I’m guilty- A few weeks ago I embodied the rookie homeowner calling around to Air Conditioning companies on the first hot day of the year. I’d been putting it off for months, actually for years. We decided to forego central air during our South Philly row home renovation, because we didn’t want to lose precious inches to duct work. We’ve lived with window units, but I’m maxed out.
I know that ductless mini splits are the solution- they are an efficient option because they are truly zoned. There are so many different manufacturers and models though that my online research didn’t get me very far. So I met with five HVAC technicians, in person, at my house. I can’t believe how different their opinions, and prices, were. Since I spent so much time gathering this info, I wanted to share it. Most South Philly row homes are very similar, so perhaps my learnings will be applicable to your home as well.
BRANDS: Mitsubishi is known as “the best” in mini split units, but really they were just the first. They were not the preferred manufacturer of any of the techs I met with and would run me about $2k more. Other brands that came recommended: Goodman, Carrier, and Samsung.
RECESSED VS WALL MOUNTED: The units that recess into the ceiling are prettier but problematic. Every single tech steered me away from them. They need an extra pump that requires extra maintenance (and an access panel to be able to reach it aka an extra hole in the ceiling) and have a high likelihood of leaking. They all said “only if it’s a drop ceiling.”
WALL PLACEMENT: Installation is much less complicated if the unit is placed on an exterior wall. The unit still has to connect to an outdoor compressor (on the ground or on the roof), so you save a lot of cutting-into-walls by choosing to put the mini split on an exterior wall.
Choosing an exterior wall of course isn’t possible in every room. For instance, in our front bedroom the exterior wall options are the front of the home or the roof, but he only spot for the unit is on an interior wall. This is where the tech’s had wildly different opinions.
SIZES: Mini split units come in different sizes and strengths. We opted for one smaller unit in each bedroom and one larger unit for the entire first floor, for three units total. We have fans in all rooms. We decided to do one compressor outside on our “half roof” in the back, since it’s easier to get to that height than to the top of the house if it needs to be maintenanced. Multiple techs said that maintenance is more expensive if they have to bring a larger ladder…
EXTERIOR EFFECT: You will end up with drain lines running down the back or side of your home. Every quote included covering these lines neatly with some type of black plastic material, but only one tech was up front with me about the costs that this covering adds- $1,000. Worth it? Not sure yet.
PRICE: Quotes came back from $9,000-$14,000, for the same number of units. The higher quotes were from the larger companies with fanicer websites. In order to save, we reached back out to see if they would entertain the idea of letting us do some of the pre-work ourselves. To our surprise, both small and big companies were open to it.
CONCLUSION: If you find your dream row home and the only thing it’s missing is AC, add about $10k-12k to the price. If you've already purchased the home, you can look into different types of loans like a streamline 203K. This adds the cost of the AC into your mortgage instead of taking it directly out of your bank account. We can put you in touch with trusted mortgage companies that specialize in these types of loans.