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Ductless HVAC: Do you need it?

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If you are looking into buying a new furnace, a new air conditioning unit or replacing an older window unit, a ductless HVAC system could be a solution. Also known as mini-splits, ductless HVACs are high-efficiency heating and cooling units that are ideal for homes without pre-existing ductwork. Although they might cost more upfront compared to central heating and air conditioning systems, they can help you save on utility bills as you can heat or cool specific areas.

What is ductless heating and cooling?

Ductless heating and cooling systems have become common in residential and commercial properties due to their efficiency and effectiveness in heating and cooling multiple spaces. In conventional HVAC systems, the indoor unit is usually installed in a closet or the attic, and warmed or cooled air is transported through ducts. In ductless heating and cooling systems, the air is deposited directly into the room or area it has been installed.

Mini-splits normally consist of two major parts: the outdoor condensing unit and one or more indoor air handlers.

How do ductless heating and cooling systems work?

Central and ductless heating and cooling systems work in similar ways. Both suck in the warm air in your home, absorb the moisture and heat from it and send it back into your home. A ductless heating and cooling system uses an indoor component mounted on a ceiling or high on a wall, and an outdoor component absorbs the heat or exhausts it outside, depending on whether it’s on heating or cooling mode.

One of the perks of investing in a ductless HVAC system is that some of them have a built-in zoning system allowing for multiple handlers in different rooms or zones connected to one outdoor unit. Each handler is operated independently, which means if one stops working, the rest will continue to cool or warm their respective rooms or zones.

What to know about ductless HVAC

Price

A single-zone ductless heating and cooling system costs around $2,900 to $4,000, while a multi-zone system could cost you $5,500 to $7,500. While they are pricier compared to central heating systems, you will not have to incur the cost of installing the ductwork.

Maintenance

Like any other heating and cooling system, you need to maintain your ductless HVAC for it to operate efficiently. Some of the most pertinent tasks when it comes to ductless HVAC maintenance are:

  • Filter changes: The filters capture dust particles from the flowing air. With time, they get dirty and clogged. Clogged filters could eventually interfere with the airflow or even cause the system to stop working. Check the filters every month and change them if you notice they are dirty.
  • Cleaning the outdoor unit: You will need to keep grass, leaves, mud, sticks and other debris away from the outdoor unit. Such debris could affect airflow and affect the system’s overall function. Keep the vegetation around the outdoor unit trimmed.
  • Refrigerant levels: Continuous use and leaks could lead to decreased refrigerant levels. Check that the refrigerant levels are as per the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that the unit is performing optimally.

It is advisable to have your ductless system inspected by a professional annually.

Installation

Installing a ductless HVAC system should not take longer than a day. As they are compact and lightweight, they can be easily managed and mounted. However, the installation should be carried out by a professional.

Warranty

Most ductless system manufacturers provide warranties for up to five years. Some companies offer as much as 10 years. Others provide separate warranties on certain parts, such as compressors.

Noise

Most noisy parts in a ductless heating and cooling unit are located in the outdoor component. The air handling units distribute warmed or cooled air rather quietly.

Rebate

Ductless heating and cooling systems that are Energy Star certified are eligible for rebates in some areas. You can find out the amount of rebate you are eligible for along with other special offers by keying in your local ZIP code.

Size

For your ductless heating and cooling system to be effective, it needs to be appropriately sized. If the unit is too small, it will work too hard, thus resulting in higher energy costs, and it might not adequately cool or heat your space. On the other hand, a system that’s too large would be a waste of money and energy.

Before buying one, have a professional perform a load calculation. They will recommend a unit based on other factors, such as the structural and thermal characteristics of your home, local climate and weather, and your overall heating and cooling needs.

Pros of a ductless heating and cooling system

Some of the benefits of installing a ductless HVAC system are:

  • Ease of installation: Unlike central heating and cooling units, which require the installation of ductwork, mini-splits are duct-free, which makes them easy to install and set up.
  • Flexibility: A ductless HVAC allows you to cool or heat zones or rooms that you are currently using, thus saving on energy costs.
  • Energy efficiency: Most central air heating systems have leakage issues as the cooled or warmed air moves from the compressor to your home. The United States Department of Energy estimates that a ducted system’s energy efficiency can be reduced by up to 30% with ductless units.
  • Better air quality: Unlike ductless systems that are known to accumulate dust and debris within the ducts, mini-splits provide you with healthier and cleaner air, providing you keep up with regular maintenance of the units.  
  • Little or no noise: As the compressor in a ductless system is on the outdoors, the only noise in your home is that of the fan. As such, ductless systems are quiet compared to a window or central heating and cooling systems.

Cons of a ductless HVAC system

If you intend to buy a ductless HVAC system, some of the drawbacks you should be aware of are:

  • Higher upfront costs: Apart from being more expensive, you might require several units to serve your whole house.
  • They can be an eyesore: Compared to built-in heating and cooling systems, the design of a mini-split system is not appealing to some homeowners.
  • They can be inefficient and ineffective if installed incorrectly: While they are easy to install, each component needs to be properly placed. Any improper placement could lead to immense energy loss.
  • Ductless systems do not support add-ons: A central heating system allows you to add appliances, such as air purifying systems, dehumidifiers, humidifiers and so on. Adding these appliances is impossible in ductless systems as there’s no ductwork for air distribution.

Best scenarios for a ductless HVAC system

  • Your home doesn’t have pre-existing ductwork. Older homes were built before air conditioning was a standard requirement. In some instances, there might not be any room to install a ducted system.
  • You’ve added one or more rooms to an existing space. It may be difficult or expensive to install ductwork in a new space or addition. Also, your system might not have the capacity to heat or cool the new space, and you are not prepared to replace it. In this case, you might want to supplement your existing heating and cooling system with a ductless system for the new space.
  • You prefer multiple zones. A ductless system is ideal if you prefer multiple cooling and heating zones. As these systems have separate air handlers in different zones, you can lower the temperature in the dining room and switch the air handler in the bedrooms off.

Do you need a ductless HVAC system?

Choosing a ductless HVAC system boils down to cost, the comfort you intend to achieve and how practical it is to install and its long-term reliability. Ductless systems have obvious benefits, which include higher energy efficiency, improved air quality, smaller footprint and ease of installation. Mini-split systems prove to be a useful tool in any home as they can be installed in homes without ductwork and can also be used for zoned heating or cooling. Ensure you read through ductless heating and cooling systems reviews before deciding on one.


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