Minnesotans love the great outdoors. But keeping the great outdoors outside is the reason heating and cooling systems were invented! We expect our homes to be comfortable throughout the year, and that’s why HVAC systems are always improving and innovating. The most common type of HVAC system in Minnesota uses a series of ductwork, vents, and grilles to bring comfort to your home.
But, what if your home doesn’t have vents and ducts — like many older homes with hot water heating? Or, what if you want to add a room to your home or convert a porch for year-round use but don’t want the mess of installing new ductwork? For situations like these, many homeowners opt to use a ductless AC and heating system.
What is a Ductless AC and Heating System?
A ductless system is a type of zoned heating and cooling system that doesn’t use or require the installation of ductwork. It’s reversible in that it produces both heating and cooling for the room or zone in which it’s installed. These systems are also referred to as “ductless split systems” or “mini-splits” because they’re composed of two parts.
First, there is a condensing unit that sits outside the home, just like traditional air conditioning. The second part is an indoor air-handling unit called a “head.” There may be multiple heads, depending on the specific needs and configuration of the system. The indoor heads are generally mounted toward the top of the wall and are connected to the outdoor compressor by a dedicated line. Each consists of a coil and blower, which directs the airflow into the room. Each head corresponds to a heating/cooling zone and can be independently controlled, usually by remote.
How Does a Ductless System Work?
Using vapor compression, ductless systems capture heat from outside the house and distribute it indoors when heating and reject indoor heat, returning cool air on the cooling cycle. The systems use variable speed compressors capable of matching the heating or cooling needs without the on/off cycling of conventional systems, which contributes to their high efficiency.
So, why are these systems beneficial? And what are their drawbacks?
Ductless systems are smooth running, quiet systems that provide the comfort, convenience, and worry-free cooling or heating you need. These systems are:
Ductless systems use as much as 25%–50% less energy than other systems, making them highly efficient. That also means they’re likely to recoup their purchase and installation costs quickly. Because the systems are zoned, they can also save on energy costs because there’s no need to overheat or overcool rooms that are used infrequently.
A ductless system will save on energy costs because they're so efficient. Plus, they’re much less expensive to install if you just need additional heating or cooling in a room or two.
Ductless systems can fit in a variety of spaces that ducts can’t. A ducted system can take up a lot of valuable real estate in your home by filling up attics, basements, or thick walls with the ducts themselves. Duct-free systems are a space-saving solution that can provide comfort in non-ducted areas, making them as comfortable as any other space in your home.
“They're perfect for homes with no ductwork — such as those with baseboard heat or in-floor heat,” says Keith Hill, technical support manager for Minnesota Air. “They’re also great for additions, three-season rooms, and in rooms where some extra cooling or heating is needed."
Easy to Install
Installing a ductless system is quick and easy, with far less mess and renovation than ductwork would require. A ductless system can be installed in just a few hours, keeping the cost of installation down. There are no major renovations involved, offering a quick, elegant solution that lets you keep your rooms cozy while leaving the patching and painting behind.
As efficient, flexible, and cost-effective as they are, ductless systems aren’t perfect for every situation. You should consider these minor drawbacks when deciding whether to install a ductless system in your home.
Keith says one of the disadvantages of a ductless system is that outside air — or ventilation air — can’t be integrated into the ductless system like it can in a ducted system. “In a central system, outside air can be brought in to a central location and distributed throughout the home,” he says. "But without ducts, that feature isn’t available."
Central Unit Add-Ons
Think of all the cool additions that can be added on to a central heating or cooling system — whole house humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air cleaning, and air purifying systems. Ductless systems aren’t able to use any of those because there’s no ductwork to distribute the airflow throughout the entire home.
Upfront Costs Can Be High for Large Projects
If you’re planning on doing an entire home using a ductless system, the upfront costs can be high, according to Keith. “If your goal is to cool a multi-room home to the same level of comfort as a central unit, you will need an indoor terminal unit in each room,” he says. “With newer multi-head units — one outdoor unit with multiple indoor terminal units — it can be less expensive than multiple single head ductless systems. But one indoor head in every room will add up to be much more than a ducted central system.”
The Department of Energy agrees that one disadvantage of ductless systems can be their cost. According to their website, “such systems cost about $1,500 to $2,000 per ton (12,000 BTU per hour) of cooling capacity. This is about 30% more than central systems (not including ductwork) and may cost twice as much as window units of similar capacity.”
So, depending on your project and home’s needs, ductless may or may not be the answer to your problems. You’ll just need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of going ductless before you make the leap. While you’re deciding if going ductless is right for you, keep in mind the places ductless systems work best.
Where’s the Best Place to Install a Ductless System?
Ductless systems can go in a wide variety of spaces and are made to suit many needs. They’re perfect for supplementing existing systems. For example, if you have a room or an area of your home — say the basement — that’s always colder than the rest of the house, a ductless system could be a cost-effective solution. This is particularly true for Minnesotans and other upper Midwest residents. A ductless system can also be an excellent solution for a home addition or expansion project.
Similarly, if you’re looking to add or supplement cooling in your home, a ductless system could be the answer. In homes without existing ductwork. “They’re great for hydronic (hot water) heated homes since these homes have no ductwork,” Keith says. And ductless cooling provides comfortable air conditioning combined with great dehumidification, far better than window units. “Cabins with space heaters that want something better than a window unit are another (good use),” Keith points out.
Depending on your needs, Carrier has a full range of ductless options that may be the answer to your HVAC challenges. Find out which innovative ductless system is right for you!