The best mini split air conditioner
Mini split air conditioners are becoming increasingly popular. They're quieter, smarter, and more efficient than window AC units, and they're cheaper than central-air systems. Another major advantage is that they don't only cool, but they can heat as well. They're particularly good if you have an extension, garage, or small commercial unit.
Our quick guide looks at what's available and the things you'll need to consider before buying. Our top pick by Pioneer is powerful, quiet, and offers remarkable efficiency for the money.
Considerations when choosing mini split air conditioners
Rather than a big central unit and ducting running throughout the house, a mini split air conditioner has an indoor cooling unit, mounted up near the ceiling, and a compressor attached to an outside wall. There's no need for ducts, hence they're called "ductless." In winter, the same system can also provide heat, and many have dehumidifier settings, too.
Descriptions can be a bit confusing: mini split AC, inverter, heat pump -- don't worry, they are all the same thing.
The first decision is whether you need a multi-zone model (a single large compressor feeds up to eight indoor units) or a single-zone model (one compressor, one indoor unit). Multi-zone models are particularly efficient because the intelligence is in each individual unit -- you have a high level of control over any space. Single-zone models are excellent if, for instance, you've added a room or want to cool a workshop.
Next, you have to decide what size unit you need. Mini split air conditioners are rated in BTU/H (British thermal units per hour) -- though generally you just see BTU. Manufacturers provide sizing charts, but generally speaking, a 9,000-BTU model is enough for approximately 350 square feet, and a 36,000-BTU model will cover 1,500 square feet.
Small mini split air conditioners can run off 110 to 120 volts, but larger models need 220 to 240 volts. That might have an impact on whether you call in a pro for installation.
When this kind of AC was introduced, rotary compressors were often used. Inverters are much more efficient and are now common. It's definitely the type to go for.
Energy efficiency: This type of air conditioner is very efficient in terms of energy consumption. There are three standards you can check:
SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating) -- The higher the better. While 17 is common, some reach 19.
HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) -- Again, higher is better. Look for eight or more.
Energy-Star -- Devices need to meet certain minimum standards to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Wireless remote: Units are controlled by a multifunction wireless remote, which you use to set minimum or maximum temperature, fan speed, timer, etc. Some offer more functionality than others.
Easy access: WiFi/smartphone/tablet control systems are available for some, giving you the potential to control your mini split air conditioner from anywhere. Check whether it's included or available as an add-on.
LCD display: Indoor units could have an LCD display on the front so you can see the temperature easily. You can usually turn this feature on or off.
Mini split air conditioner prices
In general, prices rise in line with power. Using 12,000 BTUs as a baseline, units range from around $700 for a basic model to as much as $1,800 for one with full WiFi and internet control. A mid-range 24,000-BTU model will cost around $1,200 and a 36,000-BTU model around $2,000. Installation will cost at least several hundred dollars on top of that. Make sure quotes are from properly certified HVAC installers.
Q. How long can I expect a mini split air conditioner to last?
A. Warranties range from two years to seven years (the longer periods are usually for the external compressor). However, if properly installed, they could be expected to last 10 years or more. In fact, in Europe, where these units are installed as standard, 10-year warranties are common.
Q. Can I install a mini split AC myself?
A. People certainly do, and some products are advertised as DIY, but you need to check the details carefully. In many cases, the manufacturer will void the warranty if it's
Mini split air conditioners we recommend
Best of the best: Pioneer Mini Split Air Conditioner
Our take: A premium product from a well-known brand at a very competitive price.
What we like: Among the highest efficiency ratings we found. Easy-to-use remote control (remote online access available). High performance without the big ticket.
What we dislike: More reports of leaks than we'd like. Internet control unit is extra.
Best bang for the buck: Senville SENL-12CD Mini Split Air Conditioner
Our take: No-frills model for homeowners on a tight budget.
What we like: Effective 4-in-1 design can be used for cooling, heating, dehumidifying, or just the fan. Basic but has all the functions you need.
What we dislike: Various faults reported -- though nothing consistent. Poor customer support.
Our take: Powerful and efficient model of particular interest to smart-home enthusiasts.
What we like: High-quality feature-packed model offers tremendous flexibility. WiFi control via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or app. DIY installation possible (videos online).
What we dislike: Expensive (though DIY install could offset cost). Some app issues.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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