Mar 172013
 
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The cost of ductless air conditioning is complicated, given that you need to consider installation costs, the cost to run the system, and any savings you will see.  In fact, one of the more common questions people ask about installing ductless central air conditioning in their home is how quickly they will recoup the cost vs. the way they are cooling their home now.  While for some the cost of ductless air conditioning is an important means to an end – central air conditioning for the hot months – but others look for long-term savings because it is so effective and efficient. We go over the latter option as it relates to the cost of ductless air conditioning, as well as some other cost factors.

The Cost of Ductless Air Conditioning vs. Window Boxes

If you are currently using a high-efficiency system of some sort to heat your home, do not use window boxes for air conditioning, and are merely looking to add central air, then you may not see much savings over previous summers.  In fact, you need to be aware that you will be using some energy in the summer when previously you did not.

But for those either paying the cost of ductless air conditioning in order to replace a less efficient home energy system, or who are replacing a bunch of window box air conditioners with a ductless system, we wanted to provide some information about the efficiency and cost savings possible with ductless central air.  We start with installation.  The cost of ductless air conditioning with a single zone is between $3-5,000 depending on where you live, how powerful you need the system to be, the difficulty of the install, and how far from the unit the lines must be run.

The savings provided by a ductless heating and cooling system depends on what type of system you are using now.  A common reason to turn to ductless is the use of a whole home electric system, and in that case ductless is thought to save  3-4000 kWh each year.  At current rates that represents about a $250-300 savings.  If you are installing ductless even though you have duct work but because your oil or gas-fired system is outdated or inefficient, the savings will be more modest and are hard to predict given changes in oil, gas, and electric prices relative to each other.  Even more savings than the above will be found by those homeowners who are merely using ductless for cooling if they have instead been using window boxes that are often on and scattered throughout the house.

Cost of Ductless Air Conditioning and Timing

Like many other home improvement products, the installation of a ductless minisplit central air conditioning system in your home will likely be more expensive when there is more demand.  Installers are busier and can charge more, manufacturers may be rolling out the newest models, and in general the cost of home improvement goes up in the warm months.  So does this suggest that you should put off your installation until the fall in order to save on the cost of ductless air conditioning?  Not necessarily.

The first and most obvious reason not to put off your ductless installation is comfort.  Sure you could put off the installation until the fall, but even if it might save you a few hundred dollars you should ask yourself whether it might still be worth it to have comfortable cool air filling your home all summer.  Break it down by day, and assume for example that there might be 50 days where you will use your ductless system and suddenly the per day cost of ductless air conditioning comfort is not so bad.

Dig a little deeper and there may be even more compelling financial reasons to pay the cost of ductless air conditioning now instead of waiting.  If the alternative is using expensive energy consuming window boxes, you may end up saving part of the additional cost by installing an energy-efficient ductless system.

One tip: If you wait just a little while into summer – wait out the spring and the first few hot days of summer, you may find that so many people (who did not read this post!) have decided to put off their ductless installation in order to save money that you might actually find a minisplit (or non-split) installer who will give you almost the same price as s/he would have in the fall or winter.

Cost of Adding a Heat Pump

Many people continue assess the cost of ductless air conditioning for their cooling efficiency and potential.  This makes sense, since homes without ductwork almost always need a source of heat of some sort.  So with an existing source of heating but a desire for air conditioning, homeowners look to ductless air conditioners as the answer.  And for many, this is the right solution and no other expenditure is necessary.  However, it should be noted that adding a ductless heat pump element to the air conditioning system can be quite inexpensive.  In some cases just a few hundred dollars more can get you a ductless heat pump along with the ductless air conditioner you’ve installed.  And the larger system is not in fact that much larger, so that is usually not an obstacle.

The above suggests that even if you have a home heating system and are just looking for ductless air conditioning, it still may be worthwhile to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of your existing heating system.  It may be a good idea, if you are installing a ductless air conditioner anyway, to add a heat pump.  You might make this decision in order to augment the heat you already have or replace it completely.  For reasons having to do with operational cost, noise, functionality, or even in some cases aesthetics, you may want to move to this new form of heating.  And its possible that certain tax credits and other incentives will be boosted or maybe only available with the installation of a heating system.

It would make sense in almost all cases where a homeowner or small business owner is looking into the cost of ductless air conditioning to at least inquire about the added cost of a heat pump as well.  You may be quite surprised at the low difference in price and the potential added efficiency of heating your home this way.

In all, there are comparisons you need to make with conventional systems, savings you need to consider depending on how you are cooling your home now, and comfort factors that all need to go into figuring the overall cost of ductless air conditioning.

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