When you think of HVAC, you probably think of the traditional, forced-air systems like a furnace or air conditioner. These HVAC systems use a network of air ducts to deliver heating and cooling evenly throughout your home. While ducted HVAC is a popular option, it’s not your only one. In fact, the design of many homes makes ducted HVAC less than ideal. How can you properly heat and cool these kinds of homes? Ductless HVAC systems are another option.
As you can imagine, ductless heating and cooling doesn’t rely on air ducts to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures. Instead, one or more indoor units are installed in the spaces they’re needed most. Known as air handlers or blowers, they’re connected to a single outdoor unit through small holes in the wall or ceiling. You can install as many indoor air handlers as you need for efficient climate control that rivals traditional ducted HVAC systems. We’ll review how ductless heating and cooling systems work to help you determine if it’s the right comfort solution for you.
How Does Ductless HVAC Work?
Despite the lack of ductwork, ductless HVAC systems are very similar in design to traditional ducted systems. After all, both rely on the outdoor unit containing the refrigerant supply, the condenser and the compressor. These are all vital components found in air conditioners. The condenser draws in or releases heat while the compressor helps turn the refrigerant back into liquid form to absorb more heat.
Like we mentioned before, the difference is what happens next. Without ductwork, heating and cooling is delivered directly to the one or more indoor air handlers you have installed throughout your home. Copper piping containing the coolant lines, wiring and drainage connects every unit to one another. Units can be installed on the wall, along the floor and even up against the ceiling.
There Are Multiple Types of Ductless HVAC System
Ductless HVAC systems are most commonly known as ductless mini-splits. This is because of their small size and separation into two distinct units not connected by ductwork. They may also be called a ductless air conditioner or mini-split heat pump. It can depend on whether they’re for cooling only or if they can offer dual-function heating and cooling.
Single-zone ductless air conditioners only cool one room or space at a time. They consist of one indoor unit and the outdoor unit.
Multi-zone ductless air conditioners can cool several rooms with multiple indoor air handlers. Even though they’re all connected, you can still set each indoor unit to a different temperature.
There are also mini-split heat pumps. This type of ductless HVAC system can reverse the flow of refrigerant to draw heat into your home rather than remove it. Because they don’t generate their own heat, mini-split heat pumps are particularly energy efficient.
What Are the Advantages of Ductless HVAC vs. Ducted Systems?
Similar to ducted HVAC systems, ductless HVAC equipment like ductless AC or heat pumps should be properly sized for the space you want climate controlled. Once everything is installed, your ductless HVAC system is ready to provide multiple benefits, including:
Their small, versatile size: Ductless mini-splits and their compact size make them convenient alternatives to larger, traditional equipment. Since they can be installed on the floors, walls and even the ceiling, you don’t have to worry about sacrificing much space.
Add as many indoor units as you need: For some people, a single outdoor and indoor unit pair is enough to accommodate their needs. Others can install 2-4 indoor units to provide heating and cooling to multiple spaces.
Quiet and energy efficient: Despite their small size, ductless mini-splits can still offer energy-efficient climate control. Ductless HVAC systems can actually be more energy efficient since the air ducts themselves are a large source of heating and cooling loss.
Individual zoning for each indoor unit: Each ductless AC unit can be controlled separately from one another. If you want one bedroom cooler than the other, just set each indoor unit’s temperature how you want it.
Well suited to different types of homes: Central, forced-air systems aren’t always the perfect fit. For example, older homes often don’t have ductwork. Rather than spend a lot of money on installing the air ducts, the homeowner can use ductless mini-splits instead. Smaller homes, detached buildings, unfinished spaces and new additions to a home are also popular uses for a ductless HVAC system.