Mini-splits have recently seen their popularity increase over the last several years. While they have been a popular system overseas, they struggled to gain traction in the U.S.
That has since changed, partly due to rising interest in eco-friendly technology for the home. But, the bigger draw for many homeowners is the promise of lower utility bills.
These systems 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. They have their own smart technology that allows the system to control its energy use while maintaining performance.
However, they can be expensive to install. But just how expensive are we talking?
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 U.S.
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.
Most companies charge a fixed price for installs. Meaning, they figure out the cost of the equipment, materials and estimate the labor charge based on previous installs.
Most mini split installations can be completed in a day. If you are installing a ducted system or have a large home and require two condenser units, then you could be looking at a multi-day installation.
What Is Involved in a Mini-Split Installation?
The main elements of a mini-split installation include:
- An outdoor unit mounted on the exterior wall or ground outside the house
- One or more indoor units, which are also called air handlers or head units mounted inside your home
- Line sets to connect the indoor units to the outdoor unit
- 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
- Checking the refrigerant charge and added gas if needed
- Verifying all indoor air handlers work on all settings
If you’re not familiar with mini-split systems, we’ll do a quick overview.
A mini-split system is an electric heat pump that is permanently installed in your home to provide heating and cooling year-round.
These units transfer heat from one area to another with refrigerant. And since they don’t have to create heat like an electric furnace does, they have much lower operating costs than other electric heating options.
The system comprises two main parts—an outdoor unit containing the compressor and one of the coils, called the condenser. The condenser is connected to one or more indoor units by copper line sets and electrical cables.
The indoor units are called air handlers or head units and are typically mounted on the wall inside the home. A mini-split system can have just one indoor unit, or it can have several to provide zoning.
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 one area and transferring it to another.
On heating mode, it collects heat from outside the building and makes it available inside. On cooling mode, it does the opposite and collects heat from inside and expels it outside.
We’ve written an article that details line sets and refrigerants, which you can read here.
Mini-Split Condensate Drain
The indoor units each have a drain for condensate. This drain typically follows the lineset through the wall and is piped down to the ground.
Factors That Affect Labor Cost of Installation
Some of the other factors that affect the overall cost of labor on a mini-split installation include:
- Brand, size, and model
- How many head units are needed
- The extent of the electrical work required
- The distance from the outdoor unit to the indoor unit
- Region-prices vary throughout the U.S. for both HVAC equipment and contractor pricing
Since your mini split installation is going to be tailored to your home and individual heating and cooling needs, it is going to be difficult to come up with an accurate estimate of labor costs for the project.
Location plays a big part in how much you will pay, both for labor and for equipment. In most cases, the contractor buys the mini split for you under their license.
In fact, reputable distributors will not sell equipment to homeowners. It is a massive liability for them if you install something wrong.
It’s also worth noting that your warranty may be void if you do a DIY install. Many warranties require a licensed company to do the work. They need to fill out their dealer and distributor numbers on your warranty information before you send it in.
Not to mention, mini splits require special adaptors to read the refrigerant pressures, so if you do a DIY install, you won’t be able to check the charge. As an HVAC professional, I’ve been on more than a few jobs where homeowners did their own work, and have seen disastrous results.
My advice is to call around to a few (at least 3) local HVAC companies and get detailed estimates from each one so you can compare your options.