacturers have a standard outdoor condenser for each system. However, several options are available depending on where and how the condenser is mounted. The most common and inexpensive units are wall-mounted, but there are also floor- and ceiling-mounted options.
While split AC systems are called “ductless” because they don’t require existing ductwork, there are options for ducted air handlers that contain short ducts to cool multiple rooms. Here are the average price ranges for each type of unit.
|System Component||Unit Cost|
|Ceiling-mounted air handler||$700–$2,000|
|Ducted air handler||$900–$3,000|
|Floor-mounted air handler||$1,300–$4,000|
|Recessed indoor ceiling cassette||$500–$2,000|
|Wall-mounted air handler||$400–$1,000|
A system consisting of one condenser, two wall-mounted air handlers, and one floor-mounted air handler could cost anywhere from $3,100–$12,000, excluding installation.
Split AC Installation Cost by Unit Size
As with central AC units, ductless mini-split systems are measured in tons or BTU (British thermal units) according to how much air they can cool in an hour. One ton is required for every 500–600 square feet of interior space, but hallways and small bathrooms might not be included in ductless AC systems. Cooling an entire 1,500-square-foot home requires a 3-ton air conditioner, but you can get away with less than that if you only cool and heat the bedrooms or primary living spaces.
Split AC Installation by Brand
The system size and components are the most significant cost factors for ductless AC systems, but the brand of the unit can also affect the price. Mitsubishi’s split AC systems are pricier than other AC brands, but the company has an excellent reputation in the HVAC industry and offers a variety of system components
Additional Cost Factors for Split AC Installation
The cost of mini-split installation can also vary based on the following factors.
- Features: A unit with features such as a remote control or programmable thermostat is more expensive.
- Installation costs: HVAC contractors typically charge $65–$250 per hour, but there may also be a flat fee for each unit installed.
- Location of the installation: Units installed on upper stories or layouts that require the condenser and air handlers to be far apart take longer to install and cost more.
- Permit costs: You’ll need a permit to install most multi-zone systems, which can cost between $250 and $400 depending on local regulations.
- Removing old equipment: Getting rid of a previous AC system or old ductwork adds to labor costs.
- SEER rating: SEER, which stands for seasonal energy efficiency ratio, measures a system’s energy efficiency. The higher the efficiency rating, the more expensive the system is, though it will ultimately cost less to run.
- Time of year: HVAC installation—of any kind—costs more in summer when AC technicians are more in demand.
Mini-split AC vs. Multi-split AC
The phrase “mini-split air conditioner” is often used interchangeably with “ductless air conditioner,” but mini-splits aren’t the only type of ductless system. Ductless AC with a single indoor unit is called a mini-split system. A system with multiple indoor units can be either a mini-split or multi-split. In a mini-split unit, cool air comes out at the same temperature from all indoor units and is controlled by a single thermostat. Each air handler is connected in a series on a single line of refrigerant tubing.
Multi-split systems can have an individual thermostat for each unit. Think of it like a power strip with multiple lights plugged into it. These systems use the same condenser and air handler equipment as mini-splits. However, they require more copper tubing because each handler must have an independent connection to the condenser. Multi-split units cost more for materials and labor, but they allow you to have different temperature settings in different zones of your home.
How a Split AC System Works
As with central air conditioning, a split AC system has an indoor and an outdoor component with refrigerant lines running between the two. The indoor component contains an evaporator to pull heat from the air and a blower to send cooled air into the room. The warm, gaseous refrigerant is sent through copper tubing to the outdoor unit, also called the condenser. There, the compressor turns the refrigerant into a liquid, expelling heat outside with the help of fans and sending cool air indoors.
A split AC differs from central AC in that the cooling process occurs locally at each indoor unit rather than at a central unit that blows cool air throughout the house. This also offers the option of different temperature settings in different rooms. A ductless mini-split system can provide more cool air than window units because it has a larger condenser system. A mini-split also has a heat pump, so it can provide heated air in the winter without requiring ducts or radiators.
DIY vs. Professional Split AC Installation
Homeowners can install some ductless mini-split systems without hiring an HVAC company. These are typically single-zone kits for a single room with one condenser and one air handler, costing between $1,500 and $7,500.
There are some reports that these mini-split systems don’t function as well as those that have been professionally installed. It’s hard to tell if this is because the kits contain subpar units or mistakes were made during amateur installation. You may also void your split AC’s warranty if you don’t have it professionally installed.
Multi-zone systems require professional installation. HVAC technicians must be licensed to install and repair heating and cooling systems, so they have the knowledge and expertise to do the job quickly and correctly. You’ll have to pay for labor costs, but the job will get done faster than if you did it yourself, and unlike other home improvement jobs, installation isn’t typically a huge chunk of the split AC cost.
Signs That You Need a Split AC Unit
A split AC system is usually best when you need an air conditioner for more than one room in your home, but there’s no existing ductwork. Here are some specific situations where a split AC unit would be beneficial.
- Only some areas of your home need a cooling system.
- The ductwork in your house is in bad shape and would need expensive repairs to accommodate central AC.
- You live in a small home in an area that doesn’t experience extreme heat for long periods.
- You need a customizable system with different types of air handlers for different spaces within the home.
- You need cooling in one area of the home urgently, but you’d like to expand the system over time as your budget permits.
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Comparing Types of Air Conditioners
When researching air conditioners, you’ll usually be deciding between a window unit, a split system, or central AC. The size of your home, the presence of existing ductwork, and your budget are the most relevant factors to this decision. Here are some pros and cons of each type of system.
✔ Easy to install
✔ Highly customizable
✔ Consistent cooling throughout house
✘ Single room only
✘ Highly visible
✘ High utility bills
How To Save on Split AC Installation Costs
Though a split AC system is less expensive than a ducted air conditioner, the project will still likely cost thousands of dollars. You’ll also need to pay for professional installation unless you need a small, simple system. However, you can still save money with the following tips.
- Consult a professional to customize your home’s most cost-efficient ductless air conditioner system.
- Get a unit with a higher SEER rating if your budget permits. These cost more up-front but operate more efficiently and save you money on utility bills.
- Look for rebates and tax credits from the federal government and on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.
- Perform regular maintenance to lengthen the lifespan of your system. You can do mini-split maintenance and inspection yourself with a cleaning kit. This is recommended every six months.
- Schedule your mini-split installation for the spring or fall when HVAC contractors are less busy.
- Think carefully about how many cooling zones you need. Some homeowners choose to cool only the downstairs area of their home since that’s where they’re most likely to be during the hottest times of the day.
A ductless air conditioner may not suit everyone, but it’s often an excellent choice for homes without existing ductwork. It’s less expensive than central AC and customizable to your home. Ductless systems are also quicker and less disruptive to install than ductwork. It’s usually best to hire a professional for anything more than a single-zone mini-split, but there are other ways to save money on the project.
FAQs About Split AC Installation Cost
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