In the battle of ductless vs. ducted heat pumps, there isn’t an obvious winner. Each has its own pros and cons. Here, Newcomb and Company outlines the best situation for each. But first, the basics.
What Is a Heat Pump?
At its essence, a heat pump takes heat from one area and moves it to another. This is ‘greener’ and more efficient than burning fuels to create heat, as a furnace does. If you’re buying new, a heat pump will typically cost less than a furnace.
Despite the name, a heat pump doesn’t just heat. Your heat pump can function as an air conditioner, too. It simply reverses the process, removing heat from the air in your home and sending it outdoors.
However, because a heat pump moves air from one place to another, it won’t work well in places where there isn’t much heat to be found. If you live in a cold climate where it’s regularly below freezing, a heat pump wouldn’t be a good choice.
Ductless Heat Pumps
Ductless heat pumps, also called mini-split heat pumps or mini-splits, work by blowing the heated or cooled air directly into the room. These systems are better for heating smaller spaces, since they aren’t able to push the air throughout the home.
There are many times when a ductless heat pump is the best option.
- Ductless heat pumps are minimally intrusive. They only require a small hole in the wall (although they are still not a DIY project!)
- They are much less expensive than installing ducts.
- Ductless heat pumps can easily be customized to create the optimum temperature settings for each room.
- They are efficient. You can cut heating costs by 60% compared to electric resistance-based systems. Cooling costs are 30% less than traditional air conditioners.
- You may be eligible for a rebate from your power company.
- It can be installed anywhere – on the floor, the wall, or the ceiling.
Unfortunately, individually heating your rooms with a ductless heat pump has several drawbacks to consider.
- While safer and arguably less ugly than a window air conditioner, most mini-splits aren’t winning any home design awards. They stick out from the walls and are obtrusive, no matter how sleekly they’re made.
- If you want to change the temperature of your house, you need to change each thermostat individually.
- A professional, experienced installer is a must. Your installer should use a formula to determine the size of the unit you need. Correct sizing is essential for an efficient system.
- Installation can be expensive.
- They only heat or cool small spaces.
- They are high maintenance. Filters must be washed monthly, or you could end up needing an expensive professional cleaning.
Ducted Heat Pumps
Air-air heat pumps move heat from the outdoor air into your home (or vice versa). A ground source heat pump, or geothermal pump, uses the ground (or a body of water) as its heating source. After the heat is taken from its source, it is distributed throughout your home via a system of ducts.
Ducted heat pumps are what most people think of when (or if) they think about heat pumps. Having ductwork in your home can be convenient.
- They’re efficient and effective. An air-source heat pump can deliver up to three times more heat energy than the electrical energy it consumes. Ground source heat pumps are even more efficient.
- The duct system is convenient. A homeowner can extend the duct system throughout the home, so only one unit is needed to heat the entire building (depending on size).
- Vents can be closed in rooms that aren’t in use.
- The ducts are hidden by the walls, so there aren’t any unsightly components in view.
- This is the standard for heat pumps, so most contractors will be well-versed in installation.
Although ducted heat pumps are common, they aren’t ideal for every situation.
- Installing ductwork after the fact is expensive, disruptive, and time consuming.
- Dust can linger in the ductwork, irritating allergies and making a mess.
- Vermin and rodents can use your ductwork to enter your home.
- Your ducts can become blocked, necessitating repairs.
- Leaky ducts decrease the efficiency of your heat pump – and increase your energy bills. The EPA estimates that 20-30% of air moving through a ducted system is lost through leaks and poor connections.
So, Who Wins?
Well, it all depends on your situation and what’s important to you. A ducted heat pump might be right if you:
- Are building a new home
- Have existing ductwork
- Are worried about installation costs
- Don’t like the look of a mini-split system
A ductless heat pump could be a better choice if you:
- Are heating and cooling a smaller space, like an addition or outbuilding
- Have several rooms in your house that aren’t used regularly
- Suffer from dust allergies
- Want a minimally invasive system for a historic or older home
- Would like more granular control of the temperature in each room
Still don’t know if you should be looking at ductless vs. ducted heat pumps? Contact Newcomb and Company. Our experienced technicians will review the details of your case, so you can find the solution that’s right for you.