Skip to content

Are Ductless Mini-Split Systems Cheaper than Standard AC Units?


United States homeowners spend a combined $29 billion annually running air conditioners. The type of air conditioning system you choose will impact the cost of installation and operation.
Central systems are the most common in the United States, with mini-split systems being another popular choice. But which of these HVAC systems is cheaper?
Several factors determine the cost of an air conditioning system. Read on for everything you need to know about comparing AC unit costs!

How Standard AC Units and Mini-Split Systems Work

Before we compare the costs of different HVAC options, let’s first examine how they work. Understanding the way the system functions will help you understand which one may be a better fit for your home.
A standard AC unit, also called a central system, uses one indoor unit that is connected to ductwork throughout the house. An outdoor compressor removes heat from the air in the house and emits it outside.
A ductless mini-split system operates similarly to a central system. It uses one or more indoor units and an outdoor compressor.
Where a mini-split differs from a standard unit is that it doesn’t rely on ductwork to distribute cool air. Rather, each room requiring cooling is equipped with an indoor unit.


Cost: Standard AC Unit vs Mini-Split

There are two costs to consider when comparing standard and ductless AC systems: installation and operation. While one system may be cheaper to install than another, the operation costs may outweigh the savings over time.

Installation Cost

Generally, mini-splits cost less than central systems to install. This is because central systems require ductwork, which is expensive and complicated to install.
In some cases, however, central systems can be cheaper to install. If your home is already equipped with ductwork, you would just need the unit installed. For particularly large homes, the cost of ductwork may be less than the cost for the number of units you would need with a mini-split.

Operation Cost

Operation costs depend on several variables regardless of which system you choose, including:

-Size of your home
-Energy efficiency
-How much the system runs

In a large home, a central system will often cost less to run than a ductless mini-split. Since a mini-split requires multiple units for a large home, it can potentially use more energy than running one central unit. In a smaller home, however, a mini-split will cost much less than a central system to install and operate.
You can compare systems’ energy efficiency by checking their SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio). EER is a ratio of how much cooling power a unit has to how much energy it consumes. Typically, a unit’s SEER is shown as a number between 11 and 14, with higher numbers indicating better efficiency.
Another big factor that determines operation cost is how much you run your air conditioner. It’s more expensive to run your system constantly, so try not to let the system run when you don’t need it.
Long-term cost is also affected by the cost of maintenance and repair.
A central system requires maintenance for all the ductwork as well as the unit, which can be more expensive than a smaller split system. But a ductless mini-split system with several units requires maintenance for each one whenever a technician visits. Be sure to ask your HVAC service provider about the maintenance costs of different systems to make an informed decision.

Other Factors to Consider

In addition to cost, you should keep a few other things in mind when selecting an HVAC system. You may consider a more expensive system if it better suits your needs.

Home Layout

Some homes simply aren’t designed for certain kinds of AC systems.
Older homes often aren’t suitable for ductwork installation without being heavily modified. This makes the installation of a standard unit impractical, and a mini-split system may be the only option.
Similarly, mini-split systems have to be mounted on an exterior wall in order to be connected to the outdoor compressor. If you don’t have the space to mount the unit on an exterior wall, a split system may not work for your home.


Central and split systems each have pros and cons regarding aesthetics. This aspect all comes down to preference.
A mini-split’s outdoor compressor is much less noticeable than that of a central system. However, the indoor unit is wall-mounted, and therefore very conspicuous.
On the other hand, a central system will mostly be invisible inside the home, apart from the vents and thermostat. Some people prefer not to have a central system’s large and noisy compressor in the backyard.


While a central system can often be more energy-efficient, you may find a mini-split cheaper if you live in a cold location. If you don’t need to cool your home for most of the year, a mini-split with one or two units may be all you need.

King Heating, Cooling & Plumbing provides HVAC and plumbing services throughout the Chicago and Northern Indiana areas.

Can I Install My Own System?

You may be interested in buying the equipment and installing it yourself. While this may seem like a good way to save money, we advise having professionals install your system.
You technically could install a system yourself. However, the cost of having a professional correct any mistakes could be more than just having them install the system.
Furthermore, a professional installer will know the best location and method to install and mount equipment. This can save you more money in the long run by increasing your system’s efficiency.

Mini-Splits vs Standard AC Units: The Bottom Line

When selecting your AC system, keep in mind installation and operation costs, which vary depending on your situation. In the end, the best way to choose between mini-split systems and a standard AC unit is to consult a professional.
If you still have questions about which system is right for you, contact us today for a free quote!