A wooden container tiny home up against a wall that uses a mini-split system for HVAC

Mini-splits are an efficient and eco-friendly way to heat and cool your home, becoming increasingly popular among homeowners across the US.

These ductless systems are particularly well-suited for use in smaller structures such as mobile or “tiny homes,” where ducting installation is impractical. Their compact form has even made them a popular choice for RV owners.

By the time you’re finished reading this article, you’ll clearly understand the pros and cons of mini-splits compared with other alternatives and should be convinced of their suitability for mobile and tiny homes.

Are Mini-Splits Ideal HVAC for Mobile and Tiny Homes?

Mini-splits can provide your home both heating and cooling with the least cost of any HVAC currently available. They don’t require ducting, which takes up valuable space and are straightforward to install, making these units ideal for mobile and tiny homes.

If you’re still not convinced that mini-splits are the way to go for your mobile home or tiny house’s HVAC system, read on for more information to help you make up your mind.

Let’s start from the basics to understand what a mini-split is and what it can do for you.

What Is a Ductless Mini-Split HVAC System?

A mini-split is a type of heat pump capable of heating and cooling your home. They are comprised of an outdoor and an indoor unit, hence the term “split”—the system is divided across these two units.

The outdoor unit houses the compressor or condenser that, combined with the refrigerant fluid, does all the heavy lifting to cool or heat your home.

The indoor unit, called the “air handler,” head, or evaporator, is typically installed high on an internal wall and sends the conditioned air into the living space.

Mini-splits do not use ducts, and let’s face it, ducts in a mobile home or tiny house would be overkill anyway. Even in traditional houses, the mini-split is designed to work without ducts, which are unnecessary with this heat pump.

As their name suggests, mini-splits are small, just what you need for heating and cooling a tiny house or mobile home where space is limited.

The outdoor unit doesn’t take up much space and sits discreetly outside, close to your building. These outdoor units are similar in size to a standard air conditioner that you see outside homes all over the country.

The external component of a ductless mini-split
You can see the more modern and efficient mini-split HVAC system on the right side, as compared with the old clunkier bigger style on the left.

The indoor unit, where space is at a premium, particularly for those of us in tiny homes, is also very compact. These internal air handler units are typically a foot tall, two and a half feet wide, and eight or nine inches deep.

The high efficiency and compact nature of mini splits make them ideal for heating and cooling your mobile home, tiny home, or RV.

How Does a Mini-Split Work? 

A mini-split heat pump heats and cools your home using the refrigeration cycle, a scientific concept that describes the processes that occur during the operation of a heat pump or air conditioning unit.

According to the scientific principles set out in the theory of thermodynamics, heat always flows spontaneously from a warmer location to a colder area.

For example, if you leave your fridge door open, the warm air in your kitchen displaces the cold air in your fridge pretty quickly, eventually leaving you with warm beer and milk that smells like moldy cheese.

The refrigeration cycle allows the fridge to take heat from inside its cooling compartment (removing heat is the same as cooling) and exhaust it into the ambient air in your kitchen.

It does this by using electrical energy to power a compressor that pumps refrigerant fluid around its system, which changes from liquid to gas and back again, collecting and emitting heat as it goes.

A mini-split operates on the same principles, using electrical energy to move heat from the cold side of the system to the warm side with refrigerant that evaporates and condenses at different stages of the cycle.

An illustrated diagram of how a ductless mini-split system functions

In cooling mode, the heat is collected inside the home by the evaporator coils in the internal air handler unit. Warm air from inside the house is blown across the evaporator coils, which transfer its heat to the refrigerant.

The refrigerant then moves along the system’s refrigerant lines to the outside unit, where the compressor condenses it and releases the heat outside.

In heating mode, the system is reversed so that the condenser becomes the evaporator, and the evaporator becomes the condenser. This process means that heat is then collected from outside the structure and moved inside, where it is released to raise the interior temperature of the home.

What Are the Different Types of Mobile and Tiny Homes?

So far, we’ve focused on heating and cooling technology, but let’s turn our attention to the living space itself. We all have a mental image of a mobile home, RV, or tiny home, but what is the actual definitions, and what are their characteristics?

Would a mini-split be suitable for all these types of homes? First, let’s consider the key features of these different kinds of homes.

Mobile Homes

Mobile homes are prefabricated structures designed for people to live in, manufactured in a factory, and then mounted on a chassis. As the name suggests, they can be transported from one location to another by towing or the bed of a truck.

Mobile homes are generally a cheaper alternative to a traditional stick-built house. They are often installed in trailer parks, where the homeowner pays rent to the landlord, who would typically provide essential utility services such as electricity, sewerage, and water supply.

Exterior view of a brown mobile home

Mobile homes tend to be smaller than traditional stick-built homes, with an average square footage of 1,180 square feet.

If you would like to learn more about the options for renting or buying a mobile home, and avoiding some of the potential pitfalls, take a look at our article summarizing John Oliver’s feature on the subject.

Tiny Homes

Tiny homes are houses with a floor area of less than 400 square feet. Some are even as small as 80 square feet, which is truly tiny!

Tiny homes became popular following the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, which saw large numbers of people drawn to tiny houses to save money.

A tiny home can cost as little as $15,000 to build if you’re willing to do some of the work yourself. Running costs are also lower than a traditional house, with heating and cooling costing less because there is, well, less house to heat or cool.

The back "deck" area of a tiny home

The fact that they are more economical to run in terms of their carbon footprint also draws in people who want to be more eco-friendly. Having a tiny home helps you keep your eco-impact meager while also easing the load on your wallet.

If you’re considering a tiny home and would like to see some of the options available, why not check out our article on the top tiny home builders in Florida for inspiration?

Recreational Vehicles (RVs)

Most of us have a particular type of RV in mind when the term gets used, but several different types are available.

 There are three broad classes of motorized RV, denoted by the letters A, B, or C.

  • Class A: The most expensive type, which usually has six wheels, includes all amenities and costs upwards of $70k.
  • Class B: Often based on a van chassis, these are sometimes retrofitted to existing vans and start at $40k.
  • Class C: More truck-like in appearance, this type has a bunk bed area over the driver’s cab, offers more space than Class B but comes in at a similar price tag.

In addition to the motorized RVs, you can also get towable RVs, including fifth wheels and tent trailers that you can purchase more cheaply.

Why Are Mini-Splits the Best AC for Mobile Homes, Tiny Homes, and RVs?

The thing that mobile homes, tiny homes, and RVs all have in common is they are short on space. Yes, there are some huge RVs out there on the roads, but everything is relative.

The interior sleeping area of an RV

The average traditional home size in the US has 2,491 square feet, and these smaller homes are a lot smaller—easily less than half the size. In fact, an 80-square-foot tiny home is less than a third of the floor area of the average stick-built home in the US.

A smaller size does have the advantage of being less space to heat and cool, which keeps costs low and reduces the home’s carbon footprint, but it presents some challenges as well.

Let’s consider why a mini-split heat pump would be the best choice for more petite homes.

Mini-Splits Provide Heating and Cooling

If you own an RV, chances are that you’ll be touring around the country and could end up in very different climates.

It’s reassuring to know that your mini-split will be able to heat your RV during an Alaskan winter and later that year will have no problem mitigating the worst heat of a Texan summer.

Although less extreme, the variations between summer and winter temperatures in many parts of the country mean you don’t even have to change your location for the dual heating and cooling to yield benefits.

Thus, a mini-split in your mobile home, tiny home, or RV is a great idea no matter where you live.

Low Noise Level

If you’re living in the peace and quiet of the countryside, the last thing you’ll want disturbing your idyll is the mechanical whir of machinery. Fortunately, mini-splits are very quiet. The outdoor unit makes very little noise, and the indoor air handler is whisper quiet, too.

No Ductwork Required

With space at a premium in a mobile home, tiny house, or RV, you won’t want any of that space to be sacrificed for ductwork installation.

Mini-splits do not require ducting and are therefore an ideal way to heat and cool your RV, tiny home, or mobile home without taking up too much space.

High Efficiency

Who doesn’t like saving money while simultaneously saving the planet?

 Mini-splits have very low carbon emissions and are low cost, which should no doubt appeal to those living in these types of homes.

We have an article that goes into more detail on the cost of ductless mini-splits to help you decide if one is suitable for your home. Check it out here.

Easy Installation

The easy installation process for mini-splits makes them an attractive option for fitting into any home. Of course, manufacturers can provide these systems in the factory, but installation can be done very easily with minimal disruption if you need to retrofit it.

A technician adjusts the indoor component of a mini-split

Because no ducting is required, all you need is a hole drilled through the wall for the refrigerant lines and electrics. This keeps costs low if you have a contractor install your mini-split. If you are a competent DIYer, you can even do it yourself with one of the DIY-ready units available.

Final Thoughts

The popularity of mobile homes, RVs, and tiny homes has grown in recently, with some looking to expand their travel horizons while others seek to minimize the impact their lifestyles are having on the environment.

Whatever the motivation, these alternative homes are well suited to having their heating and cooling needs met by a mini-split HVAC unit.

The benefits provided to these kinds of houses include:

  • Both heating and cooling – perfect for homes that can move from one climate to another or where temperatures vary significantly from summer to winter.
  • Low noise – mobile homes have thinner walls than many houses, so low noise heating and cooling is crucial.
  • No ductwork is required – this feature cuts down on the square footage needed to be sacrificed for heating and cooling equipment. This is particularly important for small homes where space is at a premium.
  • Mini-splits are highly efficient, appealing to those looking for lower cost or more eco-friendly housing.

If you were in any doubt about why mini-splits are the best HVAC for mobile homes, tiny homes, and RVs, we hope this article has helped show you why this is the case.

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