Ductless Heating & Cooling Systems Buyer Guide
Our Complete Ductless Buyer Guide: Everything you should know about buying a ductless mini-split system, including costs, installation, ideal locations, features, advantages & disadvantages, FAQs, and more!
Ductless mini-split systems are an ideal way to heat and cool spaces that lack ductwork and venting. In this article, we look at the average costs of these units, as well as the top brands, features, advantages & disadvantages, FAQs, and where these systems are typically installed.
What is ductless air conditioning? What is a ductless mini-split system?
A ductless split or mini-split system is a type heating & cooling appliance. Some models only function as an A/C, while some also have a heating function.
A ductless A/C is an air conditioning system designed to cool spaces without ductwork, which makes it popular in warmer climates like Asia and Central & South America, and the Southern United States, and in certain types of homes in northern climates.
Ductless split systems are also popular in Canada in a variety of specific situations, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
Ductless systems are also common in commercial buildings and businesses.
Watch Video: Ductless Systems: Key Facts, Prices, Pros & Cons
A short overview of ductless mini-split systems and what you should know
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Ductless Mini-Split System Types
- Ductless air conditioners, cooling systems
- Cooling and heating ductless systems, which do both
- Ductless heat pumps – which usually don’t actually heat or cool, but instead circulate air to disperse heat and keep indoor temperatures comfortable. Some ductless heat pumps may also include a cooling function. This type of system is more common in milder or warmer climates like the Southern US.
So deciding whether you should get a ductless air conditioner or heat pump, will depend primarily on where you live. In Canada, due to the more extreme climate in much of the country (cold in winter, hot and humid in summer), actual heat pumps and ductless heat pumps are less common.
Common names include: ductless air conditioner, ductless A/C, ductless split system, ductless mini-split system, ductless heat pump (though these terms may refer to different types of system, as discussed above)
Heating ductless systems
Ductless split systems come in two basic varieties, ones that only cool (ductless air conditioners) and ones that heat AND cool.
A heating ductless system can be a good option for supplementing your existing heating system, or as your primary heating system if you live in a generally milder climate. Ductless heating systems are not well suited as the primary heating system in most regions of Canada, as they are not designed to work in very cold temperatures, below about -20 degrees Celsius (some models might work up to -25 degrees Celsius).
So if you live in Vancouver for instance, a ductless heating system may be a viable option. But in most other parts of the country, there will inevitably be a few extremely cold days each winter, and you don’t want to be caught without adequate heating during a cold snap. Even Southern Ontario, although you’d likely be fine most of the time, extreme cold periods do happen.
Aside from this, ductless heating/cooling units can be a good option for some homes. The rest of the information found on this page generally applies to both ductless air conditioning systems, and heating models alike. The same factors, advantages/disadvantages, and brands are relevant regardless of the type you buy.
That being said, the best thing to do is request a free estimate from a Certified local professional for custom recommendations and pricing.
Ductless Heating & Cooling System Prices
Prices for ductless split systems and air conditioner units in Ontario and other provinces across Canada typically start at $2500 – $3000 and may go as high as $5000+ per unit, including installation, depending on brand/manufacturer, BTU cooling output rating, installation costs, and where you live (cost in urban areas tend to be cheaper than in rural areas).
Furthermore, ductless systems that both heat AND cool will be more expensive, typically starting at around $3500 and going up to $7500 or more, including installation.
When it comes to the price of a ductless system, there are two main things to consider:
- The number of outdoor units needed—larger homes or commercial buildings may require multiple units to cool. If you are cooling multiple different areas that are far apart, then you may need more than one outdoor unit.
- The number of ‘heads’ (indoor units) needed. One head would be installed in each room or area you wish to cool.
For this reason, the price of a ductless air conditioner is likely to be at least comparable to a central air conditioner. But a ductless mini-split system or heat pump may be an excellent heating and cooling option for your home or business/commercial property if it doesn’t have ductwork.
These units are also ideal if you are making an addition to your home in a way where extending the ductwork can’t be done or is simply too challenging and costly. Or if you have an older home or a house without ductwork, the cost of a ductless system is likely to be cheaper than trying to install ductwork.
Again, the final price largely depends on the make and model of the system, the efficiency rating and BTU output, whether it’s a dual heating/cooling unit, and of course how many units you need.
Get an accurate custom quote for free from one of our trusted local experts.
Why are ductless air conditioners so expensive?
Ductless mini-split systems are expensive because they contain a lot of sophisticated technology and are designed to cool larger spaces than portable or window units. And unlike a central air conditioner, ductless systems can’t rely on existing ductwork and blower systems from a home’s forced-air heating system to circulate the cold air.
Therefore, in addition to the outdoor unit, one or more indoor units must also be installed in each room being cooled, which adds to the total cost.
In the case of ductless systems with heating capabilities, additional heating elements are also built-in to the system, which further increases the total price.
Who makes ductless split systems and air conditioners?
Many of the major furnace & A/C manufacturers also make ductless systems. See here for more details on who makes different brands of heating & cooling system.
Some of the major brands and manufacturers of ductless mini split systems sold in Canada include:
Costs between them may vary; however the best way to get an accurate price is to request a free quote.
How a Ductless Mini-Split System Works – Configuration & Installation
Ductless split systems work somewhat similarly to a central air conditioning system, in that there is an outdoor unit that vents heat using refrigerant, which is then cycled to the indoor unit, where warm air passes over coils containing the cooled refrigerant.
The difference is that with a central system, the cooling happens in an indoor unit which is attached to your furnace, with air then being circulated through the ductwork in your home.
With a ductless system, this heat transfer and cooling process happens in the indoor unit directly in the room where the cold air is blown.
So one (or more) outdoor units is installed in a strategic location. Then small holes are drilled through the exterior walls to pass the cooled refrigerant tubing to where the indoor unit or units will be mounted.
Then everything is sealed, and once the electrical setup is done, you’re all set!
Common & Advanced Features
Features will vary from one brand & model to the next. But here are some examples of advanced features that are found in modern ductless split systems:
- Smart sensors which can detect a person and blow air towards or away from them
- Room-occupant sensors to automatically activate the system
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- Remote climate control via smartphone apps
- Compatibility with smart thermostats like Nest or Ecobee
When Is a Ductless Mini-Split System Ideal?
Split systems are often installed in older homes or buildings that are heated with a boiler or electric baseboards, as well as warmer climates where ductwork is uncommon. This type of HVAC system is also a popular option for:
- New additions to homes
- In-law suites
- Smaller homes, and mobile homes (ones that are ‘stationary’ anyway)
Heating ductless systems can also be a good choice in regions with milder climates like Vancouver. Since the winters generally aren’t as cold, a ductless unit may be sufficient, depending on the layout and configuration of your home.
Another somewhat common use is to supplement a central A/C system. For example, even with a central air conditioning system, some large older homes might not be adequately cooled on the third floor, so a ductless system may be used to cool this area.
Most ductless systems run on electricity. They are comprised of an outdoor unit which connects via tubing through a small hole in the wall to one or several indoor units. Some units only provide cooling or heating, while some do both.
Depending on how many areas of your home or commercial property you’re looking to heat and cool, you may need more than one “head” (the indoor units) attached to each outdoor unit, which will also affect the total cost.
Advantages & Disadvantages of a Ductless Split System
Some pros and cons of ductless systems include:
ADVANTAGE – There are several advantages to getting this type of HVAC system, one of which is the fact that ductless systems can offer more flexibility for unconventional spaces, and places without ductwork.
This may make the total cost lower than say buying a new furnace, however, if you need to purchase multiple units & heads, or require a ductless system that does both heating AND cooling, the cost can easily approach $6000 – $8000, including installation and all associated costs.
DISADVANTAGE – Although ductless units can be an excellent option for many situations, the installation can be trickier than simply replacing a furnace, for example. This is because a suitable location for the outdoor unit must be found, which may be somewhere hard to reach like on the roof. The placement of the indoor units can also be a challenge, and they can only be so far from the outdoor unit.
ADVANTAGE – Mini-split systems may be more efficient and cost-effective than other solutions, especially if you’re upgrading from an older system. Replacing an ageing central air conditioner or several window units may provide some savings on your utility bills.
DISADVANTAGE – However, be cautious of electricity rates, and usage, especially if you are considering a ductless system for heating. Because ductless systems run entirely on electricity, this can become very costly in cold winter months.
In most cases, it’s hard for a ductless heating system to compete with a gas furnace on operating costs.
ADVANTAGE – Split heating & cooling systems make good retrofit add-ons to houses with “non-ducted” heating systems, such as hydronic (hot water heat), radiant panels, and space heaters (wood, kerosene, propane). They can also be a good choice for room additions where extending or installing distribution ductwork is not feasible and older homes that require supplemental cooling on the top floor, for example.
Be sure to choose an ENERGY STAR® compliant unit and hire an installer familiar with the product and its installation.
DISADVANTAGE – Another potential downside is that these systems are generally not built to handle extreme cold so they may not heat your home correctly below -25 Celsius.
POTENTIAL DISADVANTAGE? Some people may not like the appearance of the indoor part of the system. While less obtrusive than a window room air conditioner, these units don’t have the built-in look of a central system. There must also be a place to drain condensate water near the outdoor unit.
The indoor air handlers can be suspended from a ceiling, mounted flush into a drop ceiling, or hung on a wall. Most indoor units are about seven inches deep and have a sleek, high-tech look.
Modern systems also offer a remote control to make it easier to control the system on and off when it’s positioned high on a wall or suspended from a ceiling. Newer models may also work with smartphone apps for advanced control.
Some units can even connect via Wi-Fi, and may also be compatible with smart thermostats for automated climate control.
ADVANTAGE – Most of the models that are available today can have as many as eight heads in some cases (though more commonly, up to four heads), which gives complete individual control in multiple rooms. Every zone can have separate settings and a handheld remote control so you can selectively control the temperature in each room or area.
This can help save money on energy costs if you spend most of your time in specific rooms. Whereas traditional furnaces and central air conditioners will heat and cool the entire home at once, unless you manually close individual registers in each room, or have zoned heating control installed in your home.
ADVANTAGE – In addition to these features a mini-split system can even be safer for your home compared to window ACs. There is only a small hole in the wall needed for these systems to be installed, which is far different from the through-the-wall or window-mounted air conditions that can provide access to intruders.
POTENTIAL DISADVANTAGE – At least compared to less permanent options, a ductless system is harder to take with you if you move, than say a window or portable A/C. So this type of heating & cooling system is not ideal for renters.
Ultimately there are many factors to consider when determining if a ductless split system is the right heating or cooling solution for your needs.
They can be a perfect solution for adding quasi-central cooling or additional heating to a building or space without ductwork.
For help evaluating your options and to get a free price estimate from contractors and distributors in your area, simply request a quote here! You’ll often hear from local companies in a matter of minutes!
Financing options are also available, be sure to ask one of our partners for details.
Common Frequently Asked Questions About Ductless Split Systems
Are ductless air conditioners quiet or noisy?
To indoor occupants, ductless A/C systems are generally quieter than a portable or window air conditioner, because the noisiest part of the system (the compressor and fan) sits outside. However, to anyone sitting outside (like on a deck or balcony) near the outdoor ductless unit, the sound tends to be somewhat similar to a central air unit.
The outdoor component of a ductless air conditioner can be as quiet as about 58 – 60 decibels, depending on the model.
The indoor part of the ductless system may generate some noise—essentially a low hum or woosh—as it cools and circulates air in the room. But modern ductless systems can be almost silent, especially on low settings.
The indoor ductless units can be as quiet as about 20 decibels, again depending on the make and model.
For this reason, a ductless system generally can be about as quiet as a central A/C (at least while you’re inside), but a ductless system is certainly quieter than a window or portable unit.
Are ductless systems better than central air or portable/window units? Ductless vs central vs portable vs window A/Cs.
This depends on your situation, needs, and budget. They each have their pros and cons, with portable and window units being cheaper and moveable, but also less effective, less capable, and noisier.
Central A/C systems are great for entire homes with adequate ductwork. So ductless air conditioner systems fall somewhere in between and are suitable for specific applications and situations.
See our A/C Types Explained article for a more detailed comparison.
Are ductless air conditioners energy-efficient?
Ductless systems tend to be more energy-efficient than portable or window units as they feature more advanced compressor systems, and more sophisticated climate control systems, according to ENERGY STAR.
They may also offer some operating cost savings compared to a central air conditioning system, as they’re able to only cool specific rooms as needed, as opposed to the entire home at once.
A fan will be more energy-efficient but won’t actually cool the air.
Ductless heating systems, however, tend not to be as “efficient” as propane or natural gas furnaces, at least from an overall heating cost standpoint. This is due to electricity being more expensive than natural gas in most parts of Canada, although this obviously varies.
Places like Quebec may have cheaper electricity, but winters also tend to be colder, which makes ductless heating less ideal as they are not well suited to extreme cold temperatures.
Are ductless heat pumps worth it?
That depends on your personal needs and preferences of course, but they can be a worthwhile investment for homeowners looking for efficient and effective cooling.
If you want something better and quieter than a window or portable A/C but your home isn’t well-suited to central air (because you have radiant heating for example), then a ductless system may be a good option.
The initial investment required will be somewhat similar to a central A/C ($3,000 – $5,000 on average, including installation) but substantially more than a portable or window unit. That said, you may require multiple window or portable units to cool the same amount of space.
What’s the difference between a split A/C and a mini-split A/C?
‘Split air conditioner’ is another term for a central air conditioner. ‘Mini-split air conditioner’ is another term for a ductless air conditioner. The term split air conditioner comes from the fact that a central air conditioning system actually has two separate major components: the outdoor unit most people think of, AND the indoor evaporator coil which connects to the furnace.
A mini-split system or a ductless mini-split system is essentially a type of air conditioner which is usually made to cool somewhat smaller areas, rather than an entire home, and the outdoor unit itself is also usually a bit smaller. Hence the name mini-split.
Can I install a ductless A/C myself?
If you’re an electrician, then probably. Otherwise, it’s likely best to leave installation to the professionals. And the folks at your home insurance provider would probably agree!
What size ductless air conditioner do I need?
This depends primarily on the size of the space you need to cool. The outdoor component will vary in size, with the largest ones able to connect to up to 8 indoor units.
The cooling power of ductless A/Cs can vary from 5,000 BTUs to 50,000+ BTUs.
Because every situation and home or building is different, online size estimate charts are unlikely to be of much use. In order to determine the size you need, it’s best to have a free estimate done by an experienced local HVAC contractor, who will do a ‘load calculation’ (an assessment of your cooling needs, basically).
Where to install a ductless air conditioner?
The exact location of the units will obviously vary by home. In most cases, the outdoor unit will be placed on a rack on the side of the house or even on the roof. In condominium buildings or townhouses, the unit may be placed on a deck or balcony. The outdoor unit can only be so far from the indoor units, so this must be considered during installation.
The indoor units will be mounted on the wall near the ceiling in the rooms that will be cooled.
How far can the indoor ductless unit be from the outdoor unit?
The maximum distance is about 15 meters in most cases, though this may vary somewhat based on factors like the local climate, and whether it’s a cooling-only system or heating AND cooling.
Where to buy a ductless mini-split system or ductless air conditioner? Who installs ductless air conditioning?
Similar to buying a central air conditioner, you would purchase a ductless system from a professional local heating & cooling contractor, who would help you choose the right unit & size for your home, and handle the installation.
Get a free estimate from one of our Certified HVAC contractors!
Can I get a ductless A/C system without the outdoor or indoor unit?
You can purchase either the outdoor or indoor units individually, but you need both for them to work.
The indoor unit passes the warm indoor air over refrigerant-filled tubes to cool it and then blows it into the room. This process causes the refrigerant to expand, where it is then cycled through the refrigerant lines to the outdoor unit. The outdoor unit then disperses the heat from the refrigerant and compresses it, before sending it back to the indoor unit where the cycle continues. So both components are required for a functioning cooling system.
Can I buy a natural gas or propane ductless system?
Generally speaking, all ductless systems run on electricity, at least when it comes to everyday consumer applications for the home, or for small businesses.
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