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Ductless Heat Pump (or Mini-Split Heat Pump)

Ductless, Mini-Split Heat Pumps

Ductless heat pump systems (or “mini-splits”) are an excellent retrofit option for homes that lack traditional ductwork, such as those with hydronic floor heat (radiant hot water) or space heaters (wood, propane, etc.).  They may also be a logical choice for room additions or remodels, where extending or installing ductwork is difficult and/or expensive.

Like a traditional air-source heat pump, mini splits have two main components: an indoor air-handling unit and an outdoor compressor/condenser unit.  A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain (when required), links the indoor and outdoor units.

Advantages of a Ductless Heat Pump

Mini-splits are beneficial for their small size and the flexibility of heating or cooling individual rooms.  Some models support as many as four indoor air handler units (for four zones or rooms) connected to one outdoor unit.  The required number depends on the heating and cooling requirements for the building or zone (which is influenced by how well the building is insulated, the number and quality of windows, window coverings, etc.).  Since each zone has its own thermostat, you only need to condition that place when someone is present, saving both energy and money.

Since mini splits have no ducts, they avoid the energy loss associated with ductwork of central forced air systems.  As much as 30% of the energy consumption can go to waste in traditional systems, especially if the ductwork is in an attic or crawl space.

Mini-splits offer more flexibility in interior design choices over traditional systems.  The indoor air handlers may be suspended from a ceiling, mounted flush in a drop ceiling or simply hung on a wall.  Most indoor units average about seven inches deep and sport sleek, high tech-looking covers.  Most include a remote control to turn the system on and off, especially important when the indoor unit is mounted high on a wall.

A split system may also provide additional protection against burglary since there is only a small hole in the wall, often high off the ground.  Through-the-wall or window mounted room air conditioners could provide easy access for an intruder.

Disadvantages of a Ductless Heat Pump

The primary disadvantage of a mini split is the cost.  Ductless heat pump systems cost about 30% more than a central system (excluding the ductwork though!) and may cost twice as much as window units of similar capacity.

Although less obtrusive than a window-mount or through-the-wall unit, some people may not appreciate the appearance of the mini-split’s indoor unit.

The outdoor unit requires a permanent electrical connection and a location to drain condensate water.

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