Rise of the Mini-split - Page 3

Why is ductless HVAC so popular—and how does it fit into today's Eichler way of living?
In this Residential HVAC installation, the air-handler’s silver color and end-of-the-room positioning are pluses for room aesthetics.

Installation concerns

Once a homeowner finds a quality product, why can't installation just be another weekend do-it-yourself project?

"A lot of homeowners think they can do it themselves," says Rebholtz, "but these are not DIY projects. A lot goes into installing a system correctly. For instance, after pressure checking all the connections, all the moisture needs to be evacuated out of the line sets, then you put in a proper charge. Unfortunately, [with DIY] we see these things under-charged, over-charged, and a lot more."

Adds Sainz: "You don't know how many homes I've gone to where the homeowner bought a unit at Costco and tried to install it himself—opened valves, spilled refrigerant. If you don't know how to work on these homes, it can be a disaster."

Selecting a qualified Eichler installer is something we can't stress enough. Start by referring to manufacturer recommendations and the Network's service team.


Sound & aesthetics

The word out there is that mini-splits are comfortably quiet, though the final verdict should be left to the ear of the beholder.

According to Mitsubishi, their high-end 'GL' series offers wall-mounted indoor units with "whisper-quiet operation…as low as 19 decibels, the lowest noise levels in the industry."

Fujitsu reports that their systems "allow for a peaceful inside atmosphere with noise levels as low as a human whisper," with indoor units operating in the 35 to 70 decibel level, or 'library range.'

"Another benefit of a mini-split is that depending upon what speed you put it on—three speeds or four—the high [setting] is only 44 decibels," says Rebholtz. "A great example is that you and I talking [on our phones] measures at 68 decibels—so consider that comparison."

Even though today's mini-splits bear no resemblance to the 'rooftop eyesores' of HVAC's past, mini-split indoor air-handlers and outdoor heat pumps do make their presence known and can impact the appearance of their respective settings.

We've seen indoor air-handlers strategically hidden away in hallways, and outdoor pumps relegated to low-traffic side yards, but that may not be enough 'out of sight' for some homeowners. For sure, any aesthetic concerns should be addressed prior to installation.

Rebholtz indicates that Mitsubishi offers a designer series that minimizes the appearance of wall-mounted indoor air-handler units.

"Typically, interior wall units are a standard beige color," he says, "but the designer series also offers them in glossy black, glossy white, and matte silver. And they're also a little bit flatter, measuring 12 inches high and 30 inches across [and wider]."

Mitsubishi's heat pump is installed outdoors, six inches away from the house. Rebholtz explains that "it only has a 12- to 14-inch footprint…and is 20 inches wide, the standard size."

Fujitsu's standard indoor unit is a white, wall-mounted model installed four inches below the ceiling. The indoor wall units for their Halcyon series are approximately 33 to 39 inches wide and 10.5 to 12.5 inches high. Limited color variations are available.

For Eichler air-handler installs on dark-colored interior walls, consider seeking out equally dark units—browns, blacks, grays—for a compatible look. In addition, some air-handlers—Mitsubishi's FSZ-EF series and particular models among Fujitsu's Halcyons, for instance—are designed with squared-off edging for a more modern appearance

For those unsure about aesthetics and sound-level acceptability, inspecting installers' mini-split system installations prior to purchase may help to put concerns to rest.

Both experts caution that heat pumps are designed to be installed outdoors and elevated, not indoors or in a garage, as they condensate water and need air circulation.

Outside Mitsubishi installation, tied to a whole-house system by Residential HVAC.

Basic system costs

To present an idea of what a fully installed mini-split system may cost, here are two typical basic scenarios: (1) a single zone system, with one indoor and one outdoor unit, can run $6,200 and up; (2) a multi-zone system, with five indoor units and one outdoor unit, will price out on average $20-25,000 total.

Of course, there are a number of possible variables to take into consideration on an install that can affect price. For instance, "distance of the refrigerant lines from the outdoor to the indoor unit, and distance from the electrical to the outdoor unit" impact labor and materials, Rebholtz says. Other variables are electrical upgrades, and the complexity of gaining access to install indoor units.

And of course "cost of installation depends on the number of zones [desired]," adds Sainz. "Some Eichler owners only want [to heat and cool] the master bedroom and living room. Others want to condition the whole house...some request two heat pumps."

Research is a critical component when purchasing a mini-split system. Don't underestimate your needs for the sake of cost and wind up with an underpowered system that may need to run longer than necessary to achieve desired temperatures.

Inspections & cleaning

Mini-split systems are equipped with filters that continuously clean indoor air, eliminating smells, allergens, and dust particles. To maintain long-term efficiency, most installers recommend performing annual inspections, as well as routine cleaning of both the inside and outside units.

So if you've been considering supplementing your home's heating and/or cooling capabilities, ductless mini-split technology may be an investment worth looking into. With its versatility, unique features, energy-efficiency, and shift away from gas energy, the mini-split is an attractive option and a path towards a cleaner environment.


• For additional mini-split information, visit energy.gov and search 'ductless mini-split air conditioners' to find more tips regarding mini-splits and other cooling systems and options

Photography: courtesy participating system manufacturers and installers



Alternative HVAC Solutions
San Carlos • alternativehvacs.com

Ventwerx HVAC Air Conditioning and Heating
Morgan Hill • ventwerx.com



Residential Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc.
Campbell • residentialheating-ac.com

DG Heating & Air Conditioning
San Jose • dgheatingandair.com

Downing Heating, Inc.
Novato • downinghvac.com

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