Suffering through a hot summer may seem inevitable to those with basements or garage workshops not serviced by a central HVAC system. Those with older homes that lack ductwork might also dread the warmest months. Ductless air conditioners present a solution for beating the heat without going through an expensive ductwork retrofit.
Ductless air conditioners feature a condenser that sits outside the home and an air handler that mounts to the wall inside. These powerful AC units pump out up to 34,000 BTUs (British thermal units) of power, which is enough to cool more than 1,400 square feet of space. Many also feature heating functions, making them helpful for keeping a room warm in the wintertime and cool in the summer.
Determining the best ductless air conditioner on the market depends on the unique needs of each home. This guide explores what factors are crucial to consider when shopping for one of these innovative machines. Choosing the top picks involved in-depth research into the specifications, features, and customer reviews for each product. We examined the top-selling products available, comparing the features—and, equally important, customer reviews—to come up with our list of favorites.
- BEST OVERALL: Senville SENL/24CD Mini Split Air Conditioner
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Della 12,000-BTU Mini Split Air Conditioner
- BEST FOR LARGE SPACES: Pioneer Diamante Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioner
- BEST FOR SMALL SPACES: Cooper & Hunter 9,000-BTU Ductless AC/Heating System
- BEST FOR GARAGES/BASEMENTS: Olmo Alpic 9,000-BTU Ductless Mini Split AC
- BEST QUIET: Pioneer 9,000-BTU Ductless Mini Split Inverter
- ALSO CONSIDER: SereneLife Home SLPAC12 Compact Home Air Conditioner
How We Chose the Best Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioners
We researched the best ductless mini split air conditioners in a variety of categories and chose models with high customer satisfaction. The list factors in cooling power, coverage, noise level, operating modes, and special features included by the top air conditioner brands.
The majority of the top picks offer 9,000 to 36,000 BTUs of cooling power and cover spaces ranging from 400 to 1,500 square feet. We focused on models with quiet operating volumes below 40 decibels. The selected ductless air conditioners have multiple cooling modes for different user preferences, including energy-efficient and sleeping modes. Some models also have a heat pump included and double as a heater. Additionally, we prioritized models with special features such as smart technology compatibility and remote controls.
Our Top Picks
The list below takes into account the above considerations to narrow the field when searching for the best ductless mini split systems on the market. Since each shopper’s needs differ, this list is categorized by size, value, and specific features.
With its ability to heat as well as cool, a sleek design, and ultraquiet operation, this ductless air conditioner is one of the best all-around units on the market. It boasts 24,000 BTUs, which allows it to heat or cool an area up to 1,250 square feet. It’s also one of the quieter models on the market. When operating in its whisper-quiet mode, it produces just 35 decibels, which is about the same level as a whisper.
The unit operates via a remote control that includes multiple settings. A timer allows you to set a shut-off time. The sleep mode slowly increases the room temperature through the night. Other settings include a turbo setting that runs the system at full power to quickly cool off the room.
- Dimensions (indoor unit): 13.19 inches high by 42.52 inches wide by 8.90 inches deep
- Cooling power: 24,000 BTUs
- Coverage: Up to 1,250 square feet
- Noise level: 35 decibels on quiet mode
- Powerful, quiet, and versatile model with high energy efficiency for home or commercial use
- Multiple cooling settings allow automation to suit different work and leisure routines
- Smartphone app allows control from anywhere, with voice compatibility via Alexa
- Poor instructions and the need for 230-volt supply make DIY installation challenging
Get the Senville ductless air conditioner at Amazon.
Quiet operation, ample coverage for its size, and some impressive user features make this unit from Della an excellent option for those looking to cool a room or garage on a budget. Despite its comparatively low price, this model still packs a punch with its 12,000-BTU output, which is enough to cover 550 square feet. A remote control allows you to adjust the temperature settings and features a wide range of modes, including sleep, energy saving, and “follow me,” as well as a 24-hour timer. It senses the temperature at the remote, thus responding to where the user is rather than other room conditions.
Somewhat surprisingly given the low cost, this Della unit also has Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing control via app or integration with Alexa for voice control. It also offers excellent energy efficiency. It’s a little louder than some at 41 decibels, though it could hardly be called noisy.
- Dimensions (indoor unit): 11.5 inches high by 31.18 inches wide by 7.91 inches deep
- Cooling power: 12,000 BTUs
- Coverage: 550 square feet
- Noise level: 41 decibels
- Offers a highly competitive feature set at a remarkably competitive price
- Provides both heating and cooling from 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 90 degrees Fahrenheit
- Handheld remote with smart sensor, plus phone app and Alexa voice control
- Some buyers found instructions confusing, and others thought the Wi-Fi was temperamental
Get the Della ductless air conditioner at Walmart.
This ductless air conditioner is powerful enough to cool an apartment or sizable unfinished garage. Its 36,000 BTUs are enough to cool up to 1,250 square feet. A remote control with an LCD display controls temperature and various operating modes. Oscillating louvers help circulate air evenly through the room, while energy-efficient settings work to keep operating costs down.
This model also includes a whisper-quiet function that allows it to run under 40 decibels. With its built-in heat pump, this mini split air conditioner can also provide warmth in colder months. Yet in addition to being one of the more powerful ductless air conditioners on the market, this ductless air conditioner is also one of the largest.
- Dimensions (indoor unit): 14.25 inches high by 47 inches wide by 10.25 inches deep
- Cooling power: 36,000 BTUs
- Coverage: 1,250 square feet
- Noise level: 38 decibels on lowest setting
- High performance device provides energy-efficient heating and cooling in home or commercial settings
- Provides temperatures from 61 to 89 degrees Fahrenheit plus multispeed ventilation and dehumidification; comes with remote control
- Discreet LCD display on the unit for visual temperature feedback
- Requires a considerable investment, and although a Wi-Fi module is available, it costs extra
Get the Pioneer Diamante ductless air conditioner at Amazon or The Home Depot.
Cooling a smaller space, such as a bedroom or den, doesn’t require a system with a high BTU output. This smaller model, with its 9,000 BTUs, is enough to handle up to 400 square feet. And at just 31 inches wide, it’s also one of the more streamlined ductless mini splits. In addition to a remote control, this WiFi-ready model can be controlled via a smart device. It also includes most of the same features as larger units, including a turbo mode for fast heating or cooling, a sleep mode, and a 24-hour timer. Horizontal louvers allow you to direct airflow.
This air conditioner also features several helpful auto-maintenance features, including an auto-clean option that prevents mildew from forming inside the unit and an auto reset for power outages.
- Dimensions (indoor unit): 14 inches high by 31 inches wide x 10 inches deep
- Cooling power: 9,000 BTUs
- Coverage: 400 square feet
- Noise level: 22 decibels on lowest setting
- Provides ideal cooling and heating provision for spaces of up to 400 square feet
- Useful features include auto clean to reduce mildew and auto reset after power outage
- Offers multifunction remote control and is Wi-Fi ready (additional module at extra cost)
- Must be professionally installed, and a variety of fault reports suggest inconsistent quality control
Get the Cooper & Hunter ductless air conditioner at Amazon.
When selecting a mini split air conditioner for garage or basement use, we sought a model that offered competitive performance at relatively low cost. It didn’t need Wi-Fi connectivity or smart-home integration, but it had to offer energy-efficient cooling and heating. The 9,000-BTU Olmo Alpic fulfills all those requirements. It is also relatively compact, comes with a multifunction remote, and, on the lowest setting, runs at just 26 decibels. A fan delay function continues to run after the external condenser has stopped, thus extracting maximum effect from the coolant still flowing through the device.
While Olmo does not provide a rating for effective area, based on industry standards we can assume it’s somewhere between 350 and 400 square feet. That makes it just about ideal for a standard double garage of 20 feet long by 18 feet wide (360 square feet). While basements can be larger, more powerful versions of the Olmo are available at equally competitive prices.
- Dimensions (indoor unit): 11.22 inches high by 28.15 inches wide by 7.64 inches deep
- Cooling power: 9,000 BTUs
- Coverage: 400 square feet (see description above)
- Noise level: 26 decibels on lowest setting
- Compact, budget-friendly heating and cooling system ideal for garages and basements
- Fan-delay function increases energy efficiency by maximizing the refrigerant’s cooling effect
- Anticorrosive coating offers improved weather resistance for the outdoor condenser unit
- Although a fitting kit is included, instructions are confusing and DIY installation is not recommended
Get the Olmo ductless air conditioner at Amazon.
Most mini split systems are known for low noise, but at just 25 decibels, this Pioneer model is among the quietest AC units on the market. Even at its highest speed, it only reaches 38 decibels, which some experts compare to the sound in a library. With 9,000 BTUs available, it can cool or heat an area of up to 350 square feet, and there’s also a dehumidifier function. Although Pioneer’s renowned quality doesn’t come cheap, the price is still competitive. It is Energy Star certified for lower utility bills
Among the impressive feature set are auto mode to maintain user-set comfort levels, night mode that dims the LCD and silences operating sounds, a timer, and auto restart after a power outage. A wireless remote offers easy control of functions. A Wi-Fi module is available to work with smartphones and home systems like Alexa, though it does cost extra.
- Dimensions (indoor unit): 11.42 inches high by 28.43 inches wide by 7.36 inches deep
- Cooling power: 9,000 BTUs
- Coverage: 350 square feet
- Noise level: 25 decibels on lowest setting
- High-quality air conditioner that really lives up to the “whisper quiet” billing
- Variable-speed DC inverter that is Energy Star certified for low power consumption
- Provides heating, cooling, ventilation, and dehumidifying with convenient wireless remote control
- A few owners have reported freezing of the condenser
Get the Pioneer 9000-BTU ductless air conditioner at Amazon.
For users who have multiple rooms in the home that require cooling only when in use, this portable AC unit might be a better option than one installed in a specific room. This 12,000-BTU unit from SereneLife produces enough cold air to cool a 325-square-foot space, making it ideal for bedrooms, bonus rooms, or a single garage. It has three operating modes, including cooling, dehumidifier, and fan, and has louvers that automatically move to oscillate air back and forth.
A convenient remote control allows you to set the temperature, program the automatic shut-off timer, and adjust fan-speed settings. Its small footprint takes up little space, and its casters allow you to maneuver it from room to room. Portable indoor units tend to be a little louder than mini split ACs, though the SereneLife operates at a tolerable noise level of 55 decibels.
- Dimensions (indoor unit): 28.7 inches high by 14.2 inches wide by 17 inches deep
- Cooling power: 12,000 BTUs
- Coverage: 325 square feet
- Noise level: 55 decibels
- Portable AC unit with wheels is easy to move to wherever cooling is required
- Multiple cooling/fan settings plus dehumidifier rated for 1.8 liters (0.47 gallons) per hour
- Convenient handheld remote can control temperature, fan speed, and program automatic shutoff
- Offers modest cooling capability, no heat, and is louder than most fixed units
Get the SereneLife ductless air conditioner at Amazon or The Home Depot.
What to Consider When Choosing a Ductless Air Conditioner
A ductless air conditioner is best suited for cooling an individual room. This might be unfinished space, such as a basement or a garage that functions as a workshop, or it might be a particular space, such as a bonus room, that is significantly cooler or hotter than the rest of the house and may benefit from its own cooling system. Keep in mind that for whole-house air conditioning for a large home, the better choice may be a traditional central air conditioning unit. But for an individual room or small house without existing ductwork, a ductless air conditioner may be the best solution.
Space Size and Zones
One of the most important factors to consider when shopping for a ductless air conditioning unit is zone design. Ductless air conditioning units, also commonly referred to as ductless mini splits, are available in single-zone and multi-zone units. Single-zone units are for cooling one room, while multi-zone units are for cooling multiple rooms. Multi-zone units have an outside compressor and up to four indoor air handlers placed in different rooms of the home. Some multi-zone units are capable of cooling an entire apartment or even a small house.
Most multi-zone units can cover up to 2,600 square feet, while most single-zone units can handle between 500 and 1,400 square feet.
Just as with window-mounted AC units and space heaters, a ductless air conditioner’s power is measured in BTUs. The greater the number of BTUs, the more cool air the air conditioner can produce. The power requirements for a ductless air conditioner depend on several factors, including the space’s square footage, the quality of insulation in the home, and even the climate in which the house is located.
Generally speaking, cooling an area of about 400 square feet requires a ductless air conditioner with about 10,000 BTUs of output, while cooling an area of 1,200 square feet requires a unit with about 21,000 BTUs.
Climate and a home’s energy efficiency also play a role in how well a ductless mini split performs. A house in a hot environment needs an air conditioner that produces more BTUs than a similarly sized home in a region with milder summers.
Likewise, a ductless air conditioner will more easily cool newer homes with energy-efficient windows and insulation than an older home that may lack these features.
As with a central AC system, ductless air conditioners use filters that protect the unit’s mechanical parts from dirt and clogs. These filters are also effective at cleaning the air in a room by filtering out contaminants such as pollen and dust. Unlike home HVAC systems, which use disposable filters, most ductless air conditioners have cleanable filters. Simply remove the filter, rinse it out with water, and place it back in the unit. This design helps to reduce cost by eliminating the need to purchase replacement filters every few months, which can get costly.
In the same way that many AC units double as heat pumps for central HVAC systems, many ductless air conditioners also have a heating function. This allows them to provide climate control in a home year-round, thereby eliminating the need to have separate appliances to perform heating and cooling tasks. Ductless air conditioners use heat-pump technology to create warm air. The heat-pump function typically mirrors the BTU output and coverage of the cooling function. However, keep in mind that a heat pump may not be adequate for warming in a room in regions that experience subzero temperatures.
Just as with central AC units and window AC units, ductless air conditioners use a condenser to cool air. These condensers are fairly loud at around 50 decibels, which is similar to the sound of a normal conversation. Since the compressor is located on the exterior of the home, as opposed to in the window, noise is typically not an issue with either a central AC or ductless air conditioner unit’s compressor.
Ductless mini splits and central AC systems have air handlers that use fans to distribute the cool air created by the compressor throughout the home. Most central AC systems, however, place their air handlers (which can be rather loud) in the attic, eliminating the noise issue.
A ductless air conditioner’s air handler is mounted to the wall in the room it is cooling. Since it does not need to distribute air throughout a house, a ductless air conditioner uses a much smaller fan than a central AC air handler. This smaller fan operates at a quiet noise level of about 40 decibels, which is the sound of a whisper. Some ductless models feature even quiet settings that allow them to operate at levels as low as 35 decibels.
One advantage ductless air conditioning units have over window AC units is that they are more aesthetically attractive. Window air conditioning units are an effective means of cooling a room, but their boxy shape and position in a window can detract from the aesthetics of a home.
In comparison, air handlers for ductless mini splits are inconspicuously placed on the wall near the ceiling. They also feature streamlined designs that allow them to fit more seamlessly into the room. Most ductless air conditioners measure 10 to 12 inches high by 30 to 40 inches wide by 6 to 8 inches deep.
Putting in a ductless air conditioner often requires complicated tasks, such as brazing together copper lines and wiring high-voltage lines, making professional installation a must. However, some models are designed for DIYers. These ductless mini splits don’t require special tools or complex tasks and come with detailed instructions designed specifically for DIY installation. This can save hundreds of dollars in installation costs. Labor costs for installing a ductless air conditioner range between $300 and $1,000, depending on the type of installation, according to HomeAdvisor.
Ductless air conditioners come with multiple modes that make them easier to use. A “follow-me” mode uses the unit’s remote control to detect the room temperature. Most ductless mini splits have 24-hour timers that allow you to set the air conditioner to shut off after a certain amount of time. Sleep mode slowly increases the temperature through the night for optimal comfort. Turbo modes rapidly cool or heat a space and are ideal for units that provide climate control only during use, such as a garage. Whisper-quiet modes can reduce the noise of the unit’s air handler to as low as 30 decibels.
If you’re wondering about how a ductless air conditioner works or how durable these units are, then read on for answers to these and other commonly asked questions about these appliances.
Q. How does a ductless air conditioner work?
The most significant difference between a ductless mini split AC and a standard central AC system is that a ductless air conditioner does not use ductwork. Instead of having to pump cooled air through the entire house via a series of ducts, a ductless air conditioner simply pulls air in from the room, cools it, then sends it back into the same room.
Q. Are ductless air conditioners durable?
Generally speaking, they are more durable than a central AC unit. When properly maintained, a ductless air conditioner will last about 20 years, which is more than the 12- to 15-year lifespan of a central air conditioner.
Q. How do I clean my ductless air conditioner?
Unrestricted airflow is key to the efficiency of a ductless air conditioner. Therefore, its filter should be removed and cleaned periodically. The condenser coils on the exterior unit also require maintenance. First, turn off electricity to the unit and allow the coils to cool for about an hour. Then wipe them down with a soft, dry cloth.
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