Greetings and welcome back friends. Today I want to spend a little time in the world of ductless HVAC systems, review the advantages and disadvantages, and see if a ductless system might be the right choice for your home or project. The query concerning ductless systems often arises when a client wants to condition the garage or when doing an addition to the existing structure. Let’s dive in.
A ductless HVAC system, also known as a mini-split, functions in the exact same way a traditional heat pump does. You have indoor units, outdoor units, and refrigerant lines that connect the two units along with a thermostat or thermostats to control the temperature. While a mini-split performs in the same manner of heating and cooling a space that a traditional heat pump does, the similarities end there.
A “central” HVAC system is called that for a very good reason. You have a singular system in a space that has ductwork branching off it to each room and one thermostat to tell the unit what to do. That one thermostat doesn’t care what the temperature is anywhere in the space except in the immediate vicinity of where it is located. This can lead to hot or cold rooms, uncomfortable areas, or even spaces that you just don’t use because of the comfort level. With the ductless system, these are problems that can easily be avoided.
A ductless system typically has an indoor unit in each space we are conditioning. So, if you were doing a renovation on a home that has never had central air conditioning (Such as a home that has baseboard heating) the mini-split becomes the more economical, more efficient option. We can install an indoor unit in each room with a separate thermostat that allows us to control the climate in each space. Yes, if you are heating the space, you can have one room at 68 degrees, another at 72, a third room at 75, and a fourth that is not being heated at all. The possibilities are limitless, and the same goes for cooling temperatures in the spaces our ductless units live in. This ties into the next big advantage of a ductless system, efficiency. The entire units are much more economical to operate over a traditional heat pump and not conditioning unused spaces saves you money.
Lastly, in the advantage category, mini-splits have a typical life span of roughly twenty years making the equipment a great long-term choice. Let’s move on to the minor disadvantages.
The first thing with mini-splits is the aesthetics. The indoor units come in different models and mounting styles such as floor-mounted, recessed ceiling mounted, or the atypical wall-mounted style. While you have multiple options of style, you will still need to have a visible indoor unit in each space. Those of you that have traveled abroad have seen mini-splits practically everywhere you go, and they are more considered the norm outside of the States. So, if you are thinking mini-split, just remember it is going to change the look of your space.
The next disadvantage is the electrical requirements for ductless systems, and I’m not sure I would call it a disadvantage. The typical mini-split will require one 240V circuit and a spot available in the circuit breaker panel. The bottom line is we recommend consulting with a certified electrical professional to ensure the space you want to add the system can support it from an electrical standpoint. Lastly is maintenance; Indoor units for mini-splits are very compact and they are susceptible to getting dirty faster than a traditional system. Routine cleaning is going to be needed for the units to maintain optimal performance.
A point to remember is that a multi-zoned mini-split cannot heat and cool at the same time. If you have someone in the house that is always too hot when the heat is running, unfortunately, we can’t ask the unit to send cool to one room while heating in other spaces. If you set one indoor unit to heat and the other on cooling, the outdoor unit will get very confused and lock itself out. Before anyone brings it up, there are ductless units on the market that can send heating to one space and cooling to another. They are, however, ridiculously expensive, and usually only seen in hotels or other large commercial spaces.
This is a very shallow look into mini-split systems and how they can improve many aspects of your home or another space. As per the norm, my recommendation is if you have an area you want to condition, give us a call or drop an email and we can design the exact ductless system that is right for you. Until we cross paths again, may I suggest avoiding Electricians with no eyebrows. Just a thought.