What to Look For
Ductless air conditioners are ideal for houses where building new ductwork would be cost-prohibitive. Like regular central air conditioners, ductless air conditioners are split into two main parts, an outdoor condenser and an indoor unit that handles the air circulation. If you're in the market for a ductless air conditioner, it's essential to check the BTU, or British Thermal Unit, rating, which measures cooling capacity based on square footage. On average, a single, 400- to 500 square-foot room will need between 9,000 and 10,500 BTU, so the higher the BTUs of your air conditioner, the easier it will be to cool the desired living space. In addition, look for units that have met the tough efficiency requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, designated as Energy Star products.
One of the biggest drawbacks to buying a ductless air conditioner is the cost. These units are priced higher than conventional window units and can run up to $2,000 for 12,000 BTU models. Also, it's important to find a qualified installer who will size each unit and select the best location for the installation. Oversized units tend to short-cycle, meaning they run for shorter time periods and fail to cool efficiently, leading to increased energy output and bigger power bills.
Where to Buy
Consumer Reports tested three units, each with 12,000 BTUs per hour, strong enough to cool a living space of approximately 650 square feet. They found the Mitsubishi MSA12WA, the Sanyo KS1271 and the LG LS122CE to be three great values, cooling well and making little noise. The Mitsubishi unit can be purchased online at Amazon, and both the Sanyo and LG units can be bought directly from the manufacturer's website, as well as from Home Depot and Amazon.
At $1,000, the LG LS122CE is the least expensive of the units, with the Sanyo KS1271 priced at $1,090 and the Mitsubishi MSA12WA a little higher at $1,200. This does not include parts and labor needed for a professional installation.
The U.S. Department of Energy gives every air conditioning unit a “seasonal energy efficiency ratio,” or SEER. This is measured by calculating a unit's BTU output over a year, divided by its total energy input. The higher the SEER, the more energy efficient the unit, and if you buy an air conditioner with a SEER of 16 or more, you can qualify for a federal tax credit of 30 percent, up to $1,500, on parts and labor for professional installation. Setting up a ductless air conditioner unit requires cutting a hole in your exterior wall. You must know where your electrical wiring is located and must have expert measurements for installing tubing from the outside condenser into the indoor unit. Unless you hire a licensed contractor to do the job, you risk improper installation.