Ductless Mini-Split or A Window Unit: What's Best for You?

Convenience is a way of life, and that’s extremely evident in the increase of mini-splits and window air conditioners you see throughout your day. Nothing's more convenient than a heating and cooling system that you can directly and immediately control - sometimes without even leaving the couch! There are many benefits to installing a mini-split or a window unit. Since these units usually cover a single space, they’re perfect for adding comfort to a room that is either a little neglected by the central system, or a room that doesn’t have ductwork at all. Both of these units make enjoying the exact temperature you want much easier. They also tend to be much easier to install. The most difficult part of this process is deciding what unit is right for you - a mini-split or a window unit.

What is a Mini-Split?

While mini-splits aren't exactly uncommon, they're definitely more rare than a window unit. You've probably seen them hanging on the wall of a business or in the spare room at a friend's house spreading cool or warm air throughout the space. These units are a permanent solution to the need for comfort.

Ductless mini-splits are typically comprised of two parts: an interior air handler and an exterior condenser, with a line set connecting them. The line set usually travels through the wall, which means drilling a hole in your home. This makes the installation of a mini-split a bit more permanent than a window unit. You're not limited to installation within a window, because the air handler is mounted to the wall.

Some mini-splits are suited with multiple air handlers, so you can install them in multiple rooms. This lets you control the temperature of separate rooms as you see fit. Your home does not have to be restricted to one temperature. Since mini-splits tend to be highly efficient, many homeowners want to use them as a whole-home comfort solution.

Many mini-splits are heat pumps. To put it simply, when cooling, the air handler will absorb heat from the air in your house, leaving only cool air to be circulated by the unit. This heat is transferred through the line set via refrigerant to be dispelled by the condenser outdoors. If it is a heat pump, the reverse occurs when heating. The condenser absorbs heat from outside and transfers it inside to make your home feel cozy and comfortable. This is an extremely basic explanation of how a mini-split might work, but this information can make your decision easier.

What is a Window Unit?

Window units are some of the most common cooling and heating units out there. These units are usually low-cost, easy to install, and are sold everywhere. You can purchase one from the store and have it set up that very day. You've definitely seen them, and you might even have a few of your own!

Window units are usually one large box-shaped unit that, as the name implies, go in the window. Some newer window units, like the MrCool U-Shaped Window Air Conditioner, have a special design making the unit less intrusive and allowing you to open the window it's in. Most window units are able to fit in whatever window you choose.

While there are window units that heat, air conditioning-only units tend to be the standard. You can purchase a heat pump window unit, which works very similarly to the mini-split heat pump above. You can also select one that uses electric heat. The electric heat in the unit quickly heats up when you call for warmth so that the fan can push the cozy temperature you want throughout the room.

Window units get a bad rap for being inefficient. While they can be, because they're quick solutions to discomfort, many have progressed to being so efficient that they can lower overall energy costs. Efficiency for almost all other heat pumps and air conditioners is measured in SEER, but a window unit's efficiency level is typically rated in EER. Like SEER, the higher the EER, the better.

What are Some Differences Between These Units?

Mini-splits and window units are great ways to add comfort to individual spaces, but they have many differences that can make deciding on one system difficult.

  • Installation. You can usually install any window unit by yourself, but you may need to hire an HVAC contractor to install a mini-split. This isn't true in every case. The DIY ductless mini-split by MrCool is one of the only HVAC systems that you can install without an HVAC professional. The line set is pre-charged and has Quick Connect fittings, ensuring you don't need any any special tools to install the system. Most mini-splits need to be hardwired to a disconnect box, while window units can be plugged into an outlet.
  • Removal. A mini-split typically stays where it is installed. An HVAC professional may be able to help you move it, but that can get complicated and costly quick. You can install and uninstall a window unit as many times as you want. Some people like being able to set it and forget it, while others enjoy the freedom of moving their source of comfort wherever they want.
  • Size. As is obvious, and as previously mentioned, a window unit fits in a window. All of them tend to be around the same size. A mini-split air handler, however, is normally much larger than a mini-split. The most common air handler is a wall-mounted unit, the smallest of which is normally around 3 feet long. As the capacity of the system increases, the size of the unit increases as well. Certain mini-split systems may offer different air handlers, such as ceiling cassettes and concealed ducts, for less intrusive options.

While there are a number of other differences, it's helpful to learn the basics so you know where to start.

What Size Should I Get?

Deciding on the specific size of your unit shouldn't be too hard. All you really need to know is the square footage of the room you want to put a mini-split or a window unit in. There are some factors that come into play, though, and may affect what size you need. For example, if you live in a more intense climate, have poor insulation, have high ceilings, or you have many people living with you, you may need a larger unit. The only way to truly know what size you need is to have an HVAC tech perform a Manual J load calculation.

Both window units and ductless mini-splits tend to be sized in BTUs instead of tons. The most common sizes for mini-split systems are 9k BTUs, 12k BTUs, 18k BTUs, 24k BTUs, and 36k BTUs. There are even some larger systems, usually designed for multi-zone applications, that are 48k BTUs. The smallest mini-split we offer is a 6k BTU system. Window units vary a little more than this, with some brands offering an 8k or a 10k BTU unit. 12k, 18k, 24k, and 36k units are also common. Below is a guide on basic sizes for both systems.

  • 6k BTUs: 100-300 square feet
  • 8k BTUs: 350 square feet
  • 9k BTUs: 375 square feet
  • 10 BTUs: 450 square feet
  • 12k BTUs: 500 square feet
  • 18k BTUs: 750 square feet
  • 24k BTUs: 1,000 square feet
  • 36k BTUs: 1,500 square feet
  • 48k BTUs: 2,000-2,4000 square feet

While this list of capacities and square footages is not the definitive guide to appropriately sizing your new comfort unit, it's helpful information when you're starting the search for the perfect unit.

What Are Some Features I Should Look Out For?

If you're considering a single-room comfort solution, you might be needing indoor climate relief fast. You'll want to make your decision count, and the best way to do that is to choose a system with features that will tailor your comfort to you.

One of the most convenient features that has recently become pretty standard with most mini-splits is the ability to connect to and control from a smartphone app. This lets you manipulate the temperature without searching for the remote or leaving the couch! These apps can also track the unit's energy usage, set a schedule for your unit, and do many other things. Newer window units offer this feature, although it's more common to find a unit that must be manually operated.

You'll want your system to have an Eco or a energy saving feature if you're interested in saving money. Already-efficient mini-splits can boost efficiency levels even more by lowering output and decreasing the amount of energy it uses. You might find that a window unit works better for you, but after a few months you discover that it's been increasing your bills. That's where the Eco setting comes in handy. This and similar settings allow you to enjoy comfort without the threat of rising bills.

Some systems have a quiet mode or a sleep mode that ensure operation won't affect your sleep. They shut off any noises the unit might make, such as beeps, and it turns off display lights. It may also increase energy savings by slowly reducing capacity throughout the night and increasing it once it's time to wake up.

No two mini-splits are alike, and the same goes for window units. It's a good idea to look through product brochures and features to see what the unit you're interested in has to offer!

Where Should I Start My Search?

Since you're now equipped with basic information about both ductless mini-splits and window units, you may be thinking that one works for you better than the other. You can compare and contrast different units against each other right here at Ingrams Water and Air. Let us help you finalize your decision and solve your comfort problems today!

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