Does every summer seem like it’s hotter than the last one?
If you don’t live somewhere where central air-conditioning is an option, you may be wondering about a portable air conditioner vs a ductless mini split system.
If that’s you, you’re in the right place. We’ll offer a full comparison based on multiple categories and provide you with our opinion on who wins in each category.
In some ways, when comparing a portable AC to a mini split, there are clear winners. For example, installing a portable unit is easier and cheaper than installing a mini split. On the other hand, a ductless mini split typically operates with much less noise than a portable air conditioner.
Keep reading for the full comparison.
Portable Air Conditioner vs Ductless Mini Splits
Both portable air conditioners and ductless mini splits will cool your home, but with some obvious differences. While a portable AC is completely mobile — as long as you have a window accessible wherever you want to put it — a mini split system has one part of the unit inside and the other outside, with the two components linked by piping and wiring.
If you can’t drill through an exterior wall or you don’t have anywhere outside for the compressor unit, a portable air conditioner may be your only choice.
Now let’s get more granular.
Portable air conditioners are typically single box-like structures on wheels, making mobility easy. They are designed to be placed on the floor, with a flexible exhaust hose that needs to be vented through a window or some other opening in the wall.
However, this means they’re taking up floor space, not just for the unit itself but for the exhaust hose. And installing the hose in the window will take away some of your view.
On the other hand, ductless mini splits have less of an impact, aesthetically speaking. The only thing you see is a small indoor unit that’s attached about a third of the way down the wall from the ceiling.
There’s nothing taking up floor space, there’s no exhaust hose that’s approximately 6 to 8 inches in diameter snaking across your floor, and your windows aren’t obstructed.
Appearance Winner: Ductless Mini Split
If you need to cool your home but don’t want to give up floor space or have something to trip over, a ductless mini split is the clear winner.
Starting with portable air conditioners, upfront costs range from about US$240 to $900 on average, with price going up incrementally based on the size and features of your portable AC of choice.
|Portable Air Conditioners
|$240 to $750
|$300 to $600
|$325 to $750
|$400 to $600
|$460 to $900
In most cases, installing a portable air conditioner is a DIY project. Most homeowners or renters will be able to follow the installation instructions and do it themselves. So typically, there are no additional costs other than the upfront purchase of the air conditioner.
Average upfront pricing for ductless mini splits, however, is much more. According to Angi, the average costs to purchase and install a ductless mini split system costs between $2,000 and $14,500.
To break that down, you’re looking at, at minimum, $2,000 for the unit itself plus about $12,000 for installation depending on complexity. Having said that, the US national average for installing a mini split is about $3,000.
Unlike a portable air conditioner which will only cool up to a maximum amount and can be moved from room to room, the size of your home and the number of rooms factor into the installation cost of a mini split system.
Price Winner: Portable Air Conditioner
Hands down, portable air conditioners when in this category. They’re typically under $1,000 to purchase and typically don’t require professional installation.
In comparison, a mini split will cost $2,000 at minimum for the unit itself plus installation costs which can become significant.
As mentioned above, if you purchase a portable air conditioner, the installation process is typically easy enough for the average homeowner to do personally.
In the most simplistic of terms, all you need to do is position your air conditioner near a window or vent, attach the exhaust hose, and plug it into a power outlet.
The installation of a ductless mini split isn’t so simple. In this case, you will need professional assistance to have it installed.
The process involves mounting one or more indoor units on interior walls and connecting them to the outdoor unit through refrigerant lines. Additionally, electrical and or drainage lines may need to be installed. All of this comes at a steep cost.
Installation Winner: Portable Air Conditioner
Installing a portable air conditioner is something you can do by yourself at no extra cost. On the other hand, an HVAC technician who is certified to handle refrigerant will need to install a ductless mini split, and this is typically expensive.
No one wants to have to yell over their air conditioner to be heard or constantly turn the sound up to be able to hear their TV. Then let’s take a look at a noise comparison between the two types.
With a portable air conditioner, you have everything inside your home. Unlike a central air or a ductless system, you don’t have an indoor and outdoor unit where the noisiest part of the air — the compressor — is outside.
Ultimately, how much noise a portable unit makes will depend on several factors including the model, size, and the overall quality of the brand. So keep in mind the following is a generality, at least to some extent.
Portable units come in both single hose and dual hose varieties, and while you’ll find more expensive dual hose units with a low decibel rating to be quieter than traditional single hose units, many say that the single hose units tend to be the quieter of the two.
However, there is no comparison when you put them up against a ductless mini split system. These systems are significantly quieter since the unit’s compressor is located outside. The indoor portions of a mini split still have fans, but the overall operation of this type of air conditioner is much quieter when compared to a portable unit.
|Portable Air Conditioner
|Ductless Mini Split
|High quality, expensive units will be around 50 to 55 dB.
|Indoor units will range between 20 and 49 dB.
|55 dB compares to the sound of your refrigerator running
|25 dB compares to a whisper
Noise Winner: Ductless Mini Split
While it is possible to find quieter portable air conditioners, the average mini split’s indoor unit will make about half the amount of noise on average.
Ductless mini split systems are typically more energy efficient than their portable counterparts. For one thing, there is nothing to leak. The absence of any ductwork eliminates the energy losses that are typically associated with the inefficient ductwork often found in homes.
Another factor is the zone control that’s offered with many split systems, meaning homeowners are able to cool multiple specific areas at a time. This targeted cooling helps to reduce energy consumption.
In contrast, the hose or hoses that are part of the portable air conditioner system may not only leak but can also introduce warm air into the home. This will reduce the overall cooling efficiency.
Additionally, depending on quality and design — and even their compact nature — portable units may have limitations when it comes to insulation, airflow management, and overall efficiency. All of this can lead to higher energy consumption when compared with the more sophisticated and permanent option of a ductless mini split.
Energy Efficiency Winner: Ductless Mini Splits
Generally speaking, a ductless mini split will be more energy efficient than a portable air conditioner. However, it should be noted that individual portable AC manufacturers may produce models with better energy efficiency ratings. With that in mind, it’s always recommended to take a look at manufacturer specifications or look for Energy Star certifications.
Once again, we’ll be dealing in generalities. The cost to operate either a ductless mini split or portable air conditioner will vary wildly depending on factors such as energy efficiency — talked about above – cooling capacity, local electricity rates, duration and frequency of use, and finally, the make and model of each unit.
To calculate the operating cost of any appliance, you multiply the number of watts in the unit times the number of hours of day you use it, times the electricity rate in your area. As an example, let’s use a 1,200-watt portable air conditioner that runs for eight hours a day, with an electricity rate of $0.12 per kWh.
Since electricity rates are in kWh, we’ll calculate watts in kilowatts. So 1,200 watts = 1.2 kWh. Now for the equation.
1.2 kW * 8 hours * $0.12/kWh = $1.15 per day
In this example, it would cost $1.15 per day to run the portable air conditioner.
Now let’s do the same with a ductless mini split. In this case, we’re using a 1,000-watt air conditioner, and again, changing watts to kilowatts.
1 kW * 8 hours * $0.12/kWh = $0.96 per day
If you tried to calculate your operating costs on math alone, the above may give the impression that it costs less to run the portable air conditioner. However, there are other factors to know.
Since ductless mini split systems are typically more energy efficient, and overall, do a better job of cooling your space, in a real-world scenario the ductless mini split would cool your home faster. The compressor wouldn’t run as often, leading to lower costs per day when compared to the portable unit.
Operating Costs Winner: Ductless Mini Split
So from the above use learned that despite the fact that a ductless mini split could cost more to run for the same number of hours, operating costs would still be lower because this type of air conditioner will cool your home better and faster.
Warranties tend to be an afterthought until you wish you had one. So let’s talk about the warranties offered on portable air conditioners and ductless mini splits.
According to Good Housekeeping some of the best portable air conditioner brands in 2023 are Whynter, Honeywell, and DeLonghi.
- Whynter: 1-year limited warranty and 3-year warranty on the compressor
- Honeywell: 1-year limited warranty
- Delonghi: Depending on the model warranties are 1, 2, or 3 years of full coverage
Now let’s take a look at the typical warranty for ductless mini splits. According to Wirecutter the four current leading brands are Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, LG, and Panasonic. What are their warranties like?
- Mitsubishi: Parts are under warranty for 5 years and the compressor for 7 years
- Fujitsu: Parts are under warranty for 2 years and the compressor for 6 years
- LG: Parts are under warranty for 2 years and the compressor for 5 years
- Panasonic: parts are under warranty for 12 years and the compressor is warranty for 12 years as well
Warranty Winner: Ductless Mini Split
If warranties are important to you then the clear choice is a ductless mini split. However, it’s important to point out that they also cost significantly more, and they’re an entirely different level of technology.
No one wants to have to keep replacing appliances every few years, especially if there’s something that’s professionally attached to your home. So what are the differences between portable air conditioners and ductless mini splits when it comes to their lifespan?
Let’s find out.
Of all types of air conditioners, portable, mini splits, window units, and central air systems, portable air conditioners have the shortest lifespan. Their average life expectancy is 5 to 10 years, with better quality, more expensive brands living longer.
In contrast, ductless mini splits have a typical lifespan of 10 to 20 years — and if you live in an area that doesn’t face weather extremes, they’re known to last for much longer than 20 years.
Longevity Winner: Ductless Mini Split
At a lifespan of at least double what you’ll get from a portable air conditioner, ductless mini splits are the clear winner.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the disadvantages of a ductless mini split?
Their biggest disadvantage is the upfront cost since they are often priced closer to the price of a central air conditioning unit. Additionally, while proper sizing is important in any type of air conditioning system, it’s much more important to properly size a mini split unit when comparing them to a portable.
How many rooms can a ductless mini split cool?
The most common number of indoor units is a maximum of four. However, there are some manufacturers that offer systems that have up to as many as eight indoor units — meaning you could cool eight separate rooms or zones.
Can you leave a ductless air conditioner running all the time?
Not only will running your system continuously be more energy efficient, but it will also keep your temperatures more consistent and your home more comfortable.
That was a lot of information to take in, right? Let’s recap and condense a little bit.
Based on the factors and comparisons we discussed above, you should do the following.
Purchase a portable air conditioner if:
- You’re looking for something with lower upfront costs
- You want something you can install yourself
Portable air conditioners have significantly cheaper upfront costs, and you don’t need to have them professionally installed.
Purchase a ductless mini split if:
- Floor space is at a premium, and you’re looking for something aesthetically pleasing
- Noise is a factor in your choice
- You’re looking for something that’s more energy efficient
- You’re hoping for an air conditioner that has lower operating costs
- You want a system that will last decades
- Good warranties are important to you
Hopefully the information provided here will help you make an informed decision between a ductless mini split and a portable air conditioner.
Ultimately, everyone has unique situations and environments, so you’ll need to take those circumstances into consideration as well.
While you’re here, why not check out our related posts below? Perhaps we can help you with something else.