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Ducted vs ductless minisplit cost

Nat_T | Posted in Mechanicals on

I’ve got a design from a mechanical engineer and just starting to get pricing and it’s way over what I had budgeted for.

There’s a single mitsubishi 30k condenser. Inside I’ve got a ducted cassette at ground and 2nd floor. The duct runs are fairly short. At the ground level after coming out of the cassette there’s about a 3ft run North and 3ft South (return from West). Unit on the 2nd floor is directly stacked above the ground unit. That one has about 12ft duct run North with 2 90’s and a 12ft run South with 1 90.

I’ve got a pretty limited market of installers here but so far getting North of $30k installed which was much more than I expected (around 2x what i expected). It looks like the condenser and ahu’s add up to maybe $7k in material. Not sure how to estimate the ductwork and other material but I can’t imagine it’s more than $2k? How much labor is involved in installing a system like this – even if I allot 4 to 5 days x 2 guys I’m nowhere near the prices I’m getting.

Obviously a ducted system will be more than a ductless but what order of magnitude should I be expecting? If it’s $10k to run 4 ducts then I’ll switch to ductless. I’m having a hard time getting anyone to give me the difference unless I give them a new design and they re-quote the entire thing.

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  1. MattJF | | #1

    Those quotes seem high to me. I haven't seen a bunch of ducted quotes and have DIY'd all my ductwork.

    Where are you located?

    In zone 5 and below, Fujitsu 12RLFCD or 18RLFCD will be more efficient and comfortable than a Mitsubishi multi split setup. The multi split setups don't allow the indoor units to modulate, which makes them less comfortable and less efficient. You would need two outdoor units, but they will be fully modulating and cost less overall.

    The only concern with the Fujitsu units is they don't have a pan heater, which means you need to watch them if you are in a notably cold location.

    Is this new construction? How many SF and what are the insulation levels like? The 30K btu equipment spec would be in the right ballpark for a standard 2x6 2400SF house at a 0 deg design temp. If you are smaller, better insulated, tighter than average, or warmer you can probably go with a bit smaller equipment.

  2. Yupster | | #2

    I might suggest you post the design for GBA members to look at. :) That sounds very high to me, a furnace and A/C with a full house of ducting usually costs $20,000 around here, and that's in Canadian dollars!

    If it's going into an existing house, I could see room for a large cost variation.

  3. Nat_T | | #3

    New construction, Zone 5, 2x6 house with better than code insulation but nothing super insulated or sealed. It's about 1200 sf floor plate so 2,400 for 1st and 2nd. We'll have a partially finished area in the basement for guests (~600 sf) with a ductless unit down there - left that part out. The 30k unit was intended to cover that downstairs unit when in use but assumes that it's rare and the odds of it being in use one the coldest days is slim. I will inquire about the fujitsu but then I'd need 3?

    I wasn't asking so much about the overall design - more of the relative costs of ducted vs ductless. These guys don't break it down and aren't keen on digging into their prices. If I attempt to back out the labor price based on my estimates of material it seems wild but I don't really know what's involved in install - probably more than I imagine but still hard to see it involving enough man hours to justify the cost. If it's really the ducting then I'll live with seeing heads and nix the ducts.

    Is a ducted system in the realm of diy? For this labor costs it seems like even if I completely butchered it I could do it all a 2nd time and still be ahead.

    1. Expert Member
      Akos | | #4

      What I found works best is to get the ducting installed separately and only have the install of the unit quoted. A 2 zone mutil should be around $7k Canadian installed. Ducting is hard to say, I usually do it myself, but it is not magic, pretty straight forward.

      You definitely want a ducted unit for bedrooms. For an open living space wall/floor mount work well unless you have big windows.

      If this unit will be for heat and cool, I would go one to one, not a multi split. Much better efficiency and more forgiving on over-sizing.

    2. bfw577 | | #9

      "Is a ducted system in the realm of diy? For this labor costs it seems like even if I completely butchered it I could do it all a 2nd time and still be ahead."

      They are not difficult to install and hvac companies are making a killing with their outrageous install prices. In the rest of the world they are cheap disposable appliances that are cheap to install. Costo and Walmart sell them on the shelves in Mexico for $500 and it cost like 100-200 bucks to install one for example.

      I self installed 3 12k units myself. I paid $1k for a 12k Midea Premier Hyper heat delivered to my house. I can still buy 3 more Mideas for the price I was qouted of a professionally installed 12k Mitsubishi. To me the massive savings was worth the risk. So far 2 years later I have had no issues with any of them. They already saved me enough on heating oil that they paid for themselves. I am powering them off solar so my payback was fast.

  4. MattJF | | #5

    We can do a more detailed analysis if you post more details or the manual J.

    How much better than code are you? Any exterior insulation?

    An 18RLFCD will work for the first floor. Depending on the insulation levels and exact design temp a 12RLFCD will work.

    A force air electric unit could do the basement, although I bet you could make it work with some supply off the first floor. One technique would be to under supply the basement from the first floor unit and have the electric heat make up the difference.

    A 12RLFCD will almost definitely cover the second floor.

    Oh and Akos is right about quoting on the the unit install. Say you are doing the ducting. Then if you want, ask them to add the ducting cost so you get the breakdown.

  5. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #6

    Cold climate single zone ductless tends to run $3.5-4K/ton in competitive bidding in my area, ducted about $4.5-5.5K/ton depending the duct design. With multi-splits it's usually a bit more.

    Taking a worst-case and calling it $6K/ton, at 2.5 tons you'd be looking at $15K, all-in, not $30K. Maybe the contractors aren't very hungry, or they're nervous-newbies concerned about losing money by having to do everything twice, or they really don't want the business.

  6. Nat_T | | #7

    Dana - Thanks, that's exactly the ballpark estimate I was looking for. I'm in upper Hudson valley ny, so similar climate to you but i'm in a somewhat rural area so limited competition. I had budgeted 15k assuming it may be up to 20k. These guys don't want to break it down - I'm guessing because it will make the labor price look nuts. Maybe I need to expand my search - I assume for that kind of money there are some guys willing to drive a bit.

    For my own estimating how long does it take to install a system like this (roughly) - am I estimating 2 guys x 3 days or 3 guys x 5 days etc.

    Matt F - I have a strange feeling of disloyalty to my mechanical engineer by posting his calcs. I've got confidence in him, I was mostly concerned with getting ballpark pricing to see what is driving it (ducted vs ductless or just general ripoff). More info: new construction, 2 floors + basement @ 1200sf per plate, vented attic, R10 underslab, R20 basement walls, R30 framed walls (using zip-r + batts), r60 attic. No particular targets, hope to hit 1.5 ach range.

    Mechanicals are not my thing so trying to get up to speed here. Can you explain what is meant by the units fully modulating if I go one to one. Assuming I want to keep the basement as its own zone (its set up like an in law apt with separate entrance etc) I would need 3? My mep engineer originally said he was going to study 3, 2+1, and 1 - I can circle back with him as to why we ended up with one but would be good to know what I'm asking.

    Is it realistic to do the ducting myself and if so where does there scope leave off - they install the condenser, hang the ah's, hook it all up and I take over from there?

  7. MattJF | | #8

    I don't think your engineer was way off, more that you are in the territory where there are some advantages to downsizing the equipment. I don't know your area super well, but design temps look to be in the 2-9F range. I have a spreadsheet to do a quick load calc, U .39 walls, U .30 windows 17%, 152ft of walls per floor at 9ft tall. For heating and it puts you right around 24kbtu/hr for everything at 2f outside. Reality will actually likely be less. Details of your design, like if the basement is walkout will affect the load.

    Modulating is the ability for the system to reduce output while continuing to run and not shutting off. This generally provides improved comfort and efficiency as there are losses at startup and shutdown of the compressor. The multisplit systems do not allow the indoor units to modulate, they cycle on and off. The outdoor compressor modulates as indoor units turn on and off.

    At -5F the Fujitsu units will put out the following while modulating down to 3100btu/h:
    3/4 ton 14kbtu/h
    1 ton 15kbtu/h
    1.5 ton 18.6kbtu/h

    A reasonable option would be to use one unit to do the first floor and basement and a second to do the upstairs. For the basement there are a couple ways to address the fact that load will vary through seasons differently than the first floor. There are ways to make a thermostat controlled damper work if the ductwork is designed for it. This is a "slaved" damper without the ability to call for heat specifically, but that works because when it is cold, the modulating systems are running. The simpler way I mentioned before is to duct part of the load and make up the rest with electric resistance. The basement load probably something like 4kbtu/h unless there are a lot windows. You can turn off the electric resistance when the space is not used.

  8. Matthew_M | | #10

    I'm just north of Albany, NY and that is absurdly high. I designed and installed 3 ducted Fujitsu systems in my new construction house and figured the going rate for doing this for a customer would be between 12.5-17.5.
    If you've done the design already, then that would be less.
    I'm not trying to solicit here, but if you can't find someone to do it for around the 15k it aught to be, please contact me, and my technician and I will come down state.

  9. Nat_T | | #11

    Matt F - Thanks. I'm going to ask the mech engineer about going to fujitsu and 2 units. Is there a general reason most on here seem to prefer fujitsu over Mitsubishi?

    Matt M - Are you the Mclagan in Clifton Park? Based on google I'm assuming that's you. If so it looks like you're about 75 miles away, not too bad. I'm still waiting on another proposal from a local(ish) contractor. If that one isn't reasonable I will definitely reach out to you.

  10. MattJF | | #12

    I attached the the performance data for the Fujitsu and what I believe is the latest slim duct Mitsubishi. The Fujitsu actually maintains performance better at low temps, while having a bit higher HSPF of 11.5 vs 10.2. I don't know the Mitsubishi equipment that well, so maybe there is a better option in there lineup.

  11. Nat_T | | #13

    Is there a way to contact a user directly?

    I'm interested in reaching out to Matt McLagan per his note above to have a look at doing this work. I don't see a way to direct message.

    1. Patrick_OSullivan | | #14

      Saw this in one of his other posts: "We're in Clifton Park, if you search my last name in that area, we'll show up."

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