What to Consider Before Buying a Ductless Heat Pump for Your Home

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated January 12, 2022
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  • Ductless heat pumps are a type of ductless HVAC system

  • They’re usually used as an alternative to window units and baseboard heating

  • Ductless heat pumps can cost thousands less than central air systems

  • They increase your home’s energy efficiency

  • Ductless heat pumps might not be the best option for larger homes or single rooms

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When the temperature dips, you’re going to need some heat. Say hello to the ductless heat pump. Homeowners typically install this type of HVAC system when their home doesn’t have existing ductwork—but that’s not the only reason. Ductless systems work well in a variety of homes—but is it right for yours? 

What Is a Ductless Heat Pump?

Like the name suggests, a ductless heat pump (also known as a ductless mini-split system or ductless air conditioning) is a type of ductless HVAC system. The term “heat pump” is a little misleading. Mini-split systems work for both heating and cooling a space. They typically consist of an outdoor unit (like you’d find in a central air conditioner) and an indoor wall unit.

Ductless mini-split systems are often used as an alternative to baseboard heating and window air conditioning units. They’re particularly useful when heating and cooling windowless rooms, basements with hopper windows, small spaces, or homes that can’t support ductwork.

How Does a Ductless Heat Pump Work?

Ductless heat pumps are similar to traditional air-source heat pumps. Outside of your home, you’ll find a compressor/condenser unit. Inside your home, you’ll have an air-handler that’s mounted on your wall. 

A small conduit that requires a 3-inch hole through the wall connects both parts. The conduit contains refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, a condensate drain, and a power cable.

So, how does a ductless heat pump work? Each part of a ductless mini-split system uses heat exchanger coils filled with refrigerant:

  • A condenser coil (in the outdoor unit) 

  • An evaporator coil (in the indoor unit) 

Your ductless heat pump draws air from one location and moves it to another, conditioning the air as it passes over the coils. Unlike a central air conditioning unit, a ductless system can reverse the process, blowing cool or warm air into the space depending on the season.

Pros of Ductless Mini-Split Systems

Most of the benefits of ductless air conditioners and heat pumps center around price, convenience, and comfort. Find out if a ductless heat pump is right for your home.

Ductless HVAC Systems Are a Value

Mini-split heat pumps are usually a value compared to central heating and cooling systems. Most ductless systems will run you between $2,000 to $8,250, which is about $3,000 to $4,250 less than the average cost of a new HVAC system.

They’re Easy to Install

Ductless heat pump installation is less complicated than central air installation because it doesn’t require ductwork. During ductless heat pump installation, a contractor will only need to drill a 3-inch hole.

Ductless Heat Pumps Offer Customizable Comfort

Anyone who’s ever used a central air system knows that temperature can vary from room to room. Since each air handler in a ductless system services a single area, you can fine-tune your comfort by adding multiple indoor units around your home. 

It works similar to a central air HVAC zoning system, and the zone has its own thermostat. For example, you can set your cooler basement to a warmer temperature and your warmer bedroom to a cooler temperature. 

They’re Energy Efficient

When it’s used correctly, a ductless mini-split system can increase your home’s energy efficiency. How? A whopping 30% of energy consumption used in conditioning is lost through air ducts. Energy Star ductless models also may come with a federal tax credit or local rebate.

Cons of Ductless Mini-Split Systems

Ductless heat pumps can save homeowners from extensive ductwork, but it’s not always the best option. Before you pick an HVAC system, consider the cons of ductless ACs.

Some Homeowners Have a Larger Upfront Cost

How much does a ductless heat pump cost? It may be more than you think. In some cases, ductless heat pump installation costs more upfront than other options. 

For example, if you only want to condition a single room, a window unit or space heater will have a smaller upfront cost. If you have a larger home with existing ductwork, you’ll usually pay less to replace your existing central heating and cooling system than to install a brand new ductless system.

Some People Don’t Like the Aesthetic

The outdoor unit in a ductless air conditioner is smaller and more streamlined than what you’d get with central air. Unfortunately, you will need an air handler—which looks like a white or beige bar—in every room. Some homeowners prefer the look of a small vent versus an indoor unit.

Some Cold Climates Might Be Too Cold

Though some modern ductless heat pumps can handle temperatures below minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit, not every system is up to the task. Some homeowners in particularly frigid climates find they need a fuel backup. 

Is a Ductless Heat Pump Right for Your Home?

 An air conditioner and heat pump
Photo: Andrey Popov / Adobe Stock

Ductless mini-split systems can be a great solution for some homes, but they’re not right for everyone. 

What kind of a home is a good fit for a ductless heat pump? You may want to take the plunge if:

  • You live in a historic home without ductwork

  • You live in a smaller home

  • Your home’s windows can’t support a window unit

  • You want greater temperature control

  • You want to increase your home’s energy efficiency

Since HVAC systems are complicated, it’s best to consult an HVAC contractor. They’ll be able to tell you which HVAC system is best for your space and help you choose a heat pump that’s the right size for your home. 

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