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Pros and Cons: Your Guide to Ductless HVAC Systems

ductless hvac systemMinnesotans love the great outdoors. But keeping the great outdoors outside is the reason HVAC systems were invented! We expect our homes and workspaces to be comfortable indoors 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? What if you want to add a room to your home or convert a porch or garage to be used year-round? For that, many turn to ductless systems.

What is a Ductless HVAC 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 called “ductless split systems” or “mini splits” because they’re composed of two parts. First, there’s a condensing unit that sits outside the home just like a traditional air conditioning system. The second part is an indoor air-handling unit called a “head.” Heads are generally mounted toward the top of the wall and are connected to the outdoor compressor by a dedicated line. Each head consists of a coil and blower, which directs the airflow into the room. There may be multiple heads in any given heating/cooling zone, depending on the specific needs and configuration of the system. However, each head 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 or “reject” indoor heat and return cool air on the cooling cycle. Ductless systems use variable speed compressors capable of matching the heating or cooling needs of each zone without the on/off cycling of conventional systems, making them highly efficient.

Advantages of a Ductless System

In addition to being highly efficient, ductless systems offer a number of other advantages, including:

  • They’re compact space savers. Ductless systems can go in a wide variety of spaces and are made to suit many needs. A system that uses ducts 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, making non-ducted spaces just as comfortable as any other space in your home.
  • They’re cost effective. 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. For example, if you have an area of your home that’s hard to heat or cool, are adding a room, or converting a porch to a four-season room, it may be too expensive to upgrade your entire central HVAC system. Installing a ductless system is quick and easy, with far less mess and renovation.
  • They’re flexible. While they’re the obvious choice for those small jobs like additions and porch conversions, ductless systems are also a great choice for homes that don’t use ductwork. “They are great in homes with no ductwork — such as homes with baseboard heat or in-floor heat,” our expert, Keith Hill, technical support manager for Minnesota Air explains. “They’re also great for additions, three-season rooms, and in rooms where some extra cooling or heating is needed."
  • They’re easy to install. Without the mess and inconvenience of ductwork, a ductless system can be installed in just a few hours. So, it’s a case of sometimes duct-“less” is more.

Disadvantages of a Ductless System

As efficient, flexible, and cost-effective as they are, ductless systems aren’t perfect for every situation.

  • Upfront costs can be high if you’re thinking about installing a ductless system for your entire home, 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.”
  • You can’t use central unit add-ons like whole house humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air cleaners, or air purifying systems. Ductless systems aren’t able to use any of these because there’s no ductwork for distribution throughout the whole house.
  • Outside air — or ventilation air — can’t be integrated into a ductless system. “In a central system, outside air can be brought into a central location and distributed throughout the home,” Keith says. "But without ducts, that feature isn’t available."

Where Do Ductless Systems Work Best?

  • Your home is a good candidate for a ductless system if it’s older and doesn’t already have ductwork installed. It’s also great for rooms or areas that are difficult to heat or cool, and we already mentioned they can be a great solution for a porch conversion or room addition.
  • Your business or office can also benefit from the installation of a ductless system. Businesses are often even more varied in their comfort needs than homes. From restaurants to offices to warehouses, ductless systems can solve a variety of heating and cooling challenges. There are even ductless options for climate-sensitive rooms like storage or data areas that require a high degree of temperature consistency.

Depending on your home or business 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!

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