Split Unit Air Conditioners Reviews and News
The defining characteristic of a split air conditioner is an outside compressor that exchanges cooling fluid with an inside unit. Traditional central air conditioning is of this type, but only one interior unit is involved. This page will focus on "mini splits." The basic set up is the same, but there can be several inside units linked to a single outside compressor. 1
There several advantages to split units, regardless of type. The main feature is that the compressor (and heat exchanger) is removed from the living space. This means noise is reduced and better airflow can be achieved. This second property leads to a gain in efficiency. These advantages are offset by having to pump refrigerant through tubes from the outside unit to each of the inside cassettes.
Since manufacturers are free to choose the features they wish to sell, including cooling capacity, some metrics have to be kept in mind when comparing brands. The SEER rating and cooling capacity are the main elements that determine price. For split air conditioners, the cooling capacity is given for however many indoor units are connected up. That means a rating of 2,400 BTU would offer 8,000 BTU each if split into three separate indoor units, or 12,000 BTU each running just two units.
Prices also do not include installation. Unlike central air conditioning systems, which have ductwork and connections to an existing furnace, these “splits” can be installed by homeowners who have basic skills. Whether or not a HVAC contractor is hired for the install will affect price, and if you are considering using a professional, it would be wise to seek their advice before purchasing. This is because they may have a relationship with one manufacturer or another and can offer add-ons (like warrantees or maintenance programs) not included in these prices.
One further consideration is the availability and price of the special lines needed to run refrigerant between units. Units generally come with 50 to 60 feet of line and buying additional line can be expensive. For example, Friedrich has a 35 foot line extension that runs over $200 and is not included in the base price.2
Pricing by Brand
Since most manufacturers offer sizes in the 12,000 to 24,000 BTU range, these have been selected in this comparison.
Friedrich 12,000 BTU3 – Highly reliable brand, used in many US government locations. This is a 20 SEER unit feeding a single indoor cassette. Price about $1000.00
Friedrich 22,000 BTU4 – At about $2,000, this unit must be installed by a licensed HVAC technician or the warranty will not be valid. It’s listed as 18 SEER, single zone.
Frigidaire 22,000 BTU5 – For the price and cooling capacity, this seems like the best deal (from $1,150 to $1,400). Unfortunately these units can be hard to find and there are complaints about not enough cooling line included at the base price. One customer claimed the manufacturer dropped from 20 feet down to 16 feet in the shipped version without notice. Listed as 18 SEER, single zone.
LG 11,500 BTU6 – LG has an excellent reputation, and their indoor units are noted for clean styling. This model is both an air conditioner and a heat pump (cooling only model phased out), single zone, with a SEER of 20. Customers liked the quite operation of both indoor and outdoor units. Price is reasonable for what you get: $1, 400. Dealers may require professional installation.
LG 22,000 BTU7 – Also a heat pump, the unit is rated at 19 SEER and prices out between $18,000 and $2,000. It appears that line is not included and may be a way to force a professional installation, although reviews indicate homeowners have installed the single zone unit themselves. As with smaller products, LG is noted for quiet operation.
Sanyo/Panasonic 11,900 BTU – With the marriage of Sanyo and Panasonic in 2009, units with the same model number may be listed under either brand. In some cases, outdoor units are sold separately, without lines, with the expectation that the purchaser will be a heating and cooling contractor who has access to the other elements needed. You can get an indoor and outdoor unit for about $1,050 (not including line set). SEER is listed as 17.8.
Panasonic 24,200 BTU – One of the few multi-zone products in this size and price range, the outdoor unit runs $2,250 and runs from two to four indoor units. It will malfunction if used to run only a single indoor unit and line is not included for this price. SEER isn’t impressive at 10.8. But even with these limitations, it’s a good brand with good reviews and adding in the other accessories still keeps the price attractive. The major disadvantage is the cooling capacity. Split into the maximum of four indoor units, that only gives about 6,000 BTUs each.
All of the units listed here were rated highly by consumers. LG wins on being the most quiet although none were particularly loud. Friedrich comes in as the most efficient overall, but the difference to operate any of these as far as electricity cost is very little (except for the energy hogging Panasonic 24,200).
Since it can be difficult to decide between brands, other considerations, such as warranty and installation become more important. When a licensed professional is needed for installation, they should be consulted before purchasing a unit – they may have a good reason for preferring one brand over another. Since installation is permanent, the size and location of indoor units is another consideration. Pictures and sizes of indoor units are available on the net.