We’ve talked before about the various features and functionalities of heat pumps on this blog. We’ve also touched upon the existence of ductless heat systems, namely, mini-split systems, as a form of home heating in Austin. But today let’s go a little more in-depth into these subjects by comparing these very different two forms of heat pumps, the mini-split heat pump, and the normal heat pump, or, in other words, the ductwork heat pump and the ductless heat pump.
Most people are pretty well acquainted with forced-air heating and cooling systems. These types of HVAC systems use an interconnected network of ducts that are built into the home to deliver warm or cold air to the various rooms in the house. Few people are familiar with ductless heating and cooling systems. These are normally referred to as mini-split systems and they have many differences from ductwork systems like air conditioners, furnaces, and traditional heat pumps. At this tip of the day, we’ll go over some of the primary differences in function and form between these two types of heaters and what some of the advantages and disadvantages of each are.
Mini Split Heat Pumps: An Overview
Before we dive into the comparison, let’s first give a brief summary of what exactly mini-split heat pumps are as these devices are the less common of the two by a good margin. In essence, a mini-split heat pump is like a heat pump that only operates in one room and isn’t connected to the rest of the house. It has one air output vent and is self-contained. In most other ways they operate much like heat pumps.
So first, a quick refresher on what a heat pump is. Basically, heat pumps combine an evaporator and a condenser, using some kind of refrigerant and phase change to provide heating and cooling. They are essentially a high-efficiency air conditioner that can also run in reverse to heat the home. The condenser is usually located outdoors. It distributes refrigerant through copper tubing, which is connected to one or more indoor outlets, an evaporator, and an air handler. Mini-splits are particularly efficient when compared to other HVAC systems, because they “recycle” energy, to some extent. Also, they use electricity instead of burning gas, which can be advantageous.
The components of a heat pump system, despite its wildly different shape and size, are mostly the same. Like standard air-source heat pumps, mini splits have two main components, an outdoor compressor/condenser, and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain, links the outdoor and indoor units.
An Argument for Heat Pumps
Heat pumps of all types, both ductwork-based and mini-split, have many benefits over other types of heaters and coolers. They’re not going to be the right choice for everyone but they are definitely a type of HVAC worth looking into. One of the biggest benefits is that you only need to purchase one unit for both your cooling and your heating needs as a heat pump can reverse its process in the winter and provide heat in the exact same way it provides cool air in the summer.
Heat pumps are not ideal for people in particularly cold, northern climates because they are limited by certain temperature restrictions in the cold. In other words, they struggle to provide the necessary heat once you go below a certain temperature. But for us in Austin, heating is relatively easy and heat pumps can do it all. Heat pumps today aren't the same as the early models from the 1970s and '80s. They're more efficient. They've got the supplemental heat thing figured out. And they come in a wide variety of efficiency, capacity, and technology, from the standard models to mini-splits to ground-source heat pumps.
Of course, furnaces, and boilers, have come along, too. We now have high-efficiency, sealed combustion furnaces that can distribute the heat through either forced-air or hydronic systems. You can get a modulating condensing furnace that can adjust the capacity closer to the needs of the house. But overall, it's easier and less expensive to get a heat pump small enough to match loads of a high-performance home than it is to get an appropriately sized furnace. Mini-splits are great for this and allow for better zoning, too.
Ductwork Heat Pumps
Now we’re getting into the direct comparison. Using ductwork to distribute the conditioned air from forced-air systems (furnaces and heat pumps) is the long-standing traditional way of heating and cooling homes. But the traditional method now has competition with the ductless mini-split heat pump. As a consumer looking for a comfort system for your home, you face choosing between the two. First, we’ll tackle the traditional heat pump, the full home, central air conditioning, and heating ductwork heat pump. Let’s look at the benefits and the drawbacks of the traditional heat pump and when it makes the best sense to go with this route.
The main advantage of ductwork is that it is everywhere. If you are not currently planning to construct a new home or to build a home, you probably have ductwork in the walls and ceilings of your house. Even if you use a boiler for heating, your air conditioner requires ductwork. The presence of ductwork means that it is easy to have a heat pump installed that simply hooks up to the existing ventilation system. Ductwork systems are also unobtrusive, with the ducts hidden and only small vents needed in rooms. So, in most circumstances, if you already own the home you’re looking to retrofit and it has ducts, and you have to choose between either mini-split heat pumps or a regular heat pump, there’s no reason to not choose a central heat pump.
Ductwork heat pumps can deliver superior comfort to mini-split heat pumps for a number of reasons. The main being that a single heat pump can provide even heating throughout an entire house while a mini-split heat pump is only effective in a single room where it is installed. Meaning that if you have a large house or even a moderately sized house and most or all the rooms will be used on a regular basis, you’d have to install much mini-split heat pumps to achieve the same level of comfort as one ductwork heat pump. Mini-split heat pumps are simply not economical in such situations.
Of course, a single ductwork heat pump is going to be more expensive to purchase and install than a single mini-split heat pump and they will draw more energy as well. So if you have a situation in which you could get away with having just a few mini splits and no central heating and cooling it may work out as more economical for you that way. It depends on a lot of factors. If you have an old house that doesn’t have ductwork already that will add a significant amount to the installation factor because ductwork is difficult to retrofit in a house that wasn’t designed and built with it.
Mini Split Heat Pumps
Mini-split heat pumps, or ductless heat pumps, offer a number of advantages over heat pumps but generally only in certain situations. It isn’t so much a comparison of which provides better energy efficiency and comfort overall but which works best for which situation.
When it comes to adequately heat individual rooms or zones within a home, mini-splits with heat pumps are highly effective. This efficiency has to do with the individual air-handling units that are placed within a given room or area in the home. These units can be adjusted to heat only those rooms which are currently being occupied, unlike conventional heating methods, which provide heat uniformly throughout a home. In most cases, better insulation of a home will have an impact on the overall efficiency of the individual air-handling unit. This can help homeowners save quite a bit on energy costs throughout the year.
That leads to the first factor that makes mini-split heat pumps make sense, smaller houses and apartments. These types of homes have smaller square footage and a smaller number of rooms that need heating. And especially if some of these rooms aren’t going to be occupied most of the time, installing a few mini-split heat pumps instead of a central heater or air conditioner can make a lot of sense.
Mini-split heat pumps are also easy to install and convenient. Maintaining existing interior design is far easier when utilizing mini-splits. This is because the air-handling components provide a number of placement options, which is not always the case when installing other types of add-on systems. Air-handlers can be affixed to a wall, suspended from the ceiling, and even mounted into drop ceilings. This means that mini-split heat pumps can be a great option if you have a home without ducts and you want to install an HVAC system cheaply without major remodeling. Or, if you’re doing a major remodeling project, you can even remove existing ductwork to make more space and use mini-split heat pumps in place of centralized heating.
Ultimately, if you have ductwork in your home, you may want to stay with a standard heat pump, or furnace and AC, unless you are building an additional room, in which case ductless can offer great savings. For new construction, give ductless mini-splits serious consideration, especially if you’re not working with a lot of space or a lot of occupants.
Heat Pumps and Heating Repair in Austin
Heat pumps are a great option for many. They provide both heatings during the winter and cooling during the summer, using electricity in an energy-efficient manner. Nowadays there are more ways to cool and heat your home than ever and it is worth investigating as many as you can to find the one that will work best for you. One comparison that is worth looking into is ductless systems versus ductwork systems. Heat pumps can be found in both forms and deciding between the two means looking at the efficiency and comfort pros and cons of each and which situations each type of heat pump would work best in.
When you do decide it’s time to choose a new heater, come to AC Express for advice and professional installation. AC Express is an Austin heater repair company that delivers top-quality Austin heating service to those in the area, from Cedar Park and Georgetown to Pflugerville and Round Rock, and beyond. For the best heater repair in Austin, call today!