If you’re in the market for a new low-cost home air conditioning system, you may be wondering if it’s better to buy a ductless mini split vs window unit.
While both systems are designed to cool the air in a specific room or area of your home, they differ significantly in their installation, cost, and cooling capacity.
In this guide, we’ll compare and contrast the ductless mini split vs window AC systems so your decision between the two devices can be a better informed one.
Ductless Air Conditioner and Window Unit Buying Guides
If after completing this guide you’ve decided which air conditioning unit will make the most sense for your situation, you can head over to our individual buying guides to find recommendations on each system.
Here are links to our best mini split AC unit buying guide and our top rated window air conditioner buying guide.
On those pages, you’ll get a rundown of the best models on the market, complete with reviews, and advice on how to both properly size a system best suits your needs and budget.
Ductless Mini Splits vs Window Units: What Are They and How Do They Work?
Window Units Explained
One of the most distinctive features of window air conditioners is that they are self-contained appliances. This means all of the cooling elements are housed within the unit itself.
Sitting inside the boxlike structure is a double shaft motor equipped with two fans—one next to the evaporator which blows cool air into your home, the other by the condenser that sends hot air outside.
As its name implies, a window AC is installed within a window and is specifically designed to cool just one room or small area of a home.
Aside from basic functions and features, there are window units available with more advanced features like Wi-Fi capabilities, digital thermostats, and multi-directional fan vents.
A window AC unit’s cooling capacity and energy efficiency can also vary significantly from model to model, and these differences will be reflected in the system’s price.
The cooling capacity can be determined by looking at the device’s British Thermal Unit (BTU) number. The BTU will give you an indication of the size of the space that the unit can effectively cool down. Obviously, the higher a window AC’s BTU number, the more expensive it will be.
To get an idea of how the BTU number relates to the cooling capacity of a window unit in terms of room size in square feet, here’s a sample chart:
- 5,000 BTU = 150 sq. ft.
- 8,000 BTU = 350 sq. ft.
- 9,000 BTU = 400 sq. ft.
- 10,000 BTU = 450 sq. ft.
- 12,000 BTU = 550 sq. ft.
- 14,000 BTU = 700 sq. ft.
When it comes to the energy efficiency of a window AC unit, you’ll need to check out its Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) and look for the ENERGY STAR label.
EER is a trusted energy efficiency rating for air conditioners initiated by the U.S. Department of Energy. You should aim for an EER of at least 12 when buying a window air conditioner.
Earning the ENERGY STAR label means that a device meets the stringent energy efficiency guidelines as set out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. ENERGY STAR window AC units are much cheaper to operate than air conditioners that don’t have this certification.
See all of Amazon's Best Selling Window AC Units
Ductless Air Conditioning Explained
Like window units, ductless air conditioning systems are designed to provide cooling to one specific area of your home.
They’re also known for their high energy efficiency ratings.
But, this is where the similarities end.
A ductless mini split system has two main elements: an outdoor unit, called a compressor, that contains a condenser coil and several electrical components; and an indoor unit, called an evaporator, that usually sits on your wall or is mounted on the ceiling.
The indoor and outdoor components are connected by a thin line of two copper tubes. The coolant moves through one tube from the outside compressor to the internal evaporator, while the hot indoor air is transferred through the adjacent tube to the outdoor unit where it’s eventually released.
Many models also come with a heat pump function which means that the system can also work in reverse to heat your home in the winter.
Ductless mini split air conditioners will generally give you more flexibility and cooling capacity than a window AC unit.
For example, you can have multiple indoor evaporators working off of the same outdoor compressor, and the temperature for each indoor unit can be separately adjusted to your cooling needs.
See all of Amazon's Best Selling Ductless AC Systems
Ductless Mini Split vs Window AC Unit: The Pros and Cons
With a mini split vs window unit, each setup has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. When choosing between the two air conditioning systems, you need to consider these differences.
Here’s a rundown of the most important factors to think about before making a purchase:
Window AC Unit Pros
One of the biggest benefits of the window unit is its affordability. While the cheapest units can cost about $100 (or even less), and the most expensive devices up to $2,000 (and more), the average cost for a window air conditioner is generally between $150 to $500.
Of course, the exact price will vary depending on a number of factors, such as the cooling capacity, energy efficiency, features, and the brand.
But as mentioned above, one of the best things about window air conditioners is that they’re incredibly energy efficient.
While the monthly expenses of operating a window AC will vary depending on the size of the machine, its cooling capacity, and energy efficiency rating, these appliances can cost as little as $0.52 per day to operate on average.
Window air conditioners are the perfect choice if you’re looking for an efficient cooling system without the expense and hassle of a professional installation.
Even if you have only the most basic technical skills and tools, you should be able to install the unit yourself.
The basic process involves placing the window AC unit onto your window sill and then securing the unit in place by tightening a few screws in a special bracket.
If for some reason you would like to hire a technician to install your window unit for you, then the cost is likely to be around $150.
Since window units are designed to fit inside your window, this type of air conditioner doesn’t take up any space in your home or clutter your wall, like ductless AC and other cooling options including portable air conditioners and fans.
This a big plus if you live in a small house or want to cool a tiny room.
Window AC Units Cons
Limited Cooling Capacity
While window units are a cost-effective cooling system, they’re designed to cool down only one small to moderate-sized room.
The most powerful window air conditioner on the market is a 25,000 BTU unit, which can comfortably provide about 1,600 square feet of cooling coverage.
To cool off a bigger space or your entire home, you would have to install multiple units.
It should be noted that your window air conditioner has to be correctly sized for the space that needs cooling. If you get a unit that’s not strong enough, it won’t properly cool down the area. If it’s too big, you’ll overpay on your electricity bill.
Though some window air conditioners can provide both heating and cooling for your home, it’s generally not a good idea to keep a window AC installed during the cold months if you live in extreme temperatures.
Extreme weather conditions such as snow, ice, frost, and sleet, can cause damage to the outside face of the unit as well as the inner elements.
Leaving the unit installed can also allow a cold draft of air into your home.
Therefore, you’ll need to remove the unit from the window and store it during the winter.
Lost Window Access
One of the downsides of having a window unit is the partial loss of a window. With a window unit installed, it’ll block out some sunlight and prevent you from opening the window to enjoy the fresh outside air.
Even the best budget air conditioner in a portable unit takes up floor space, which you may not want in your home or apartment.
Ductless Air Conditioners Pros
Relatively Easy Installation
Since ductless mini split AC systems don’t require extensive ductwork in your ceiling or floors, they’re relatively easy to install.
All you need is a small hole in the wall so the refrigeration line can run through. Though installation requires professional assistance, it can be done for a single-unit system in about 2 hours.
Great for Temperature Zoning
As mentioned above, one ductless mini split system can support multiple evaporators, each of which can be installed in different rooms.
Since each air handler can then be controlled independently, it allows for temperature zoning—meaning that different temperatures can be maintained in different parts of your home.
Low Operational Costs
Since air conditioning is limited to the rooms in which the air handlers are located, it can lead to big cost savings on your electric bill.
With a ductless mini split AC system in place, you can cool down only the areas that are currently in use.
Many ductless mini split models also have the highest energy efficiency ratings compared to other types of air conditioners.
Ductless Air Conditioners Cons
Higher Initial Investment
Your initial down payment will be higher for a ductless mini split vs window AC.
Some of the most advanced ductless systems with multiple indoor evaporators can easily cost you a few thousand dollars. Single room units can cost as little as $700 for th components.
You should also factor in the cost of professional installation, which can be between $1,000 to $3,000 on average.
While a window unit can be installed and removed with relative ease, ductless mini split systems are a fixed cooling solution.
Even though you could technically remove the components, it’ll take some work and you’ll incur another installation fee.
These systems are also more susceptible to damage since the refrigeration lines are not meant to be wrapped and unwrapped over and over again.
The Need for Space
A ductless AC typically requires that a box unit be placed on an inside wall. This means you need space for it, and you may find it to be aesthetically unattractive.
While some models can be mounted to the ceiling, the fact is that these ceiling cassettes can double or triple the installation cost.
Deciding Between a Ductless Mini Split vs Window AC
Now that you know how each cooling system works as well as the main differences between them, let’s focus on three key considerations that will help you decide which setup is really the best match for your needs:
- How important is the cost factor? If you’re on a very tight budget, then a window unit is going to be the cheaper option, not only in terms of the purchase and installation but also the operational costs.
- How likely are you to move the system? Window air conditioners are perfect for non-permanent residences, such as apartments or dorm rooms, since they can be installed anywhere that there’s a window. It can also serve as a temporary cooling solution for a bedroom or living room in a single-family home. Ductless mini split systems, on the other hand, are meant to be a more permanent option and are the best for houses and homes in need of temperature zoning.
- How big is the space you need to cool? Ductless systems can cool several areas at once and also offer a bigger cooling coverage, whereas with a window unit you’re really limited to one small area.
In summary, when it comes to the choice between a ductless mini split vs window unit AC, the best option depends on your circumstances, such as the space you need to cool and your available budget.
Now that we have come to the end of our guide, you should now have a clear idea of which cooling option is best for you.
As a reminder, we have two free helpful buying guides linked at the top of this post. Check those out to learn more about each individual system and to see the top recommendations for high-quality units.