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Ductless heat pumps

Ductless heat pumps use 50 to 60 percent less energy than electric resistance heating systems.

Ductless, mini-split heat pumps: How they work, cost & more

Did you know that space heating and cooling account for almost half of an average home’s energy use? It adds up when you think about the amount of energy it takes to heat a home in a cold climate and to cool one in a region where the temperatures are hot. However, you can reduce this necessary expense by selecting the appropriate heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system for your needs. Modern systems such as ductless heat pumps are just as effective as more traditional systems but are much more energy-efficient.

What is a ductless, mini-split heat pump and how does it work?

Ductless heating and cooling systems are highly efficient products that deliver warm or cool air directly into different zones in your home, instead of routing it through ducts first. You may also hear them called “mini-split” heat pumps. “Mini,” because they are suitable for conditioning smaller areas, and “split,” because they consist of a separate outside compressor and one or more inside air-handling units.

Like standard air-source heat pumps, ductless heat pumps (DHPs) have two main parts: an outdoor compressor/condenser and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain, links the outdoor and indoor units. See the graphic below for reference. 

Many systems offer up to four indoor units to condition different rooms (or zones), and some systems come with wireless remotes or wall-mounted control units.

Infographic explaining how ductless heat pumps take air from outdoors and then heat and cool that air.

Ductless heat pump efficiency

Ductless, mini-split heating systems are known to be more efficient than traditional electric heating systems. In fact, ductless heat pumps use 50 to 60 percent less energy than electric resistance heating systems. As a result of this increased efficiency, a ductless, mini-split heating system can help to significantly reduce your utility bills and monthly energy costs. As an additional note, ductless heating systems are so efficient compared to other systems that utility companies are starting to offer rebates for homeowners who install them in their homes. Contact your local electric cooperative to ask if they offer a rebate.

How much do ductless, mini-split heat pumps cost?

The cost of ductless, mini-split heat pumps can vary significantly by manufacturer, region, dealer and time of year the unit is purchased. As you evaluate systems, get several price quotes from qualified, experienced installers. Keep in mind, the cost of purchasing and installing DHPs can be higher than other systems, although lower operating costs and rebates can help offset the initial expense.

Most notably, your cost can vary quite a bit depending on the type of system you purchase. On average, a ductless heating system costs anywhere from $1,300 to $10,000, with more complex 5-zone units exceeding $10,000. For small, single-zone systems, you can expect to pay between $700 and $2,200. On top of the cost you have to pay for the unit itself, installation costs can range from $500 to $2,000.

Ductless, mini-split heat pump sizing

Firstly, it is very important to properly size a ductless heat pump system. Oversized or incorrectly located air-handlers can result in short-cycling, which wastes energy and money, and does not provide proper temperature or humidity control.

Depending on the square footage of your home, you may need a larger ductless heat pump system. If you’re attempting to heat a single room or a smaller home, you might be able to get away with a smaller system.

A basic rule of thumb to calculate what size ductless, mini-split heat pump you need, simply calculate the square footage of the space you’re looking to heat and multiply that number by 25. The number you’re left with will tell you the British Thermal Output (BTUs) of heating output you need to heat that space. Keep in mind this is an average rule, and your home’s heating and cooling requirement may vary based on your level of insulation, how well air leaks and your ducts are sealed, size, layout, and orientation of your house, and more. To guarantee you are getting the proper size for your home, a heat-loss calculation should be conducted. Your licensed heating and air conditioning professional can help do this.

Additionally, ask questions to ensure your HVAC professional chooses the best location for equipment installation. Incorrectly located air handlers can result in wasted energy and money.

5 benefits of ductless, mini-split heat pumps

Compared to traditional ducted heating and cooling systems, ductless, mini-split systems offer many advantages and benefits. Here, you’ll find the five reasons ductless heat pumps are a good option compared to other types of heating systems.

1. Ductless heat pumps can save you energy and money

As we mentioned above, ductless, mini-split heat pump systems are incredibly efficient. Because they use heat pump technology, these systems use significantly less energy than electrical resistance heating systems.

2. Ductless heat pumps allow you to control the temperature of each room in your home

In traditional heating and cooling systems, you generally have one thermostat that controls the temperature of your entire home. With ductless, mini-split heating and cooling systems, each room or area (zone) has its own thermostat, so you only need to condition occupied spaces.

3. Ductless heat pumps don’t lose energy through ducts

More than 30 percent of the energy used for space conditioning may be from duct loss, especially if the ducts are in an unconditioned space such as an attic. Ductless, mini-split heating systems have no ducts, so they avoid this energy loss.

4. Ductless heat pumps offer a versatile, all-year solution for heating

In the past, people had to rely on electric baseboard heaters and window air conditioning units to keep their homes comfortable during the winter and summer months. With ductless, mini-split heat pump systems, homeowners can control each room's temperature, regardless of the season, with relative ease.

5. Ductless heat pumps are a proven technology

Ductless, mini-split heating and cooling systems are widely used by homeowners and have been around for over 30 years, making them a proven solution for home heating and cooling. 

Take control and save on your heating and cooling

Contact your local electric cooperative prior to purchasing and installing a heat pump as they may offer rebates. Your cooperative may require you to have a dual-fuel system to qualify for a rebate. Dual fuel is simply a heat pump combined with a backup natural gas, propane or fuel oil heating system. During extremely cold weather when your heat pump is unable to run, the back-up system ensures you have the heat you need.

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