Mini-splits have recently seen their popularity increase due partly to rising interest in eco-friendly technology for the home. They are hugely efficient compared to fossil fuel or electric resistance heating and have the benefit of being able to both heat and cool your house.
Thanks to their high efficiency, their running costs are low. Still, critics point to the relatively high initial price of the units themselves as a reason to think carefully before buying.
As you’ll see in the rest of this article, the sticker price of the units is not the only upfront cost you need to consider.
Labor costs make up a significant proportion of the overall initial cost of a mini-split system, and you might be surprised at how these differ from company to company and between different projects.
We’ve researched the labor costs published by some top companies online and analyzed what we found to bring you a representative range and typical average labor cost.
Read on to find out more about the cost of labor to install your mini-split.
If you’re interested in learning more about the cost of running a mini-split, read our article on that subject, here.
How Much Does Labor Cost to Install a Mini-Split?
HVAC technicians typically charge between $75 and $120 per hour for the installation of mini-split systems in the US. The total cost of labor is very project-specific, but you should expect to pay $800-$1,700 to install a single-zone system and $3,500 or more for a multi-zone system.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of labor costs and what drives them, let’s briefly remind ourselves of the different elements of a typical mini split installation.
What Is Involved in a Mini-Split Installation?
The main elements of a mini-split installation include:
- An outdoor unit mounted on the wall or ground outside the house
- One or more indoor units, which are also called air handlers or head units
- Line sets to convey the refrigerant around the system
- Electric cables
- Power supply cables
- Communication cables
- A condensate drain to remove the condensate from the units
- Conduit to keep the lines tidy and to protect them from weather and pests
A mini-split system is permanently installed in your home to provide heating and cooling all year round.
The system comprises two main parts—an outdoor unit containing the compressor and one of the coils, connected to one or more indoor units by line sets and electrical cables.
The indoor units are called air handlers or head units and are typically hung on the wall inside the home.
Electric Cables for Mini-Splits
The electric cables run between the head units and the outdoor unit through a three-inch hole in the wall. These cables provide power from the outdoor unit to all the interior head units and facilitate communications between them.
When the head unit inside the building wants to start blowing warm air into the room, it sends a signal to the outdoor unit via the communication cable, which tells the compressor to start up.
In addition to the cables mentioned, you should know that mini-split heat pumps must be on their own dedicated circuit.
This is a requirement of the National Electrical Code (NEC) to prevent problems caused by overloading circuits that have multiple appliances running, which can cause circuit breakers to trip repeatedly.
Mini-Split Refrigerant Line Sets
The refrigerant in the line sets is pumped around the system, collecting heat energy from outside the building and making it available inside. There it is transferred to the room when the head unit blows air across the condenser coil, which heats up before being distributed by the fan in the head unit.
In cooling mode, this process is reversed, and heat is collected inside the home and moved outside.
We’ve written an article that details line sets and refrigerants, which you can read here.
Mini-Split Condensate Drain
A drain is required to carry condensate away from the head units, routed through a hole in a wall into the sewer or storm drainage piping.
The drain is usually a 5/8 inch PVC or vinyl pipe, which is flexible and easy to install.
Factors That Affect Labor Cost of Installation
As we’ve covered, there are several different parts to a mini-split system, which all need to be connected appropriately.
Labor costs for installing a mini-split are cheaper than for a central air system, mainly due to the absence of ductwork, which is labor-intensive to install.
Mini-splits simply must have a hole drilled in the wall and the line sets, cables, and drains fitted. This installation is much more straightforward and results in labor costs of perhaps half what you would have to pay for a ducted system.
Some of the other factors that affect the overall cost of labor on a mini-split installation include:
- Kind of installation of the outdoor unit
- Type of indoor head unit to be installed
- The extent of the electrical work required
- The distance from the outdoor unit to the indoor unit
- Is the installation company accredited and certified to install mini-splits?
Let’s have a look at these factors in a bit more detail.
Type of Mini-Split Unit
There are decisions about the type of units you want to install and how you want them to be installed.
For example, your outdoor unit can be ground or wall-mounted. Although the difference in labor cost between these two options is likely negligible, there might be more involved in creating a platform for a ground-mounted unit.
In contrast, a wall-mounted unit just needs to be attached to the bracket that comes with it and is likely to be quicker to put up.
The more considerable difference in labor cost will probably be in the indoor units. For example, a ceiling cassette will be recessed into the ceiling, requiring a hole to be formed and the edges made good afterward.
A ceiling cassette will take more time than simply hanging a wall-mounted unit.
The Extent of Electrical Work
Mini-splits require their own dedicated circuit, and if the breaker panel is a long distance from the outdoor unit, this will likely bump up the labor cost because that’s more wire to run, more conduit to install, and so on.
The longer the distance between the outdoor and indoor units, the higher the labor cost, for the same reason.
There could also be an additional cost if there is no room left on the breaker panel for the new dedicated circuit. This outcome might result in your contractor having to install a new electrical service panel, which will undoubtedly take quite a bit of time.
Distance From the Outdoor to the Indoor Units
As mentioned, the further the outdoor and indoor units are from each other, the more electrical wiring must be run between the two.
Similarly, a more considerable distance between units will require the refrigerant line sets and drains to be run over longer distances. This process takes longer, mainly if the lines are to be enclosed with “line hide” or a similar type of conduit for protection and aesthetics.
Installing a mini-split on the second floor or higher will cost you more because you’ll need to run the wires and line sets further and will need work involving ladders. Also, your contractor will spend more time going up and down the stairs with materials and tools.
Typically, you can expect installation to cost 10-15% more on the second floor.
The Mini-Split Installation Company
Different installation companies charge different amounts for installing mini-split systems.
Sometimes you get what you pay for, and inexpensive firms are usually cheap for a reason. That reason could be that they are not licensed to carry out the installation of mini-splits.
We recommend always using a contractor who is licensed. Cutting costs by using an unlicensed technician means you can’t be sure of the quality or integrity of their work. It could even invalidate your warranty, so don’t cut costs by hiring someone not qualified to do the job.
On the other hand, firms that charge more are more likely to invest in proper training and suitable equipment to do the job correctly. They might also charge more because they are in a high cost of living area and need to price jobs higher so they can pay their staff a decent living wage.
A little-known fact is that some firms increase their prices when busy, so you could schedule the work during a less active time to save money.
Labor Costs for Mini-Split Installation
We’ve covered the different factors affecting the labor costs of installing a new mini-split system. Now let’s look at some figures.
Most professional HVAC technicians charge between $75 and $95 per hour to install mini-split systems. However, if you’re in a high cost of living area, you might have to pay $100-$120 per hour.
Ductless mini-split heat pump installation takes one to four days in a typical home.
To present the best overview of labor costs for installation, we have sourced expected labor costs from five of the top companies that publish estimates online.
We’ve taken an average of these costs and presented them below, broken down by the size of the system, based on the number of zones served.
Average Cost of Labor to Install a Mini Split Heat Pump*
|Number of Zones||Low End of Range||Average Cost||High End of Range|
*The actual cost of labor for mini-split installation varies from project to project. These costs are not a replacement for obtaining a proper quote and must not be relied upon for financial planning.
Mini-splits are a very efficient and popular means of heating and cooling your home.
The labor costs associated with installing a mini-split system vary according to several factors, such as the distance between the indoor and outdoor units, the extent of the electrical work required, and whether the installation is on the ground floor or higher up.
The hourly wage of HVAC technicians for the installation of a mini-split ranges from $75 to $120 per hour. This figure partly depends on the technician’s skill and whether he is licensed, but it can also be influenced by the cost of living in your area.
A single-zone mini split installation will likely cost around $1,200 in labor alone, which increases with the number of zones to be installed.
Don’t scrimp on labor costs. Doing it yourself or hiring a cheap installer might seem like an easy way to save money, but installing mini-split systems must be done right.
Otherwise, they will not run optimally and might suffer from breakdowns or decreased life expectancy. Incorrect installation could even invalidate your warranty.