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Mini-split – DIY or bring in a pro? Frustrated with quotes

Canada_Deck | Posted in General Questions on

EDIT TO ADD:
After posting this, the forum auto-recommended a number of related articles.  It sounds like $4000 is about “market” for this job.

It also sounds like it is possible to do this as a DIY but many people just bring in a pro since it’s not something you do often enough to justify the investment in skills development and specialized tools (although some brands may be possible to install without those tools…) and it’s nice to have the warranty on the work.

However, does anyone have any specific recommendations for which model of mini-split to buy given the nameplate that I have shown in my attached picture.  The main constraint is that I want to plug it into a 15 amp 120V electrical circuit.

*******************************

I’ve got a mini-split that is old and broken.  Nameplate attached.  The outside unit is on a balcony and plugged into an exterior outlet that is connected to a dedicated 15 AMP breaker.  The inside unit is directly on the other side of the wall (tubes just need to run about 8 feet long to reach the top of the wall.)

I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to go about this.

My opinion is that this isn’t complicated.  An AC company should be able to find a similar unit (12,000 BTU, runs off a plug into a 15 AMP circuit) and the installation should be a simple drop-in taking less than a day for a single technician.

I don’t have any AC tools or experience working with refrigerant and so I wanted to get someone else to do this.

However, I’m having a hard time getting a reasonable proposal.  I keep getting quotes from people who want to upgrade the electrical (to a 240V or a larger breaker on the 120V) and the prices seem high.  I don’t want to mess with the electrical; I just want to replace the broken unit with an equivalent model.  Everyone seems to be having a hard time finding a similar unit and they seem to be padding the amount of labour that is involved by a fairly large margin.

An example of a quote I received was $3800 (Canadian) for parts and labour for this job but that does not include repairing the drywall or running the electrical wires through the apartment (which would be a nightmare and maybe not even possible.) Does that seem high?

Should I consider just buying the unit online and doing a self-install or is that not a practical idea as a one-off DIY project?

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Replies

  1. Debra | | #1

    I'm getting quotes for over $6,000 - and that doesn't include the cost of an electrician installing the wiring for it. There's no good reason it should cost that much!

  2. Josh Durston | | #2

    Going 120v is going to severely restrict your options and eliminate some of the best options.
    LG makes some 120v mini splits.
    But, refrigeration work is not DIY, and there is no tolerance for improper techniques or skipping steps especially with modern equipment.
    Seems odd for a tenant to pay to install a permanent mini split in an apartment. What about just putting a window shaker in, or a portable?

  3. User avatar
    Dana Dorsett | | #3

    In the US a 1-ton 115V "Mr. Cool DIY-12-HP-115A" runs about $1350 (refrigerant lines included) at Home Depot (and maybe cheaper elsewhere), and is specifically targeted at DIY installers.

    A 1 ton 115V Gree LIVS12HP115V1B is less than a grand (even at HD), no linesets, not quite as DIY idiot-proof as the Mr. Cool.

    Both of those are heat pumps (not cooling-only like the Chigo).

  4. Canada_Deck | | #4

    Thanks All.
    @Debra: Darn that sounds expensive! Hope you find a reasonable option.

    @Josh Durston:
    I fully agree that running 120 is stupid in this case and it should have been wired with 208 by the developer when the built the building (I'm 208, not 240 in this unit since I get my second phase off a three phase transformer). However, that is how the place was wired up and trying to run a 208 V circuit to this location from the breaker panel would require some fairly serious surgery so I just want to do a simple replacement. I've seen a bunch of 1 ton 120V units online but the local HVAC companies say it's very hard to find them. I will take a look at LG as that seems like a trustworthy brand.
    The room that I am putting this in is only 350 sq ft and the climate is very moderate (extremes are about -5 to 32c or 23 to 90 f) so I could probably even downsize a little.
    Re tenant: I should clarify. I own this unit (so condo or townhouse is probably the right word) but I do share the walls and ceiling and I am in a strata so my options for deviating from a simple replacement are limited.
    Re "refrigeration work is not DIY, and there is no tolerance for improper techniques or skipping steps especially with modern equipment." Interestingly, that is why I am thinking of doing DIY. I've had some bad luck with contractors doing shoddy work and cutting corners. I am leaning to finding a pro but also educating myself enough to hold them accountable.

    @Dana Dorsett: Thanks for those suggestions. Not sure if they are available in Canada but I will take a look. Are you sure the Chigo was only cooling? Why does it mention "heating current input"?

    1. User avatar
      Dana Dorsett | | #5

      >Are you sure the Chigo was only cooling? Why does it mention "heating current input"?

      Got fooled by the term "Room Air-Conditioner" at the top of the label. It is in fact a heat pump, sold under a few different brand names:

      http://www.allairaircon.co.za/Pages/ProductCatalogue2/Documents/Midwallsplit_29768_4622.pdf

      http://www.thermospace.com/shinco/Inverter_Service_Manual.PDF

      I'm pretty sure Gree is avaiable from multiple sources in Canada, less sure about Mr. Cool. I

      The LG LS120HXV believe is a 115V model, runds about USD$1000, if there's more support for them locally than the others.

      None of these are "cold climate" minisplits- both efficiency and capacity takes a dive when it's colder than -5C.

      Are you sure you need/want a 1-ton for a condo?

      Since the Chigo model number is still current, it may be possible to buy parts and just repair it.

      1. Canada_Deck | | #8

        Not sure I need/want a 1-ton for a condo. And note that because of the layout (it's actually a two level townhome), this will only be used for half of it. About 350-400 sq ft. I was just going for a simple replacement and assuming the person who put it in had done some calculations.

        I'll consider a repair. You can see how I got here: 11 year old unit that looks like garbage and wasn't taken care of by previous owners. It has failed for unknown reasons and I'd be paying a lot of money for a tech to troubleshoot. If this was any other 11 year old no-name appliance, I'd replace it.
        Now that I'm down the rabbit hole, I do see the argument for revisiting the idea of repairing it.

        1. User avatar
          Dana Dorsett | | #10

          At 11 years of age it might be repairable, but it's probably at or near the end it's anticipated lifecycle. A new first tier brand name Japanese mini-split should be good for 15-25 years, and is usually warranteed for 10. Many of the lower- end Chinese units are using components sourced from lower cost countries (Vietnam is the source of a lot of equipment to Chinese refrigeration & heat pump manufacturers), not always with the highest manufacturing tolerances or quality control standards.

          If/when shopping for a new one, pull the AHRI submittal sheets or technical documents and take a look at the MINIMUM moduated output. Lower=better.

          Almost all 115V 1-tonners have a 3/4 ton younger sister for less money. Even a 3/4 tonner is going to be oversized for cooling/heating a 400' space unless it has an unshaded floor to ceiling glass wall facing west.

          Of the Chinese manufacturers, Gree and Midea have the best reputations. I'm not sure who builds Mr.Cool. LG is a top tier Korean manufacturer, and while they too are likely sourcing components from lower cost countries, their once spotty quality control seems to have improved over the past decade. I believe Samsung (a Korean company) are all manfactured by Midea these days.

          If going for a new 230V version, Mitsubishi's half-ton cold climate minisplit is pretty good, modulates down to about 1600 BTU/hr, but can still deliver 8700 BTU/hr @ -15C, and 6400 BTU/hr @ -25C, which is likely enough minisplit for any 400' condo space south of Churchill Manitoba. It's 3/4 ton sister has the same minimum modulation but quite a bit more heat, if you are in a particularly cold location.

    2. Trevor Lambert | | #6

      Where are you? I can't imagine where or when what you've described as your electrical service would meet any Canadian code.

      Can you elaborate on this 208V second phase set up? It sounds like you have a single 120V phase. And then... a 88V second phase to total 208V? Or a completely independent 208V phase? Either one seems like it wouldn't work with a standard stove or dryer.

      1. Canada_Deck | | #7

        Hi Trevor,
        In a typical single family detached home, you receive two 120V (aka 115) lines that are 180 degrees out of phase. By connecting across those two lines, you get 240V.
        In a typical commercial or multi-unit building, the building receives three phase power and individual units receive two of the three phases which are 120 degrees out of phase. By connecting across the phases, you get 208V.
        This is very typical across North America and most appliances are able to work with either. If you look at electric hot water tanks, you will often see two numbers for their wattage - one based on connecting to a 240V system and the other for connecting to a 208V system.

        The part is more annoying in this situation is that:
        A) They decided to run 120 up to the AC instead of spending a handful of extra dollars to run 208 (but it may cost a massive amount of money to try to run the appropriate wiring for 208v after the fact)
        and
        B) They skimped on the breaker and only installed a 15 amp instead of 20 amp.

        That's really backed me into a corner.

        1. Trevor Lambert | | #14

          Most water heaters, not sure about most stoves and dryers. I found a lot of people complaining about having to deal with 208V service. Anyway, it looks to me like the 208V is a single phase. In that case, all you need to do is find a heat pump that will run on 208V/15A. Then you just move the wires in the panel from 120V to 208V. Unless the 120V and 208V are in separate panels, in which case it's more work.

  5. Zephyr7 | | #9

    As long as the unit is on a dedicated circuit it’s easy to upgrade to 240v (or 208v). All you do is take the neutral (white wire), tag it with black or red tape on both ends, and switch out the single pole 120v breaker for a double pole 240v breaker. It’s maybe a 10-15 minute job for any competent electrician. Walking from one end to the other is the slowest part of the job. Note that if the existing 120v circuit is shared then you can’t do this upgrade.

    Evacuating and charging refrigerant lines takes a lot longer to do, so usually they let the vacuum pump run and go take lunch. It’s a several hour job.

    If you want to do a DIY install, run the lines, hang the units, then hire a mechanical contractor to do the refrigerant charge. It should be under $1,000 unless they need to provide Refrigerant.

    Bill

    1. Canada_Deck | | #12

      Hi Bill, Good idea.
      I figured that the rules for the wiring would probably be the same as for a dryer outlet and I'd have to run three wires and a ground (a dedicated neutral line and two hot.) I'll look into the local codes in more detail to see if I have the option of running this without a dedicated neutral. I'll also take a look at the gauge of the wire to see if I have the option of upgrading the breaker to 20 or 30 amps. Either one of those options would give me more room to work.

      1. Trevor Lambert | | #15

        It's not a code issue, it's determined by what the appliance requires. My oven required a neutral, because it uses electronics that run off 120V. My cooktop didn't need the neutral, because the company served a market that runs everything off 240v. As long as the device being serviced has the required lines, no code is going to tell you how many wires need to be in the cable. If you get a European or Asian brand, it will likely not need a neutral. Not sure about the 208V part though, as compressors can be kind of picky when it comes to voltage. I'd be very surprised is they ran bigger wire than 14/2, if that's what they thought was needed. Builders don't really care about any future needs, and running bigger wires is more expensive (materials, plus it's more difficult to work with).

        1. Canada_Deck | | #16

          Yeah.... I think it might be a code issue if I left it as a receptacle (as it is now.. I'm not sure if code would allow me to install a 208V receptacle without a neutral) but if I hardwire it then I should be fine.

          1. Akos | | #18

            Zhepyr is correct. You can just reuse the exiting wiring provided you mark the white wire with red tape or paint. The 240V AC units don't need a neutral connection, so you don't need 3 wires plus ground, similar how a water heater is wired.

            Also most units are meant to be hard wired, here it is against code to put a cord with a plug on them. You will have to add in a disconnect in line with the power (wire should run from the existing junction box to un-fused disconnect to AC unit)

          2. Trevor Lambert | | #19

            240V receptacles with no neutral are common, can't see why 208V would be looked at differently. I suspect you'd use the same receptacle, which is a 6-15R (rated 250V, 15A). I think it's kind of odd to have an HVAC unit on a plug and receptacle, especially outside anyway.

  6. User avatar
    Walter Ahlgrim | | #11

    Canada_Deck please tell us your name.

    Trevor 208 3 phase power is becoming more common all the time. It is very common for small commercial buildings and large homes.
    http://www.oempanels.com/208v-single-phase-and-208v-3-phase

    I think it is very likely the OP could change the voltage from 120 to 208 single phase for his outdoor unit without replacing or adding any wires, as the unit should be on a dedicated circuit.

    Refrigeration work done correctly requires lots of expensive tools and equipment. I think you could find someone that would allow you to do most of the work and have a pro to make up the copper.

    Walta

    1. Canada_Deck | | #13

      Hi Walter, Roger is my name.

    2. Malcolm Taylor | | #20

      Walter,

      I'm pretty sure the OP doesn't have a three-phase panel, the building just takes it's power from three-phase lines. We do the same on my road.

      If the breaker is 15amp, chances are it's a 14/2 wire. I don't see how you use that to get 208 volts and still have a neutral for the controls?

  7. Peter L | | #17

    Last year I installed a 1 ton Mitsubishi heat pump/AC ductless mini-split. Cost me $1,500 from an authorized dealer for the unit. $100 for the electrician and $150 to install. Outdoor mounting pad & refrigerant line cover was $100. Out the door price was $1,850 or let's round it off to $2,000

    Shop around. Quotes of $4k or more is just highway robbery.

  8. Jon R | | #21

    A key to easy DIY is a pre-charged line set.

  9. Zephyr7 | | #22

    It is common to use NEMA “6 series” (6-15, 6-20, etc) receptacles for 208v devices. The receptacles are actually rated as “250V”. Most motors used for 240v are actually specced for 208-240v or so, 208-230 is a common range. Motors aren’t the same as light bulbs. It’s unusual for a blower or compressor motor to have a problem on 208v supply voltage, but it would be worth a quick check with the manufacturer just to be safe.

    There really is no reason for any 240v equipment to use a neutral. Stuff that needs a neutral is usually just using it for a light bulb or control stuff. It’s cheap/lazy design work. Controls can easily run on 240v with a simple transformer change or different rectifier configuration in a switching power supply. No, these aren’t changes you can make yourself. I’m an engineer and it bugs me to see manufacturers require dumb things like neutrals on 240v equipment that really shouldn’t need it. Anyway, enough venting :-)

    Most HVAC equipment that runs on 240v should be ok without a neutral, and should also be ok running on 208v service. Details will be in the install manual for the equipment.

    Bill

  10. Canada_Deck | | #23

    Thanks All,

    Lots for me to go through here for next steps. Let me just ask one more question on this: I obviously want to be able to properly test the device once it is installed to make sure it works well (heating and cooling.). Are there limits on how cool/hot it should be outside when I get it installed? A typical day right now is around 5 C (41F). Should I wait until we reliably get daytime temperatures of 18 C (64 F) to be able to properly test both modes on the day they install it?

  11. James Millar | | #24

    I think your conclusion about it not being worth the tools for a one-off is accurate. I installed mine DIY, but I have the advantage that I'm an auto mechanic, and I have the flaring tools for lines, the pump and manifold set, etc. If I didn't have that, I wouldn't try to do another, even with the experience. Just not worth the price, unless you want to go into the business!

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