Mexico Life: A Look at the Ductless Mini-Split A/C Units

When I woke up today, I didn’t think I would be writing a blog post about the ductless mini-split air conditioners down here in Mexico, but the opportunity presented itself when I noticed a large puddle of water forming on the floor underneath the one in our living room. So, here we are.

When we lived in the United States, I had only seen a few mini-split units like the one shown in the cover photo.

Most residences in the U.S. have central A/C units and the ones that don’t might have a window unit or two. But down here in Mexico, the split-level system is the most common type of A/C system that you’ll see. They are in apartments, condos, single family residences and even many businesses.

These units only cool one room, so it’s not uncommon to see multiple units in the same building. We have three separate units in our two bedroom condo. Some of our friends with larger homes have as many as six separate A/C units.

A Potential Money Pit

The cost of the units will depend on several factors including the size of the unit (BTUs), the brand and whether or not it’s an inverter unit.

The inverter units are more expensive, but they can save you quite a bit on your electric bill. Electricity is one of the few things that is expensive in Mexico, so personally, I think it’s worth the added expense up front to save even more down the road.

A small 12,000 BTU standard unit will cost around $450 USD, but a large 36,000 BTU inverter unit can be as much as $1,200 USD.

When we first moved to Mexico, I immediately identified these things as a potential money pit that would require constant maintenance and repair — and I wasn’t wrong. The situation today is a good example.

Fortunately, I decided to take a proactive approach and back in 2016, I took a free online air conditioner repair course offered through the Carlos Slim Foundation.

The course consisted of more than 30 lessons and 15 quizzes. After I successfully completed it, I was issued a certificate and the system offered to assist me with job placement — which I declined.

I really only took the course for two reasons: 1) to be able to perform routine maintenance and small repairs on my own, and 2) in the case of a major repair, I would know if I was being cheated or overcharged.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Over the last two years, I have had to perform several repairs on our split-level units. Today it took me about 25 minutes to take the unit apart, repair the problem and put it back together again. The best part is that it didn’t cost me a single peso and I didn’t have to waste my whole day waiting for a repairman to show up.

I was planning on ending the post after the previous paragraph, but then it occurred to me that some readers might want some information about the free training that I mentioned. So, in the interest of reducing the number of emails we receive each day, here’s the link to the site:

Fundación Carlos Slim, Capacítate Para el Empleo

It currently has over 160 different courses and more are coming soon.

By the way, it’s in Spanish. That could be a good thing for you folks who either speak it already or are at least trying to learn it.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border. The blog has been viewed over two million times and the articles have been republished in numerous periodicals across Mexico.

40 Comments on "Mexico Life: A Look at the Ductless Mini-Split A/C Units"

  1. Brilliant idea for both reasons. Knowing how and knowing how much for repairs.

  2. Paul, you might have just found a little part time job simply in your own neighborhood!

  3. Brian Atkinson | August 13, 2018 at 2:48 pm |

    Paul. Check your drain pipe. They plug up fairly easy over time. That could be it. I switched over to mini spits up here in my restaurants and have seen a huge savings in the bills. I am redoing the Playa condo in 2 weeks with the new eco solar mini splits because ours are 8 yrs old and we run in the $ penalty.

    • Good call. It was the drain pipe where it collects to the drain pan.

      We are looking at solar options but it gets a little tricky when you share roof space with other condos owners.

  4. Mini splits have become much more common in the states in the last 5 or so years. I do like that you employed critical thinking about the possibility of repair. I would have done the same, except I would have found someone reliable and trustworthy. Basically because I’m lazy and am at the age when I avoid manual labor! Although not the intent of the article, I am curious as to what the problem was that led to condensation drip.

    • I’m a bit lazy too but my thrifty side is more persuasive than my lazy side…lol. The problem was a clogged drainage line where it connects to the drain pan.

      I went ahead and cleaned the rest of the unit while I had it apart.

  5. Dan Chernault | August 13, 2018 at 2:53 pm |

    Want a job? I have my three serviced every six months for about 900 pesos each time….

    • Haha, several of our neighbors have made me the same offer — I turned them all down…lol.

  6. I used to live in Costa Rica! We had the AC guy on our overhead unit more than 8 times in a year and a half! Glad I was just a renter to say the least!

  7. Sorry you had problems, Paul, but glad you were able to deal with them!

    One point that folks might not realize is that these units need regular cleaning. Supposedly the ones in our unit are cleaned every six months. They were due, and after having to remind the management company, they dispatched a technician.

    I watched the process and was amazed at how ***disgustingly filthy*** the inside of the unit in the living room was, with mold, mildew, dust and dirt! Just cleaning the filters occasionally is definitely not enough! I’ve suggested to the landlords that they may want to be a little more proactive and try cleaning at least the main unit every three months.

    The tech was very thorough in disassembling and cleaning the unit. Nothing looked terribly difficult nor did it appear to require a lot of tools. I bet most people could learn what they need with the correspondence course, as you did, with the likely exception being if there’s a need to add refrigerant (aka “Freon”).

    Thanks for the pointer to the online course – I’m going to have to take a look at that one.

    • I know you’re learning Spanish, so you might want to take a few of those courses just to work on your verbal comprehension. They have very professional videos and the narrators speak Mexican Spanish.

  8. Carolyn Richardson | August 13, 2018 at 3:03 pm |

    Thanks so much for your articles. this one hits a particular nerve, as my boyfriend and I often have the discussion of the pluses and minuses of the Mini Splits vs. Central air. I have central air in my house, and besides being very happy with it, it has been dependable, thus far after 4 years no repairs, and my electric bill is not particularly out of line. On the other hand, my boyfriend has several homes here and each has mini splits. He has had a lot of repairs connected with the mini splits. My thinking is there are several engines that are operating to produce the same cold air that my one machine does, that’s multiple machines to fall apart versus my one. What are your thoughts on this issue? Certainly my boyfriend has experienced The Money Pit, and now he is considering learning how to repair his own Investments. Thanks again for this article.

    • I suppose they both have their pros and cons. The nice thing with a mini-split is that if one goes out, we still have two back-ups because they all have their own exterior unit. You can also only pay to the cool the parts of the house you are occupying.

      Another nice thing is that they aren’t super expensive. Sometimes, it’s more cost effective to buy a new one instead of changing out a burned out motor or motherboard.

      Of all of our friends here in Mexico, we only know one who has central A/C.

  9. Ingrid C Royle | August 13, 2018 at 3:17 pm |

    Thank you for this informative blog. Almost looking forward to your post.

  10. What is the name of the unit and do know how much it cost and how much energy it uses?
    I am off the grid in looking for a split unit

    • They are literally sold everywhere from Home Depot to Walmart. I have even seen them sold at large grocery stores.

      If you Google mini-split or check the Mexico websites for places like Home Depot and Walmart, you will be able to see the prices and specs for each.

  11. Awesome! Thanks!

  12. Richard Brenick | August 13, 2018 at 3:50 pm |

    I have the units that are widely used in the Central Amarican states.

  13. We will not be getting AC in our Rosarito condo for a couple of reasons. One, as you pointed out “money pit”. Second, really don’t think we need it after all it is “San Diego south” where the weather is perfect all year around. Third, I noticed a couple of units where they put the compressor on the balcony. Just what I want is noise and hot fan air melting my Margarita ice as I enjoy the ocean view.

    • We put our exterior units on the roof. I agree that it would be terrible to put them on the patio. Even when they’re off, they certainly aren’t the prettiest things to look at.

  14. We found that the mini-splits require more loving care when not used regularly than when used daily. The drains tend to get blocked, and the screen filters in the inside units (as in your photo) can get clogged easily. We had leaks on our headboards from clogged drains.

    The last few years our new home was built and used as a model house because I wasn’t yet retired. Now that we are there all winter I am proactive in the basic AC maintenance. It’s also recommended to have the technicians come bi-annually to inspect, adjust, and replace components as required top keep them running efficiently. We also had homes being constructed on either side of our home and the concrete dust is a real joy!

    As an aside, friends upgraded to the inverter units a few years ago but tell me they have yet to realize any real savings so we didn’t opt for those more expensive units…That may not be typical though…

  15. linda nordmarken | August 13, 2018 at 5:03 pm |

    this blog is so timely – we are just closing on a condo, and wondered if we should upgrade to inverter units right away. What is the expected life of a standard unit?

  16. Mark in Merida | August 13, 2018 at 5:04 pm |

    You never fail to surprise me. The split air conditioners are such a great idea, we recently had ours serviced, something we need to do annually and we have it done because I do see me heading up a 24 ft ladder to fiddle around with the filters and clean the motors – so good for you! I would like to suggest an online course on how to read the CFE bill and the bidirectional electric meter. The advantage of have the slip A/C is because it just makes sense to cool the rooms your using, only consumer the power you need; and in the case of those of us with historic homes, suck the humidity out of the walls from time to time. But, understanding the actual costs and how the power they use has been my big challenge.

  17. Thank you Paul for your ever great post … what did you fix and how when it was leaking? Gunter

  18. Lezlie Alizon Green | August 13, 2018 at 6:59 pm |

    Love all your posts. Looking forward to exchanging American problems for Mexican problems.

  19. michael hansen | August 14, 2018 at 7:18 am |

    Not sure if you can but a little bleach in the pan every several months and down thru the drain line will keep the line clear from plugging.
    Michael

  20. Chuck Twist | August 14, 2018 at 3:52 pm |

    I have three Mini Splits in my vacation Home in Medicine Park, Oklahoma. Mine leaked all the time and caused many headaches when guests called to complain, and I had to discount their stays. I had several HVAC pros out and every one of them had a different answer as to the cause, and some were expensive (Installing little pumps to pump out the drain lines.) and didn’t work. I even called the manufacturer who sent out their certified representative/HVAC Pro. FINALLY, after three years of headaches, an HVAC friend of mine told me to pour bleach into the trough at the base of the radiator looking thing a few times per year. LO-and-Behold, I haven’t had a problem since. The problem is that algae builds up in the drain line, which clogs the line. The bleach kills the algae and cleans and opens the drain line up. Bleach can be used both curatively and as a preventative. (About three shot glasses of bleach is what I use monthly. Though both are likely overkill.) AND it makes the air smell clean for a while..

  21. Chuck Twist | August 14, 2018 at 4:02 pm |

    Also, we have put money down on a condo, that has solar panels, in your exact neighborhood. I was told the Electric bill should be next to nothing even if we use the three mini splits a lot. What are your thoughts? (BTW: thanks for the lead on your Real Estate agent. He’s a Go-Getter.)

  22. Juan Blacutt | August 17, 2018 at 12:10 pm |

    If you are in Mexico and need to have a mini split unit installed make sure of one thing. The unit is pre-charged (with gas) but the connecting lines from evaporator to condensing units will be put in by your installer (probably someone with a certificate like Paul shows above). Make absolutely sure a vacuum is pulled on those lines. I’ve had nine of these units installed. Every time I called someone to install one the first thing I asked was “do you have a vacuum pump”. If the answer was no then thank you and goodbye and call another one. You can google the need to pull vacuum on those lines. And it will save you lots of money.

  23. Charles L Twist Jr | August 18, 2018 at 11:16 am |

    Now I’m reading that vinegar is better to use than bleach, as bleach can cause corrosion problems to copper and aluminum…

  24. WOW ! $450 for a 12k ? Paul you need to come shop in Cozumel. Three months ago I went to Chedrauli and bought a new Kul 12k unit for under $4000 pesos,(less than $200 USD for those without a currency converter), and this thing will freeze you out.Only use it at night though.

    • That’s the top end of the scale. It’s like anything else, you get what you pay for. We bought an inexpensive Mabe unit once and hated it. We bought a more expensive Lennox unit with the same BTUs and we love it. Of course, I would never pay $12,000 for an A/C either. We are far too thrifty for that. We need that money for trips…lol.

  25. Our mini split is supposed to have a dehumidifier as part of its functions. We bought a resale. Any comments on how best to utilize that function??

    • If you run the A/C function at all, it acts as a dehumidifier. Just choose the temperature that you like.

  26. Thanks for the info! We are having the same issue with all three of our mini-split A/C units. We just moved in to this apartment last month and were told they had been serviced before we moved in. However, we woke up to one dripping on our heads one morning. We have now waited over a week for a technician to come fix it. Our landlord told us it will be $2000 MXN to fix but it’s coming out of our rent and no extra charge to us which is nice. The waiting game, however, is less than appealing.

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