I recently wrote an article on the best tiny house heaters. I noticed that many visitors landed on that page while searching for tiny house HVAC. HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. Mini splits and window units are two main ways people usually heat and cool a tiny house.
Mini splits are my favorite way to heat and cool a tiny house. They are less obtrusive than window units, while being more energy efficient to operate. Since they are ductless, installation is easier and efficiency is increased. Ducting can account for up to 30% energy loss with a central unit. This is a point of contention since some people say proper ducting would not have loss. That same guy also claims a central a/c unit would cost 1/3 the cost of a mini split to operate for a 2000 square foot house. Fortunately, we aren’t interested in such a large space.
The zone nature of mini splits makes it easy to only heat or cool the area of the house being used. The biggest downsides of mini splits are a high initial cost and the fact you are supposed to have a certified HVAC technician do the installation. With a mini split system, you are likely to spend at least $600. Window units with heat can be found on sale for less than $200. If your budget is tight, that might be the main deciding factor for you.
– Energy efficient (SEER 13 to low 20s)
– Less obnoxious looking than window units. The outdoor unit can be located up to fifty feet away from the indoor evaporator, increasing the ability to locate in an inconspicuous location. You typically only need a 3 inch hole in the wall to connect the indoor and outdoor components.
– Up to 4 zones with unique thermostats. This factor isn’t critical to most tiny houses, but it is still need an adds to the overall efficiency of operation. Many tiny houses would benefit from at least a dual zone system.
– Installation requires an HVAC technician. Even if you have the electrical know how, you are supposed to have a refrigerant license if the unit does not come pre-charged. Having to hire other people can be one of the biggest costs in realizing your tiny house dreams. The best advice here is to shop around if you need someone to help. Some techs won’t want to install equipment you bought online, while others will be fine with it. They might give you grief about warranty issues, but that shouldn’t be a big factor as long as you bought a good unit in the first place.
– The initial cost is higher than a window unit.
Recommended Mini Split Systems
1. Pioneer 12,000 BTU – the cost is right at $700 shipped. The reviews are also outstanding. Amazon marks this unit as the number 1 best seller for single room mini splits. This unit boasts a 17.5 SEER rating. This is certainly better than a window unit, but more efficient mini splits exists. That said, this is one of the best reviewed mini splits on all of Amazon.
2. Klimaire 12,000 BTU – this unit costs about $150 more than the Pioneer. It is slightly less efficient at 16 SEER. Inverter technology allows for heating in temperatures down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. While that isn’t a big selling point to me in Texas, I know many of you live in much colder climates.
3. LG 12,000 BTU LS120HSV5 – this unit is expensive at right around $1,500. The plus side is a whopping 22.7 SEER along with the renowned quality of the LG brand. It is a lot of money no doubt, but you are likely to be happy with this purchase for years.
Window and through the wall units are cheap, reliable, and easy to install. Any slightly handy person can install a window unit without too much grief. All you need is a buddy to help since they tend to weigh too much for one person to handle well. You always want to make sure you find a unit with the right amount of BTU’s for your space. This is not a purchase where more is always better. More is frequently just far less efficient. Always check whether you are looking at a 115 or 230 volt unit. You do not want to have to pay to ship back a 90 pound plus window unit and be stuck in the heat or cold for another week or two.
– Cheap. Good units can be purchased for just a couple hundred dollars.
– Easy to install
– Not energy efficient. Window units are a damn site better than a portable a/c or heater, but they are not good when compared to mini splits or central air.
– They look trashy. I fully realize this is a subjective claim. I mean several million dollar apartments in Manhattan frequently have window / through the wall units. I still think they look like ass (not the pretty ones).
– Loud. Window units are getting better and some are downright quiet compared to other units. You are still likely to clearly hear when these units operate. It is kind of like living next to a train. You are likely to not hear it after a little while or be driven completely mad.
– Security Vulnerability. You can secure a window unit well enough that no one is going to kick it out without some extreme effort, but most are not installed that well. It is not uncommon to see stories where robbers gained access to the domicile by pushing out the window unit.
Recommended Window Units
1. FRIGIDAIRE FFRA1222U1 12,000 BTU cool with 11,000 BTU heat – This is at a mid level price point at around $330 shipped. It will get the job down though. When it comes to window units, I personally would only buy Frigidaire, LG, or Frigidaire. The FFRA1222U1 is made for areas up to 550 square feet.
2. Friedrich Chill Premiere with 8,000 BTU’s cool and 3,500 heat. You can purchase this model for less than $400. Friedrich is a highly respected name in window air, so you shouldn’t worry about the quality.
Avoid Portable A/C Units
My final note is to avoid portable a/c heater units like the plague. They are incredibly inefficient. They can be a tempting option because of how easy they are to operate and cost, but don’t do it. You deserve better.