Tiny House HVAC

tiny house hvac

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

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.

Pros

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.

Cons

– 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 less than $700 shipped. The reviews are also outstanding. Amazon marks this unit as the number 1 best seller for single room mini splits. The biggest downside is the 13 SEER rating. This is certainly better than a window unit, but much more efficient mini splits exists.

pioneer 12000 btu mini split

 

2. Klimaire 12,000 BTU – this unit costs about $250 more than the Pioneer. It is slightly more efficient at 15 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.

klimaire mini split

3. LG 12,000 BTU LS120HYV – this unit is expensive at right around $2,000. The plus side is a whopping 26 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.

lg 12000 btu mini split

 

Window Units

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.

Pros

Cheap. Good units can be purchased for just a couple hundred dollars.

Easy to install

Cons

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 FFRH1222Q2 12,000 BTU cool with 11,000 BTU heat – This unit isn’t terribly cheap at more than $500. It will get the job down though. When it comes to window units, I personally would only buy Frigidaire, LG, or Frigidaire. The FFRH1222Q2 is made for areas up to 550 square feet.

frigidaire window unit with heat

2. Friedrich EP08G11 with 8,000 BTU’s cool and 3,500 heat. You can purchase this model for less than $500. Friedrich is a highly respected name in window air, so you shouldn’t worry about the quality.

friedrich window unit

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.

6 thoughts on “Tiny House HVAC

  1. First off, thank you for all the information about the ductless/mini split units in tiny houses. I have a 335 sq ft tiny home in Savannah, Ga and a fully functioning HVAC unit is absolutely crucial. That being said, I must adamantly disagree with your suggestion to go with the Frigidaire unit (or, honestly, Frigidaire anything at this point). I have that exact unit and even with proper installation (I had it installed professionally) within 13 months of ownership it is completely covered in black mold. I’ve been fighting with them to take at least partial responsibility for the unit’s malfunction and design flaw but even with a 5 year warranty, they refuse to help. Also, if that doesn’t dissuade you from purchasing that particular unit, this might. Frigidaire will not service any unit under 12,001 BTU no matter how new. Don’t waste your money like I did.

  2. This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that split air conditioning systems are good for small houses. My husband and I are going to be moving into our first house, and it’s pretty small. We want a good cooling system, so we’ll definitely look into getting a split air conditioner. Thanks for the great post!

  3. Can you address off-grid tiny homes? I can’t imagine that losing 50% to convert energy to an AC application for active cooling or heating can be the best way to go?

  4. I know it’s been over a year since you wrote this and some things may have changed as far as your top three, but do you think it would be beneficial to have more than one air return in a tiny house? Building on a 28ft gooseneck and sleeping quarters are on opposite ends of the house. Floor plan is open but the boys of my house are pretty picky about being too hot or too cold.

  5. Any suggestions are mini split air/heat units. I’m trying to decide between a 115v and a 230v. Any suggestions? Thanks.

  6. Can someone help us? We built a mobile office so its a hybrid tiny house and trailer. installed AC with heat pump. We are in Denver. We need help upgrading our system

Leave a Reply to Tracye Cancel reply